All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 20. The joy of creativity

Day 20: Do you consider yourself creative? How do you express that? What piece of work (or whatever is applicable) are you most proud of?

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A depiction of Tir-nan-og, a fantasy realm from my urban fantasy series, that I drew on my bedroom wall in 2006

For the vast majority of my life I’ve considered myself creative. But I would like it known – on the record – that I do not consider myself creative solely because I’m bipolar. I know there are many people out there who consider bipolar to be the “creative illness”, and there are many wonderfully creative people who are bipolar, but like me, they would probably be creative in spite of their mental illness. The bipolar is not what has made us creative, we managed that all on our lonesome!

Writing

First and foremost, I consider myself a storyteller. When I was but a young wee bairn I was often making up random stories about all sorts of weird and wondrous things, regaling my family and friends with everything from what mystical creatures lived in the Moss (a large area of overgrown parkland in the town I grew up in) to how best to survive a monster apocalypse. After school I would rush home to write all manner of stories and fictional escapades. I continued the adventures of Indiana Jones in the stirring Indiana Jones and the Sword of Excalibur and created a movie based on perennial Australian soap, Neighbours.

When I was fourteen I wrote my first novel – Lifetime – an amalgamation of The Goonies, Doctor Who and your stereotypical coming-of-age tales, an adventure that saw a group of lackadaisical teenagers battle living waxwork monsters whilst combating their own hormonal urges. Suffice to say, it was a piece of shit, but I loved every single minute that I spent writing that epic of badly written fiction. And it was a period of my life that solidified my desire to become a writer.

Over the following several years I wrote whenever I had a spare minute. I dabbled in melodrama, tragedy, mystery and crime, but always found myself returning to the genre that is Urban Fantasy, wherein normal earthbound characters battled otherworldly creatures from the safety of their own hometown. And it was within this genre that I created my masterwork; The Inverness Chronicles, a series of novels, television series and motion pictures that spanned three generations of characters within the fictionalized city of Inverness. Only the first novel of this planned series has been written – The Ghosts That Haunt Me – but the remaining installments have been planned to perfection, I just need to find the time to write them!

Alas, I cannot share The Ghosts That Haunt Me with you. Over the years that I was homeless the copies I had in my possession were lost to floods, theft and personal mistakes, and the remaining copy (on a USB stick in my parents house) seems to have been lost when my parents moved in 2010. But rest assured it was the best piece of fiction that I’ve ever written and encapsulated my own beliefs, values and strengths in a story that saw several characters face an apocalyptic event against the backdrop of contemporary Scotland.

As depression has further gripped my soul, I have found my ability to tell stories dwindle. I used to write for pleasure, for the pure wonderousness of seeing a story come to life by the words and syllables I chose to use. But since the depression, since the bipolar, since my breakdown, I’ve been unable to find the energy to tell the stories that sing in my soul. I hope, one day, to be stable enough to write again, but until then I can just continue tinkering my Inverness Chronicles plan. Gently caressing the characters lives until they’re ready to ignite the page once again.

Examples of my writing:

Photography

My photography habit kicked off when I started backpacking in Scotland in 1999, and continued to grow and evolve when I studied the subject at college the following year. I can still remember how relaxing and inspiring I found the time I spent mixing chemicals in the darkroom, slowly easing the black and white images to life through patience and determination. For my birthday that year, my then girlfriend, Louise, organised with my parents to purchase me a brand spanking new SLR camera, and this became my most prized possession until it was stolen from me in late 2007. In fact, my love of photography was so strong, that after obtaining my first (and only) job since my breakdown, I rewarded my hard work with a new camera, that I took many wonderful and beautiful images on.

But in the same manner that depression has stolen my ability to write, it has also stolen my ability to take photographs.My abuser would regularly attack my photography, calling them boring, uninspiring, a waster of time, monotonous, and ever since those words stabbed my soul, I cannot see the images in the same way that I use to, I cannot find the creative spark I need to imagine my thoughts in photographic form. One day, I hope, I will rediscover my photographic urges. One day, I hope, I will be able to successfully deal with the PTSD to take photographs again.

Drawing

As for drawing, I’ve never considered myself a master-artist, it was always something that I enjoyed doing rather than doing it because I was good at it. I used to love drawing Doctor Who montages; Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans battling the trusty Time-Lord across the stars. I would compose artwork based on my favourite video games (Zelda, Sonic and Secret of Mana) or sketch haphazardly in my journal various Scottish vistas seen throughout my backpacker odyssey.

I loved creating artwork not because I was good at it, but because it relaxed me. It was something I did for the pure pleasure and enjoyment of doing it, nothing else. And unlike other aspects of my life (including my writing and photography) I didn’t care what other people thought of it because, deep down, I knew they were crap drawings.

And this, to me, is what being creative is all about. It isn’t just about the kudos and praise you receive from a stunning piece of art or breathtakingly beautiful photograph. It isn’t just about how other people feel when viewing or appraising your work. It is about how you feel whilst creating it. As long as you are capturing an essence of yourself, regardless of the medium, then you are succeeding at being creative.

My writing, although rooted in fantasy, mayhem and apocalyptic events, was always about the people and how they reacted to the chaos. My photography, regardless of what my abuser said, was meant to capture landscape and emotion of place, a memory of a moment that would never be seen again. Whilst my drawing, however bad, captured who I was in that moment of reflection.

So regardless of what other people think, I’m proud of my creativity, and I’m proud of the work I’ve created over the years.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 19. What people need to understand about bipolar

Day 19: What don’t people without bipolar understand about people with it?

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People without bipolar have no understanding – and no way to understand – just how problematic and painful the mood swings can be.

It isn’t like the usual sway of emotions, the ups and downs of regular, hum-drum, normal life. The mood swings of bipolar are epic in nature; the highs extremely high and the lows extremely low. I don’t think anyone who isn’t bipolar can understand this. There is nothing to compare the highs and lows to as nothing comes close to the chaos of emotion that a bipolar person experiences.

The depression is more than unipolar depression; it is all-consuming in nature and leaves you wrecked, exhausted and unable to function. The mania isn’t just feeling a bit happy; it is feeling like you are a God, and nothing you do could ever be conceived as being wrong. Then comes the other states; the hypomania, which is like mania but not as pronounced, or the rapid cycling, which is a brutal state to be in as you don’t know which way is up and you’re being dragged left, right and center on a seemingly endless emotional roller-coaster.

Sure people can claim to understand the mood swings, they can claim to get it, but I really don’t think they do. I really don’t.

I also don’t think people without bipolar understand just how controlling these mood swings can be. It isn’t a case of just “getting over it” or “dealing with it”. It isn’t a case of just “ignoring it” or “pretending it isn’t there”. None of this works when it comes to a bipolar mood. The mood swings of bipolar are all-controlling; there is little you can do once you’re lost to the mayhem other than ride it out and hope to come out the other end relatively unscathed.

Some people think people with bipolar aren’t trying hard enough, and it is these people who need to understand just how severe the mood shifts of bipolar can be. Everyone with bipolar works there arse off every single day of their lives, they have to, otherwise the illness would consume them in an instant.

Bipolar people are strong – incredibly strong – and I think this, more than anything, is what people without bipolar need to understand.

What about you? What do you think people without bipolar don’t understand about people with it?


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 18. Dear Big Pharma…

Day 18: If big pharma was actually listening, what would you say about bipolar meds?

medication

Dear Big Pharma,

So, what exactly was going through your minds when you created medication for bipolar? Were you actually trying to create something with so many side effects it would take a novel the length of War and Peace to list them all properly, or was that just a happy little outcome for you callous and heartless individuals?

I mean really, weight gain. You think this is an acceptable side effect for people with mental health issues? You do realise that many people who suffer from mental ill-health have self-esteem issues, don’t you? What do you think weight gain is going to do to their self-esteem? Do you seriously think it’s going to improve it? Of course not! It’s going to make it ten times worse you ridiculous individuals!

And suicidal ideation!? I am so pissed off with this particular side effect you’ve forced me to illustrate it with an exclamation mark and a question mark! At what point did you think it was a wise and noble idea to create a medication for someone suffering from depression that has a side effect that makes them more depressed and potentially suicidal. Do you not see the problem there? Really? Because most people who are forced to take this medication sees the problem quite clearly and these people are considered insane by large (and ignorant) portions of the greater population. So if they can see the problems inherent with your side effects, why can’t you?

As for side effects as serious as pancreatitis, I mean c’mon! No-one wants to spend three weeks of their life in a hospital bed, solely because they were taking medication that you deemed safe for someone to take. How is it safe when they end up in hospital for three weeks?

I refuse to believe there is nothing you can do about this side effect issue. Personally I think it’s a wonderful money-maker for you, forcing people to take medication to counteract the side effects of their initial medication; a situation I myself have been forced into in the past.

And while we’re at it. Does medication really need to be so expensive? Granted I can’t really complain about this as being on the disability pension and the holder of a magical pension card, I get my medication for $6.10 a script, but if I wasn’t, I’d have to remortgage my future house in order to afford one months worth of medication.

They’re tiny, almost insignificantly small, tablets; how much do they really cost to make? A few cents? A dollar? I’m willing to bet it’s nothing close to the price that you slap on these medications, the price that you force sick and needy individuals to pay in order to improve their quality of living.

You see we people afflicted with a mental illness have no choice about taking medication. It’s not something we do for fun, it’s not something we do to warm the cockles of our hearts. We have to take these medications in order to function as a healthy and happy individual. So we’re forced to pay for them. We don’t have a choice. But you know that, don’t you, you know you have a nice little captive audience to keep you merrily in business. Of course you do. But even so, I still believe you could do something about it, just like you could do something about your side effect con.

Okay. Mini rant over. You may return to ripping people off and making their lives a living hell. It is, after all, what you do best.

Regards,
Addy


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 17. What if bipolar was a real thing?

Day 17: If bipolar was a real thing or being, what would it look, sound and behave like?

bipolar creature

An alternative, and slightly more artistic, interpretation of the theme.

I’ve never really been very good at these ‘visualize your illness’ exercises. Not because I’m not creative, but because I fail to see what good it can do. A mental illness isn’t a real, living and breathing thing, nor is it something that can be picked up on a CT scan or ultrasound. It is invisible. It cannot be seen. Only felt. So what is the point of visualizing your illness as a creature or being; it’s not going to help, it’s not going to change a damn thing.

But. In the spirit of answering the prompts in this challenge to the best of my ability, let’s see what I can come up with.

Would bipolar be a monster? All slime and fangs and grotesque, dribbling orifices? Would it be a chirpy little woodland-esque creature? All fur, blinking eyes with a cute squeaky voice? Or would it be something from the realm of mythology? A hybrid animal with the body of a lion and the head of a hawk?

No.

Bipolar would not be any of these things.

Bipolar would be a shape-shifter.

In depression mode bipolar would be a burrowing creature; all hardened scales, tough claws and unblinking, blind eyes. Imagine a mole the size of a wombat. A creature destined to spend its days deep beneath the earth, living a solitary, lonely life. A life so unremarkable that no-one has even thought to name the creature. It just exists. Seen fleetingly when it rises to the surface to forage for bugs to eat or grass to nibble on.

But in manic mode bipolar would be something else entirely; a humanoid with the physique of a supermodel, all hardened abs, rippling biceps and a long, flowing mane of hair. It’s flesh would be impenetrable. It’s skin immune to anything man-made, including the mythical silver bullet of werewolf slaying fame. It would be a creature of tremendous intelligence, highly manipulative and driven by a firm, unwavering belief in its own superiority. Never before has a creature existed as perfect as this. Physically, mentally and emotionally it is unlike anything that has ever existed. Unique.

But when it least expects it, it can change back to the burrowing, nameless creature that is rarely, if ever, noticed. It’s life once again devoid of point; endlessly burrowing through the earth in its quest to remain as unseen and irrelevant as it believes, deep down, that it is.

Such is the heady life of the bipolar creature; nothingness and solitude one day, perfection and partying the next.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 16. My best possible treatment strategy

Day 16: If you could plan the best possible treatment strategy for your bipolar self, what would it look like?

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The only treatment strategy that I’ve ever had for my bipolar self is medication. I’ve never had a psychiatrist monitoring my moods. I’ve never had a psychologist offering me sage-like wisdom and I’ve never had a team of nurses keeping an eye on the intricacies of my mental ill-health. For some reason the powers that be decided that I have to deal with bipolar affective disorder all on my lonesome, not that I’m bitter or jealous, it has proven to me countless times how strong (and stubborn) I am. But there are times I wish I didn’t have to go it alone, that I had someone to help me with the roller-coaster moods that make up my life, which is why my best possible treatment strategy would start with a psychiatrist.

Now, after my last appointment with a psychiatrist, I’m not exactly overflowing with warmth and trust for people in this particular profession. In fact, you could go so far as to say I despise anyone who pulls on a white coat and decides that their opinion is going to govern someone’s life, but I can’t hide the fact that I believe I need a psychiatrist. Not just someone to correctly monitor my medication intake, but someone with whom I can discuss the intricacies of my life in the hope of finding answers and insight to all the niggling things that nag at my inner-being. Or maybe I just want a psychiatrist because other people have one, and find their input toward their mental health, to be invaluable. Either way, a psychiatrist that I admire and trust would be the starting point to my best possible treatment strategy.

A best possible treatment strategy that would continue with a support worker with whom I had a valuable and trustworthy relationship. A support worker with whom I could discuss things outside of the psychiatrist’s control. A support worker who could accompany me to appointments, advocate on my behalf and help me fight the demons that plague my soul. A support worker who could assist me with DBT, mindfulness and exposure therapy. If I were designing my ‘perfect’ treatment strategy, I know who this support worker would be, because for a short time in 2013-14 she was my support worker, but a funding cut ripped her out of my life and left me the poorer for it.

The next part of my best possible treatment strategy would be a medication regime that worked; not one that has just been throw together because it has worked for other people. A medication regime that included anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. A medication regime similar to the one I was on prior to the mood stabilizers causing acute pancreatitis, a side effect that resulted in them being torn from my life and replaced with nothing.

The fourth part of my best possible treatment strategy would be a series of psychosocial rehabilitation groups. A program of activities that would prevent me from being socially isolated, teach me new coping mechanisms and allow me interaction with other human beings who were facing similar issues to myself. This would be an intrinsic part of my treatment strategy, and one that my support worker would assist me in undertaking should my anxiety prove too strong or uncontrollable.

Lastly, my best possible treatment strategy, would contain something that has been missing from my life for so long I’ve all but forgotten what it feels like; friendship. I’ve long believed that friends are more potent and powerful than even the strongest medication when it comes to fighting mental illness. Having one person talk to you, spend time with you, show an interest in your life, can re-program your brain chemistry and make everything you battle on a daily basis feel worthwhile. Having that one person care, having that one person show you love, can work miracles.

But like I said, I have been deemed unworthy of having these things. I have been sentenced to battle bipolar affective disorder and other mental illnesses all on my lonesome. So writing about what treatment I would like is painful, it tugs at my very heart and renders me in physical pain, for I know deep down that I will never receive it. Any of it. It’s just the way things are for me.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 15. We can’t predict the future, no matter how hard we try

Day 15: What would you ask your future self if you could?

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Dear Older Addy,

You may find this a strange request coming from someone who is you, only younger, but I am writing to seek your advice. And in the grand old tradition of those “choose your own adventure” novels you used to read as a kid, you’re going to have to choose between two sections, for the advice that I seek is dependent on which path your life took.

So if you have been alone for the last twenty years, slowly trying to eek out an existence whilst battling your bipolar, social anxiety and PTSD, read section ONE.

However, if you were able to stabilise your mental illnesses and are currently living in a loving relationship with a woman who doesn’t mind you giving her the occasional surreptitious bum squeeze, read section TWO.

~ ONE ~

Oh.

I’m not quite sure what to say. I was hoping – really, seriously – hoping that you would be skipping this section. I was hoping that you had been able to move past your illnesses and find a way to live a happy, connected, loving life with a woman who loves you and friends who care for you. I was hoping – really, seriously – hoping that there would be surreptitious bum squeezes in your future. But alas. There is not. And me writing these hopes here are probably making you depressed and miserable, so sorry about that, I’m just a little sad, for I hoped – really, seriously – hoped that there was something better in our future. Better than the hell you’ve had to put up with for the last twenty years.

So I guess, without trying to make you even more miserable, I’ll ask my question, which is really quite simple: how did you do it?

How were you able to survive all the pain, all the misery, all the chaos, all the mind-numbing, crippling agony? How were you able to stop the PTSD from consuming you? How were you able to deal with the panic attacks, the anxiety attacks and the endless up-down cycle of bipolar? And how were you able to stop the crippling ramifications of abuse from causing you to kill yourself?

I ask only because I have no idea what to do about any of this. As you know, from your own memory, I’m currently writing this letter whilst lost in the wilderness of mental illness. I am controlled on a daily basis by the incessant mood swings, by the destructive PTSD and crippling social anxiety. Nothing I do seems to have any impact. Nothing I do makes any difference. And I find myself thinking about suicide more and more because I just can’t keep going like this for much longer. So how were you able to stop the pain from consuming you completely. How were you able to live for twenty years in the same endless cycle of pain, misery, loneliness and isolation?

HOW DID YOU DO IT?

I shout only because I need to know and I need to know now. Things are getting too much for me to deal with and I need something, anything, from you to restore my hope, to restore my strength and set me on track to cope with everything that is overwhelming me at the moment. You must have navigated through it otherwise you wouldn’t still be here. You must have found something to assist you in your journey otherwise the pain would have consumed you. And I need you to tell me what that something was, because I am finding it harder and harder to continue in this vein.

How did you do it?

[Breathe]

Okay, I’ll stop being so needy, it isn’t becoming. You’ll either answer my request or you won’t, that’s up to you, but allow me to say before I depart one thing: bravo! Bravo sir, for surviving the endless onslaught of suicidal ideation. Bravo sir, for not allowing your mental illness to consume you. Bravo sir, for not giving in to your pain. Bravo sir, for continuing to be true to yourself, even though life didn’t work out the way we hoped it would.

Stay strong, dear friend, we’ll get through this together.

Love and hugs,
Younger Addy xox

~ TWO ~

Excellent!

Wonderful!

Fantabulous!

You have no idea how happy I am to know that you’re reading these words! To know that you were able to stabilise your mental illnesses and have settled down in a life, a life with a woman who loves you no less, is music to my ears. To know that in my future there is love, support, friendship and kindness. To know that my future isn’t a lonely, miserable cesspit of isolation and trauma is something that fills me with so much happiness it makes my present seem less painful. So knowing this. Knowing that there is something in my future beyond loneliness and pain, my question is simple: how did you do it?

How did you navigate the minefield of trauma? How did you manage to overcome your crippling social anxiety disorder? How were you able to stabilise the bipolar affective disorder? And how – how – were you able to move past the crippling ramifications of abuse and learn to trust again?

I ask only because I have no idea what to do about any of this. As you know, from your own memory, I’m currently writing this letter whilst lost in the wilderness of mental illness. I am controlled on a daily basis by the incessant mood swings, by the destructive PTSD and crippling social anxiety. Nothing I do seems to have any impact. Nothing I do makes any difference. So how did you manage it? What magical, mystical answer revealed itself to you? What is it that I’m not doing at the moment that I need to do in order to achieve the life you have now?

How did you meet the woman in your life? Did it stem from some random incident, or was it something you actively sought out? Did you have to woo her with ridiculous chat-up lines or was it a more organic introduction? Did she have massive stigma about your mental illnesses that you had to whittle down over time, or was she accepting of your conditions from the get go? Did she have to ask for all those surreptitious bum squeezes or were you able to work past your confidence and just give them to her?

HOW DID YOU DO IT?

I shout only because I need to know and I need to know now. I need to start living now, not in twenty years time, surely there must be something – some small piece of information that you can give me, some minor observation that I’ve yet to see, that could help me begin living now. Maybe if you have nothing you could ask that beautiful woman of yours for her input. She must care about you. She must be open to helping someone. I can’t imagine you being with anyone who isn’t open to help, who isn’t open to putting other people first. Please. I beg you. I’m grovelling on hands and knees. I need to know.

How did you do it?

[Breathe]

Okay, I’ll stop being so needy, it isn’t becoming. You’ll either answer my request or you won’t, that’s up to you, but allow me to say before I depart one thing: bravo! Bravo sir, for not allowing your mental illness to consume you completely. Bravo sir,  for finding someone to love. Bravo sir, for being able to stop existing and start living. Bravo sir, for your undeniable strength, determination and passion for living the best life you could.

Now hop away and give that woman of ours a surreptitious bum squeeze from younger you; who knows what it could lead to! ;p

Love and Hugs,
Younger Addy xox