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 10. Bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of

Day 10: Do you tell people you’re bipolar? Why/why not?

hopejoy

Ever since my initial diagnosis in 2007, I have never been shy of telling people that I suffer from bipolar. Almost instantly upon diagnosis I went online and broadcast the news to my blogging friends. I told my parents. I told relatives. I told friends. At no point did it occur to me that I should keep this diagnosis hidden, even the omnipresent threat of stigmatization and discrimination didn’t prevent me from telling people.

The reaction the news received varied. My parents, who have had their own battles with mental health, were supportive. Relatives and friends reacted either by never speaking to me again, nonchalantly or with praise, with many telling me that I was “brave” to speak out about my bipolar diagnosis. But I’ve never considered myself brave, in fact, people telling others they’re brave for speaking out about their mental illness annoys me. Simply because it shouldn’t be brave to talk about ones mental health. We should be normalizing mental illness, and telling someone they’re brave for speaking out about it, isn’t normalizing the illness. We don’t tell someone they’re brave for speaking out about having the flu, or diabetes or cancer, so why is it brave to speak out about a mental illness? It should just be something that’s accepted and considered normal.

Either way, I will continue telling people I suffer from bipolar for as long as I live. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just an illness, and if people can’t handle that, then that’s on them, not me.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 09. The power of positive thinking

Day 09: Are there any benefits to bipolar for you?

womaninreddress

Samantha was wearing a red dress when I met her in Adelaide. I like red dresses! :p

As with everything in life, there are always good things and bad things. Ice cream tastes delicious (good thing) but has a tendency to increase the size of your waistline (bad thing). Owls are noble, good-looking b’stards (good thing) but have a tendency to freak people out when they turn their head all the way round (bad thing). Paper is a useful material for writing things on (good thing) but has a tendency to cut you in such a way you’ve never felt pain of the like of it before (bad thing). The trick to life is being able to pinpoint the good things amidst the sea of badness that often floods our contemporary life. Some people can do it (good thing) other people only ever focus on the negative (bad thing).

I’m one of the former people. No matter what is happening to me, I am always trying to find the good things out of an experience. With PTSD, however crippling it may be (bad thing), it allows me to remember in detail everything that ever happened to me, so if I was ever to give evidence in court about that particular time in my life I could do so without fail or fear of misremembering (good thing). With social anxiety, however crippling it may be (bad thing), it allows me to be a highly emphatic individual who is deeply caring and considerate toward other individuals (good thing).

Similarly, bipolar affective disorder, however much it is seen as a bad thing by wider society (which it can be), has a wide array of benefits that has the propensity to take the suffering out of things.

For example: if it weren’t for the heady giddiness of a manic phase (bad thing) I would never have met my friend Samantha (good thing). If it weren’t for the madness of my multiple suicide attempts (bad thing) I would never have become as knowledgeable about the subject as I have (good thing). If it weren’t for how sex obsessed I become whilst manic (bad thing) I would never have given as much cunnilingus as I have (good thing). If it weren’t for the self-harm I sometimes indulge in (bad thing) I would never have begun my quest to draw intricate artworks onto my body in red pen (good thing). If it weren’t for the crippling lows of a depressive episode (very bad thing) I would never have started writing this blog (very good thing).

But more than anything, for me, the major benefit of bipolar affective disorder is the state that is known as hypomania. Sure, it’s one step below a manic phase (bad thing) but when I’m hypomanic I’m confident (good thing), productive (good thing), talkative (good thing) and debonair (good thing). My creative juices are at their maximum (good thing). I’m able to focus my energies on meaningful activities (good thing). I can multitask like a demon possessed (good thing). And I’m irresistible to women (good thing) and able to indulge in sexual activities that my social anxiety would otherwise hinder (good thing). In fact, when I’m hypomanic, however exhausting this state can be (bad thing), I’m much more likely to be the Addy I’ve always dreamed of being (good thing), the Addy that I would be proud for people to meet (good thing).

So if you’re someone who always looks at the bad things in life, who always seeks out the negative in everything, who obsessives over what has gone wrong rather than what has gone right, I strongly suggest you do a little bit of work to change your thinking. There is nothing like finding the positive amidst an ocean of terribleness, it enriches your life, it puts a smile on your face and allows you to walk with your head held that little bit higher each day.

And if a bipolar affective disorder suffering, PTSD haunted and social anxiety crippled individual such as myself can do it, anyone can!

So why not try it? :-)


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 08. Should I dislike my bipolar affective disorder?

Day 08: What do you dislike most about the disorder?

Manic Depression (by eddietheyeti)

Manic Depression (by eddietheyeti)

You’d think this question would be an easy one to answer. That after a lifetime of suffering from a debilitating mental illness, I would have a cavalcade of reasons to hate the illness, but if truth be told, I don’t. I’ve long accepted my suffering of bipolar affective disorder, I’ve long come to terms with the ups and downs the illness forces on my mood and I’ve long tolerated the limitations it places on my life. I fail to see why I should dislike a particular aspect of the illness, because there is ultimately nothing I can do about it. Me hating something about the disorder will do nothing for my suffering and will do nothing to change the lot I have been given in life. It just seems like a complete waste of my time and energy to hate something I can do nothing about; which is quite surprising coming from me, given how critical I hold myself in all other areas of life.

Sure I’m not a fan of the volatile, and at times violent, mood swings. Nor am I a fan of the grandiose thinking or immortal God inducing manic phases. And I’m certainly not a fan of the crippling, almost impossible to survive intact, depressive episodes. But what can I do about it?

It would be true to say that I also dislike society’s stigmatization of bipolar affective disorder. That everyone who suffers from the illness is a psychotic, insane crazy person who isn’t to be trusted or seen as a functioning member of the human race. That we are lesser human beings, unworthy of being loved and/or cared about by another individual. I also dislike the grotesque stereotyping that we are all creative geniuses because of our bipolar alone, or that, because Stephen Fry is bipolar, we must all somehow be exactly like him. If truth be told, I dislike society’s view of bipolar more than I do any particular aspect of the illness, it’s insulting, degrading and hardly conducive toward creating mental health parity.

Perhaps it’s because I accept the bipolar more than I do my other mental illnesses, perhaps it’s because in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t affected my life in the way PTSD or social anxiety has, but for the love of me I just can’t bring myself to dislike the disorder, or any particular aspect of it.

Does that make me a terrible person?


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 07. 10 things not to say to someone with bipolar

Ten things not to say to someone with bipolar

Bipolar Disorder (by Chickenese)

Bipolar Disorder (by Chickenese)

1. Are you bipolar?

‘What is wrong with this?’ I hear you ask. ‘Isn’t that a reasonable question to ask someone?’ Maybe so, but…

I am not bipolar, I suffer from an illness called bipolar affective disorder. To say I am bipolar implies that bipolar is all that I am. It implies that bipolar is the sole definition of my life and I will never be anything other than bipolar. Whereas in reality, I am so much more complicated than that.

So best to ask “Do you suffer from bipolar?”

2. You do realise it’s all your fault, don’t you? 

Ummm, no, actually it’s not. I didn’t do anything to deserve suffering from bipolar. It’s not a punishment or the consequence of some hitherto forgotten transgression in my life. It’s a mental illness. And any mental illness that someone is unfortunate enough to suffer from, is not that person’s fault. Far from it.

3. You’re completely psycho!

See also: you’re nuts, you’re bonkers, you’ve got a screw loose, you’re crazy, you’re effing insane you are, you’re [insert synonym of choice here]! Granted, some of my close friends and family may get away with playfully ribbing me by using these terms, but they’re doing so without any malice. If anyone who doesn’t know me says such grotesquely stigmatizing words to me, they’re likely to be the victim of an epic (carefully worded) rebuke.

4. Everyone has mood swings sometimes!

Yes, this is true, but not everyone has their moods alter so dramatically between mania and depression that their very life can hang in the balance. There is an almighty difference between the mood swings you might experience as a result of day-to-day life and the mood swings of bipolar, and trust me, were you ever to experience the epic highs and suicidal lows of bipolar affective disorder, you would understand the difference in a heartbeat.

5. Oh, so you must be a creative genius!

Oh, so because I’m bipolar I’m a creative genius? Wow. Stereotype much? Granted there is a well publicised link between creativity and bipolar, but that doesn’t mean everyone who suffers from bipolar is a creative genius. We’re not born with a paintbrush in one hand and a typewriter in the other.

6. Stephen Fry can control his moods, why can’t you?

Someone said this to me once, it incensed me, for one simple reason: I am NOT Stephen Fry! Stephen Fry suffers from bipolar, and he deals with it as best as he is able to based on what is happening in his life. Just like I deal with my bipolar as best as I can do based on what is happening in my life.

7. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

If you can’t see the problem with this question, you need to undertake some form of empathy course. Sure, if you’re close friends with someone and having a heartfelt conversation over several alcoholic beverages, ask away. But if you don’t know someone, just don’t go there, ever.

8. But you seem so normal…

When this was once said to me, I was rendered speechless for several minutes. How exactly is someone with a mental illness supposed to act? Should they be dancing naked down High Street with a weasel in one hand and a cardboard owl in the other? People with mental illness can be as normal as you and I, and they have every right to be. After all, as I established above, you are not your mental illness; you are so much more than that.

9. Have you taken your medication?

Another perfectly reasonable question, to be sure, but one that has all sorts of negative connotations. It implies you’re forgetful. It implies you can’t handle living your own life. It implies you’re useless. It implies that you need someone to tell you what to do. And it endlessly reminds you that you need medication in order to function as a human being, which isn’t a very nice thing to be reminded of.

10. Are you cured?

Bipolar affective disorder is a lifelong mental illness. There is no cure. Remember that, always, else you risk being seen as ignorant and stupid.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 06. What I wish someone had told me…

Day 06: What do you wish you’d known when you were diagnosed?

Nearly two years ago I attended an event in aid of Mental Health Week. Prior to a screening of (the excellent) Silver Linings Playbook, three nervous individuals took to the stage to talk about their recovery journey in front of one hundred and thirty expectant people: I was one of those three individuals. The speech I delivered was based from a blog post I had written, namely a letter to my younger self, that delivered sage-like advice about my impending bipolar diagnosis. As today’s prompt in the 31 Days of Bipolar Challenge is asking for a similar diatribe, I have decided to link to this post and urge everyone to read the letter I read out to those one hundred and thirty people, for it is a piece of writing I’ve always been proud of, and one of my personal highlights of this blog.

♥ READ: A LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF

But, it feels a bit odd (and like I’m cheating) to be answering a prompt with a simple link to an old (albeit excellent) post. So for people craving new and invigorating content, I present a postcard to my younger self that answers today’s prompt as simply and directly as possible:

Postcard to Younger Self

Click image to enlarge


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 04. Idiots, imbeciles and other such synonyms

Day 04: How do you feel about people who diagnose themselves online and then treat themselves for bipolar?

doctor google

Without trying to sound arrogant, or nasty, or anything else one might call someone who insults others, I think people who diagnose themselves as bipolar are idiots. In fact, I would go so far as to say anyone who diagnoses themselves with any illness (be it mental or physical) is an idiot. For you simply cannot diagnose yourself; that must be left up to a trained – impartial – professional.

Granted, some trained professionals are wankers (as we discovered in my last 31 Days of Bipolar post), but the majority have people’s best interests at heart, which is something that cannot always be said about ourselves. In fact, sometimes we are so desperate to ‘explain’ our behaviour with a medicinal label that we leap to the worst possible conclusion.

Many years ago, when I was but a humble teenager, we had a book in the family that I believe was called the “Family Doctor”. This book contained a number of flowcharts for every possible condition which could be afflicting someone. For example, if you had a headache you looked up this symptom and followed the yes/no questions along the flow chart; each question either eliminating or pointing toward a particular illness. So when I began suffering from a simple headache, I would pull out the book and begin answering the questions, which would usually lead to me being diagnosed with the far more serious (and most unlikely) brain tumor. The same went for every symptom I looked up; toothaches led to mouth cancer, a chesty cough meant emphysema and a pain in my arm usually meant I had suffered a fracture of some description. Whereas in reality, I wasn’t suffering from any such thing, I was just suffering from a relatively minor health condition that I believed was something far more serious that it actually was.

The same scenario is now being played out in households across the world, courtesy of Doctor Google, as it’s human nature to seek out the worst possible scenario to explain away simple conditions that, usually, don’t even require medical treatment. The same goes for mental illness. People seeking out the worst possible outcome to explain their behaviour and convincing themselves ‘this is what I suffer from’ when in reality no mental illness exists. Or worst, diagnosing themselves incorrectly and thus medicating themselves with damaging and dangerous psychiatric drugs.

Of course, there is also another set of people who diagnoses themselves online, and I hold these people in such low regard that there isn’t even a word to describe it. And these people are the ‘fashionable diagnosers’; people who diagnoses themselves bipolar because they believe it fashionable to be suffering from such an illness. Perhaps “inspired” by the television show Homeland, or the latest exploits of their favourite celebrity, or a magazine/newspaper article that glorifies mental illness. These people simply want to be bipolar, whether they’re suffering from it or not, and if they were to suffer from bipolar, I would be willing to bet they wouldn’t want such a vicious condition ruining their lives, as bipolar is prone to do.

For me, it’s just wrong, and dangerous, to diagnose yourself. And it is even more dangerous to medicate yourself, especially given the brutal side effects that accompany most psychiatric medication. If you really think you have a mental health problem, forget Google, forget the “Family Doctor” book, forget what you read online; make an appointment to see a mental health professional and talk about your life in order to receive an impartial opinion on what may – or may not – be going on.

It’s the only intelligent thing to do.