What bipolar is and isn’t…

Most of the time I don’t think about the fact I suffer from a mood disorder, same as the fact I don’t think about the fact I have a ‘congenital abnormality of the hands’ or I have a calf-lick in my fringe or I have the Oakden chin. More often than not, someone else reminds me of all of these things – it’s like I become unconscious of them – and when people remind me, I get a bit indignant.

So, can I first say: I’VE NEVER BEEN SECTIONED. Not once. Not ever. I’VE NEVER BEEN KEPT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION IN ANY PLACE (except a cupboard for a short while and the head teacher’s office). I’VE NEVER BEEN FORCED TO TAKE ANY DRUGS I DIDN’T WANT TO TAKE. Well, except when my mum made me take aspirin and it always tasted horrible. And even though my bother-in-law threatens me with haldol from time to time. Not that I’d be ashamed of being sectioned. It’s not to be ashamed of. If you are forced into hospital with a heart attack or a stroke, it’s not to be ashamed of. Neither is it for mental illness. But I thought it was time to clarify some things.

But I guess to the outside, ‘mental illness’ is a confusing thing. And believe me, bipolar can be scary, especially when you first learn you have it. For me, it was a relief. The ancients believed once you knew the name of something, you could conquer it – this is why they’re funny about saying God and stuff. Once you name him, you reveal his secrets. And it was a bit like this for me.

So what even is it?

It’s two extreme moods that you might get – just you control yours and I can’t always control mine so well.

And people who think ‘depression’ is the blues… it’s not. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. To me, it’s a mind-cancer. It takes every good thought and value you have and corrupts them, turns them foul. You can love life as I do, and depression makes you hate it. You can be social and depression makes you seek isolation. It’s not just feeling sad. There have been times when I longed – longed  –  to cry. And I just couldn’t. It’s like longing to drown. Longing for peace, for rest.

And many people don’t understand hypomania or mania. Unfortunately, idiots like Kerry Katona have a lot to answer for, as does the media.

Hypomania is quite lovely. You’re filled with energy. The world sends you positive messages. The world is kind and lovely. Things seem harmonious. You feel like you can achieve anything. You’re blessed with creativity. Things are beautiful and nothing seems impossible.

Take this a step further. You’re talking nonsense. Nobody understands you because not only are you going too fast, you’re missing out steps. You are frustrated and aggressive with people who don’t understand you. The need to take risks is through the window. All sensible and rational behaviour seems ridiculous. Recklessness takes over. You do stupid things and don’t care about the consequences. You get in dangerous situations.

I share because that’s who I am. I believe in honesty. I believe I’m also incredibly bad at hiding my moods. They seep out. I share because I didn’t know one of my closest friends Elizabeth was in the midst of a full-blown mania until she was sectioned for things that were so out of character I almost couldn’t believe them. I share because mental illness is still stigmatised. It’s noble to have ‘suffered’ cancer; it’s shameful to have ‘suffered’ depression. I share because I don’t want anyone who is ‘mentally ill’ to feel like nobody gets them. I share because I want people to understand this is biology, not psychology. I could no more ‘stop’ my moods without drugs than a diabetic could stop their disorder without insulin. I can ‘manage’ it, like diabetics do. I can do sensible things and maintain routines, just like diabetics do. Yet diabetes isn’t shameful. Nobody ever sends nasty, gloating messages about those who are physically ill. Yet joking that I’ve been sectioned seems to be fun. Nobody would joke about someone being admitted for chemo.

But sadly, some people think mental illness is a laughing matter. They think it’s all kinds of things – a personality disorder, something psychological, something that makes me ‘twisted’. It’s not. I’m actually very straightforward. I’m not ‘mental’ or ‘mad’ or ‘insane’. They forget that I have achieved what I have achieved in spite of mental illness. They forget that in my life I have been commissioned to write books, that I have consulted for the Government, that I have led complex human resources consultancies, that I have achieved amazing grades on all manner of things (incluing a Hay-Mcber ‘Emotional Intelligence’ test that I aced… maybe I’m being silly to say I got ‘cluster strength’ for all emotional intelligence competencies – but it’s my one piece of evidence that says above everything else that I manage to be a well-rounded individual DESPITE mental illness – and more of an emotionally intelligent person than most people who don’t have mental illnesses are – and I think a lot of that is to do with being bipolar) I have a Master’s degree. I learned Japanese. I feel a Donald moment coming on, saying I’m proud of myself. I’ve done it because my family have let me stand on their shoulders and they taught me not only to do that but to stand on my own two feet. And, as I’ve said before, as Ginger reputedly said: “I did what [they] did, just backwards and in high heels.”

So don’t judge me. I have a big enough critic. She’s called LJ. And she’s harsh.

I’m going back to picking cherries now and commenting on world (would-be) leaders. It’s far nicer in that world. Please, if you have something nasty to say about my mental health, don’t hide behind a pseudonym. That makes you crazy, not me.

6 thoughts on “What bipolar is and isn’t…

  1. Well said. You equate mental illness with physical illness in ways that hopefully more people can understand how mental disorders impact lives. Your honesty is refreshing and your connections shed light in places most people do not want to look. Nicely put. : )

    1. I wish I could… it still doesn’t stop some people thinking it’s a laughing matter, and the employment world thinking it’s as contagious as leprosy

  2. LJ – this is the best post I’ve read in a very long time. THE BEST! “Some people” are idiots, plain and simple. You, my friend, rock!

  3. Thanks, Izzie. Sometimes I think it’s ‘me against the world’ and it takes friends and family to remind me there’s a lot of good in the world as well as a few idiots… can’t believe someone actually thought it amusing to gloat and say that I’m twisted and try to press my buttons. Why would anyone want deliberately to press others’ buttons?! I can’t understand it!

  4. I did say ‘I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy’ – and this is true. If I found out my worst enemy suffered from depression, I know it’d make me empathise to an extent where they’d become less of an enemy, if not a friend.

  5. This is quite a powerful post…thanks for shining a light on depression! Jim suffers from it occasionally, and your description helps me understand it better!


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