Oct. 10th, 2012

crazyjane: (Default)
You wouldn't know it to look at me.

These things don't show on the outside - well, for the most part, and it's easy to cover up the rest. That's the thing about mental illness. It's not like a broken leg, or a knife wound, clearly visible and recognisable - although it can be just as disabling. Everything goes wrong on the inside, and what others see is too easily mistaken as just not being tough enough to get on with life like everyone else does.

We don't talk about mental illness. We portray it in movies as either wacky (like in the recent Toni Collette film Mental) or spooky-dangerous (just about every serial killer movie ever made). On TV, characters who suffer it are condemned for being weak and drug-addicted. Our friends tell us to 'get over it', 'get out in the sun', 'go have a shower, you'll feel better'. And our families don't tell anyone anything at all.

Is it any wonder mental illness still carries such a stigma? Even with all the good work that's been done to change the culture surrounding it, being 'crazy' is still a taboo subject. If you are mad, the last thing you do is admit to it. You make excuses. You're tired. You're busy. You're coming down with a cold. You take your medication secretly so that you don't have to explain what all those pills are supposed to do. Or maybe you don't seek help at all.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I've hidden my illness for a long time. Some of my friends knew part of it, but only those who are closest to me know the whole story. Why have I kept it from people? Because I'm afraid they'll judge me. That they'll start to distance themselves - or worse, become hyper-aware of what they say and treat me like something delicate. Most of all, I'm afraid that they'll stop seeing me, and only see my illness in everything I do. And so I perpetuate the wall of silence and the stigma.

Today's World Mental Health Day. It's time for me to stop hiding.

In January this year I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. It used to be called 'manic depression', which is a far more descriptive name. The diagnosis was a total shock. For decades I'd been told that I had recurrent depression. That was easy to believe; at my lowest, I'm virtually unable to get up in the morning, let alone take care of myself. My thoughts are muddy and clogged with self-loathing, only made worse by the fact that I'm lying in bed instead of getting up to do housework or get the kids off to school. If I were a 'good' person, I wouldn't do this, I'm selfish, lazy, etc. My eyes leak tears at the slightest provocation - and sometimes for no reason at all.

There's a grey veil which seems to descend at such times, cutting me off from the world. I disappear from everyone, both online and in real life. I can't write, I can't cook or clean, and even the thought of taking a shower seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

But mania? Me?

Then I realised. I'd never sought help in those times when my mood was soaring sky-high, because I felt so damned good. I can stay up all night, writing and blogging, making plans and starting projects. My thoughts race so fast it feels like lightning slamming around in my brain. Sleep? What a waste of time. There are books to read, things to do.

And I can do anything in these times - literally, anything. I can solve the world's problems. I just 'know' what to do. It's all so simple, why can't other people see it? I must be the smartest person around. If only others would recognise that. I don't need a law degree, or any other for that matter. Why should I be discriminated against, when I'm so clearly the best person for the job (whatever job that is)?

Of course, it gets too high. Grandiose thoughts spin out of control. Nervous energy makes me want to fly apart - and, being partly disabled, I can't go running or walking to burn that off. Voices and ideas start colliding in my head, and what comes out on the screen or on paper is less and less coherent. I talk for hours at high speed, and just try to follow me from subject to subject. It all makes sense to me.

And then I crash.

Oh, there are periods of relative stability, but they never last long enough for me to be certain that this is 'normal'. Maybe I don't have 'normal'; maybe I'm just permanently shifting and trying to keep my balance on an unsteady platform, and there's no still point.

So, if there are long periods when I'm silent, it's not because I'm ignoring anyone or running away. And if I bombard the internet with tweets and blogs, talk faster and faster, interrupt and flit from subject to subject, it's not because I'm being rude. I have the help of a great psychiatrist. Medication is finally starting to work. But it takes time - and there's no complete cure.

Why am I disclosing this all now? Honestly, World Mental Health Day is an excuse. This is something I should have done months ago. I let fear and shame rule me - and by doing so, I contributed to the stigma, the idea that says mental illness is something that shouldn't be talked about.

Maybe, by telling my story, someone who's been hiding may be encouraged to seek help. Maybe someone else will understand a little more about one small aspect of mental illness.

And maybe someone will start to stand up and say to those who stigmatise and shun sufferers, 'Hey. This is not okay'.







Postcript:

If you, or someone you know, is in need of help, please reach out. This list, while not exhaustive, may be of assistance. In an emergency, call 000.


Beyond Blue - or call 1300 22 4636.

Black Dog Institute.

Lifeline - or call 13 11 14.

Headspace - youth with mental health concerns.

Mindhealthconnect.

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