Sorry for the lack of posts for the past few weeks, dear Readers. I have actually heard from some of you telling me how much they have been missed, which is pretty appreciated. Because I am not a blogger who has a super-specific theme to my posts and because I believe the adage that “the personal is political”, I am going to talk about why I haven’t managed to post.
Let’s talk about mental illness.
It isn’t a novel or new thing for people to talk about mental health issues, and although I haven’t yet explored it deeply on this blog, I have Bipolar II Disorder. This means that, like the more notorious Bipolar I Disorder, I have major depressive episodes, but instead of having flow blown mania, I have what is known as “hypomania”. The way this is the same as true mania is that it is an elevated mood with an often exaggerated sense of self/self-importance. I get cocky and selfish and believe that I can do pretty much anything and own the world. The way it is different is best described by part of the conversation I had with my psychiatrist as she was diagnosing me:
Psych: So, have you ever bought a horse?
Me: A horse? No, I live in an apartment, what would I do with a horse?
I thought this was a slightly funny example to express that true mania involves a complete or near-complete break from reality. There are times when hypomania can get close, but I don’t “hear angels” and I (mostly – and least not super recently) don’t actually attempt to fly. However, this doesn’t mean that Bipolar II Disorder is like Bipolar “lite” or a “wanna-be”. Here’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic about it:
Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but a separate diagnosis. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be severe and dangerous, individuals with bipolar II disorder can be depressed for longer periods, which can cause significant impairment.
On the flip side of the disorder, the major depressive episodes are pretty much just like Bipolar I Disorder. It can involve a complete or near-complete break from reality. And just like our more talked about and becoming more normalized cousin, Major Depressive Disorder, it’s not fun. It’s characterized by a loss of motivation, withdrawing from social situations, loss of enjoyment in hobbies and other enjoyable activities, feelings of extreme hopelessness and despair, thoughts and sometimes even attempts of suicide. Sometimes just getting out of bed and going about the bare necessities of my day can be incredibly exhausting (and not nearly as catchy, upbeat or animated). Both the “high” and “low” phases are characterized by self-destructive behaviours.
This is an important and defining characteristic of my life. It isn’t something that I chose, and I struggle with how much to actually make a mental illness part of my identity, since I don’t want to allow myself to act or become a victim. Sometimes mentally healthy people stigmatize people with mental illness as faking it and looking for handouts. It’s pretty similar to the myth of the “welfare queen”. It can be hard, but most of the other people I know who suffer from mental illness have jobs, pay their bills, etc. Sometimes we struggle because we overspend our money on uncontrollable impulses, or blow up our relationships with friends, family and partners for pretty ridiculous reasons (which seem either perfectly valid or a dramatically big deal at the time). It’s pretty common to get ensnared by negative feedback loops of thinking.
This all is managed by medication, often therapy, and a huge ol’ heaping of self-awareness. And incredibly supportive friends who notice that I might be cycling again and ask me if I need help or if this is just an episode I need to ride out on my own. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, but sometimes when they ask if makes me think about it a little harder.
I’m going to wrap this up for now, because I have a suspicion that this is might be the beginning of a whole series about mental health. There are millions more words to say. In explaining why I have been away, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention part of what triggered my most recent bout of major depression. This is definitely a separate post, but I have not made it a secret that I was violently sexually assaulted in my youth. I have done a lot of processing around that. I have done a lot less processing, but have also not been secretive about being more vulnerable to that sexual assault do to sexual abuse I experienced as a child. That’s the type of trauma that sticks, and I have reached out to my health care team to help me get some further long-term counselling, hopefully soon. I did that reaching out as one of the first things before I really spiraled down into not coping, when I realized that I could call it whatever and justify it in my head all I wanted, but last year I was again sexually assaulted. I didn’t recognize it at first, because it wasn’t violent like before, and it even sort-of started out as tentatively consensual. He actually probably doesn’t even realize he assaulted me – it was likely something that was similar to this article on Cracked. The result of a societal norm, not a monster. But some of the feelings are familiar. That’s a whole different thing to unpack, though, so I will leave that for another time.
As always, get in touch if you have questions or any anecdotes you wish to share. Be brave and comment publicly, email me, carrier pigeons, your choice. If anything in what I have said has struck a nerve and you think that you might need help from a mental health professional, please seek it. Working through hard issues can drastically improve our lives in a myriad of ways.