How do you learn to live with the difficult truths of your life? The ones you can’t just step over and leave behind?
Confirmation of my Bipolar 1 diagnosis was one of those truths for me. For several years after my first episodes of illness, we didn’t know whether we were dealing with Postnatal Psychosis or Bipolar Disorder. In my mind one was transient, the other a life sentence. Each time I’d press my psychiatrist for a definitive diagnosis he’d say:
‘We’ll have to wait three to five years to see if you have another episode.’
This answer frustrated me immensely. I wanted to put the whole experience of being mentally ill behind me.
I had plans for this post to be much softer than the last. No politics or indignation…
I started with excellent intentions. I slept in, made banana pancakes for breakfast, a big plunger of coffee, got the paper, and planned to read about the royal wedding preparations, the politics of which I am not particularly invested in.
So, I opened The Weekend Australian. I never got to the royal wedding preparations on page three.
On the front page the following words tore at my eyeballs:
Where were we? That’s right. We’d left me in a state of catatonic depression. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post, which dropped yesterday, I suggest doing so now.
The first time I slid into catatonic depression, my psychiatrist tried anti-depressant after anti-depressant while I was hospitalised. Nothing worked. I was still brand new to mental illness. Two months before, I’d suffered my first psychotic episode after the birth of my first child. My First Time
I had gone from mentally healthy for thirty-two years, to experiencing some of the worst psychiatric symptoms in existence. I felt as though I had entered a parallel universe. When ECT was recommended I had a sense of being at the end of the line. I didn’t know much about it.
(Please note – this post contains vivid descriptions of severe clinical and catatonic depression)
Let’s play a quick game of word associations: If I say Electroconvulsive Therapy or Electroshock Therapy, you think…What?
‘They still do that?’ is a common response. A half jokey reference to ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is another. If you thought there was stigma surrounding psychiatric medications (and there is), ECT takes the stigma, myths, misinformation, and at times insults to a new level.
There comes a moment in many of my conversations when I have a choice to lie or tell the truth. If I’m meeting a new person I don’t tend to lead with: ‘I have Bipolar Disorder’, unless it’s relevant. However, the longer I know someone, the more likely we are to reach that moment of disclosure. It came up within days of my discharge from a recent hospital stay. I ran into an acquaintance who asked how I was.
And there was a second, where it would have been so easy to answer with the expected: ‘Fine.’ Or ‘Busy’ And leave it at that. If it had been a person I didn’t know asking, I would have. But this was someone I see quite often. So, I gave an honest answer: ‘Ok, but I have just spent a month in hospital. I have Bipolar Disorder, and sometimes it flares up badly.’