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.’
The ten-year-old asked me out of nowhere a year or so ago. And I had been well, for a couple of years at that stage. I always find, the longer I am out of hospital, the more of my life I reclaim, the harder it becomes to imagine ever getting that sick again. So, the instant answer that flashed behind my eyes was:
‘No, of course not darling.’
Because after all, the thought of dying is too horrible to bear, let alone articulate. But bitter, repeated experience with the pattern of my illness has taught me that while it’s good to be optimistic when I’m well, I know at some point I will get sick again, and while I am extremely fortunate to have access to excellent care, the nature of the illness means there is a small chance it could kill me.
I am in hospital, waiting for this monster to decide. Which way will it go? Mania and worse, or depression and worse. Yes, it gets worse than both of those. Mania can tip into psychosis. Depression can turn catatonic. At least it can for me. We are nowhere near either…yet. But it can happen within hours. I’ve learnt from bitter, repeated experience… and if it does, this will be the last you’ll hear from me for a while.
But right now, I am just caught in deep, deep water.
I love a big city get away. The energy, architecture, great food, art galleries, the zingy mix of languages, the cultural melting pot. But there are down sides: the crowds, high prices, and the sharp, sharp contrast between those who have and those who haven’t a roof over their heads. On a recent trip to Sydney, I was reminded of living in London years ago. I became desensitised to the homeless dotting the pavement because they were just part of my daily landscape. But that was before…
As we enter the pointy end of the year my trusty, hard copy 2017 diary is filling up. There are end of year everythings to go to. There are kids’ concerts. There are art shows and celebrations of learning. There are special assemblies and swimming carnivals. There is keeping a spotless house…WHAT THE? Oops I seem to have slipped into someone else’s list because that one never makes it onto mine. But it’s an easy mistake to make – the straying into someone else’s list of ‘Shoulds’. There are extra work shifts, and continuing education seminars. There are more invitations for catch ups with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues. There is of course Christmas – no longer quietly creeping up, but everywhere we look, reminding us to worship. At the altar of consumerism. Impending Christmas shouts that we should put reindeer antlers on our cars and see people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with.
Kirsty Alley is right. Psychiatric medications cause aggression and suicide…
I probably would have added a ‘some’ in front of psychiatric medications and a ‘can’ in front of ‘cause’. And I draw the line at blaming all shooting homicides in the US on psychiatric medications, but it is true that some psychiatric medications cause psychiatric side effects. For a harrowing account of how psychiatric care can go horribly wrong one need only read Rebekah Beddoe’s memoir Dying For A Cure.
Psychiatric care done right is complex and unfortunately not always easy to access.