Mental Illness Is Complicated and Some People Just Don’t Get It

I’ve been really struggling this year…

I’ve been out to gigs with friends.

I’ve had nights out dancing and joking.

I’ve caught up with friends over coffee.

I can still have a social life and *shock* have a good time even when I’m having a bad time with mental illness. I’ve written about having a social life with mental illness before. The thing about mental illness is it’s complicated. It’s not black and white. It’s not all or nothing.

It isn’t just staring into space, or laying in bed/on the sofa all day. There are ups and downs within a bad patch. I can smile and laugh in the same week as when I can’t stop bursting into tears. It’s complicated living with Bipolar and the mania/depression cycle.

People expect when you’re depressed that you must spend all day sitting crouched in a corner, clutching your head. I don’t think I’ve ever done this, once. They expect that you spend all day in bed in your pyjamas. Life goes on when you’re depressed and sometimes you have to go with it. It’s not all about putting a brave face on things. Sometimes, I just feel like me again. It might only be for a day, half a day even. In this short space of time of feeling better, you’re damn right I’m going to make the most of it. I go out and see friends and generally try to enjoy myself. I know it’s not going to last so I take advantage of the moment.

I can also be going through a manic phase, but deep down I’m miserable. I can hate my life and be despairingly unhappy, yet I can’t stop all the thoughts racing through my head.

It’s not just that people expect certain behaviour from you, they’re almost insulted when you don’t act that way. I’ve said I’m depressed and people have been surprised when I’ve managed to go to a party on Friday night. When I’ve been signed off work ill I’ve hidden from colleagues. I’ve gone into town during the day, or had a meal out in the evening and been paranoid someone would see me and assume I was faking being ill. So I’d isolate myself and sit at home. Then there’s the inevitable question people ask,

“But I thought you were ill? you must be better now, right?!” If my answer is no, I’m still ill and struggling, I can see the look of disapproval on their face. How dare I take control and embrace a few hours when I feel better? It doesn’t make sense to them, because they don’t live with a long term mental illness. I can understand it’s hard to empathise with something you haven’t experienced. All I expect from people is to try. To listen and put themselves in my shoes. If you knew life, every day, every moment was going to be monumentally tough for the foreseeable future wouldn’t you want to capture those fleeting moments of happiness? I think we can all agree you would with a resounding YES!

101 Things No-one Tells You About Mania

  1. It is more than just being happy
  2. Mania makes me feel euphoric
  3. Mania makes me feel constantly ‘on’ and ready
  4. Mania makes me feel a constant sense of anticipation
  5. Sufferers all have slightly different periods of hypomania and mania.
  6. An episode could last days
  7. An episode could last weeks
  8. A hypomanic or manic episode could last months
  9. Mania is not always fun
  10. Mania can be frightening and make me feel completely out of control
  11. Mania can make me delusional
  12. Mania can make me feel furious at everyone and everything
  13. Mania makes me feel irritable and restless to a point where I can no longer sleep
  14. Mania will make me pace incessantly
  15. I will feel that I constantly need to be doing something
  16. Sometimes mania makes me scratch and pick at my skin
  17. Sleep deprivation is agony
  18. Mania has put me in danger
  19. I will have no fear
  20. Fights will start with random people because I have no filter to what I say
  21. I will get run over because I believe cars should stop for me
  22. My driving will be reckless
  23. I will crash my car and laugh hysterically whilst it’s happening
  24. I will believe I can drive like a racing driver
  25. When manic, I’ll drink and take other drugs excessively
  26. I will drink a bottle of whisky in my flat alone just because I want to
  27. When I’m manic I’ll want sex all the time.
  28. I will wake my partner up at four in the morning because I want sex
  29. I will begin wild and whimsical projects that will take over my life
  30. These projects will be left unfinished when mania turns to depression
  31. I will be able to concentrate on projects for days on end
  32. Projects will be so important I’ll stay up all night – and then the next night
  33. I will forget to eat for days at a time
  34. I will not eat because I have more important things to do
  35. I will go to the gym obsessively
  36. I will not eat and exercise excessively
  37. I will faint in the shower because I haven’t eaten and have over exercised
  38. I will lose the ability to understand the concept of money when I’m manic
  39. I will constantly be in debt
  40. I will spend hundreds of pounds on a pair of shoes anyway because I’m manic
  41. I will stop paying bills because my memory is impaired
  42. I will stop paying bills because I believe I don’t need to
  43. I will believe everything will sort itself out because I’m too important for anything bad to happen to me
  44. Mania comes with it’s own special variety of intense anger that can’t be satiated
  45. I will punch holes in the wall so I don’t punch someone I love
  46. I will trash my possessions because the anger is too much
  47. Relationships will end because of mania
  48. The anger will cause me to lash out verbally and hurt the people closest to me
  49. Anger will cost me many opportunities; in education and my career
  50. I will neglect my job
  51. I will regularly avoid attending appointments because I’d rather be doing what I want to do
  52. I will walk out of a college course because I clash with a lecturer
  53. I will believe I’m better than everyone else.
  54. I will believe I’m the smartest person in the room, all the time.
  55. My speech will be pressured
  56. I will get annoyed when I speak too fast for people to understand
  57. I won’t realise I’m doing this and believe I’m acting perfectly normal
  58. My thoughts will race constantly
  59. I will get frustrated when people can’t keep up with my train of thought
  60. I will belittle people and call them stupid for not keeping up
  61. I won’t listen to anyone when I’m manic
  62. I will believe my opinions are more important than anyone else’s
  63. No one can reason with me during mania
  64. People will tell me I’ve upset them and I’ll laugh in their face
  65. I will make people cry
  66. Psychosis when I’m manic can spur me on to do even more dangerous things
  67. Sometimes I will secretly wish to be manic again
  68. The come down from mania to depression will make me suicidal
  69. After a manic episode ends, I will be completely and utterly exhausted
  70. This exhaustion will lead to physical illnesses
  71. You will take more time off school/work than any of your classmates/colleagues
  72. My memory and concentration will be impaired
  73. Medication is not a magic wand
  74. Therapy is not a magic wand
  75. There will be times when I will stop taking medication because I want to be manic again.
  76. Withdrawal symptoms are worse than the flu
  77. It will make me feel isolated and alone
  78. Hearing people say ‘I’m so Bipolar!’ will set my teeth on edge
  79. People will compare me to characters from tv and film depicted with bipolar
  80. People will tell me their jealous of the mania I experience
  81. People will think I’m a creative genius
  82. People won’t believe I have bipolar because they haven’t seen me in full blown mania
  83. I will worry about people finding out and thinking I’m mad
  84. I will worry about telling friends and family for fear they won’t understand
  85. Some people, who might be family or friends, will never understand
  86. The acknowledgement I will never be able to change their opinions of the disorder is heartbreaking
  87. I will worry about disclosing at interview or when I start a job, because they may find an excuse not to employ me
  88. It will take years for me to be diagnosed
  89. I will be tested for every physical ailment linked to depression and tiredness, because I won’t see a doctor when I’m manic.
  90. Mental health professionals will have differing opinions about my care
  91. I will have to adjust to the idea of living with the disorder for the rest of my life
  92. After diagnosis, I will start identifying what triggers a manic episode
  93. I will start to identify the warning signs of a manic episode
  94. I will have to rely on friends and family to identify these warning signs
  95. I will have to tell family and friends to tell me when I’ve upset them when I’ve been manic
  96. I will spend time when I’m stable again apologising for my behaviour
  97. I will learn that mania isn’t an excuse for my behaviour, but an explanation for it
  98. I will learn I have to make lifestyle changes to be stable
  99. I will learn that mania is self destructive
  100. I will learn not to miss mania when I’m stable
  101. I will learn to enjoy stability

Is It Real? Doubt And Hearing Voices

On the bus earlier, there was a couple whispering a few rows behind me. It freaked me the fuck out. Why? It reminded me of the voices I hear. The cruel, whispering words that shake me to my core.

I often hear whispering when I’m depressed, they’re malicious and make me feel extremely vulnerable. I feel out of control, like there is nowhere safe for me to go, because the voices I can’t escape, as they’re all in my head. I’ve had voices where I can make out what they’re saying, others I can’t. The kind of things they say are vicious. They prey on my insecurities and might even tell me to hurt myself.

When I can’t make out what they’re saying, weirdly, it’s worse. The mumbling and whispering scares me because they could be saying anything. My imagination runs wild. The experience feels ethereal, other worldly and there is the constant fear that suddenly a word will jump out from through the mumbling. That word could be a shout or a scream, directed straight at me.

The latter is what it felt like on the bus. The couple that were whispering, I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then comes the paranoia. Is it that couple that are whispering, really? Or is it my own mind tricking me. If I could’ve heard their conversation, it would have put my mind at rest. Only hearing snippets of words, a quiet chuckle here and there really made me feel on edge.

Since I’ve been more aware of what I hear (I was in denial for years) I often doubt the world around me. If I hear a strange tapping, a voice, a shout out of nowhere I can’t stop but think if it’s real or from inside my own mind. It definitely disrupts my day to day life. I have to think rationally about what’s happening. It’s a difficult process, but I’m learning to manage the thoughts that accompany hearing voices.

On the bus, I reminded myself that those voices can’t hurt me and I’m stronger than them. It turned out it was the couple behind me and not an episode of psychosis. When I got off the bus it was a huge relief, but I still felt insecure and vulnerable.

It’s important to talk about these experiences, and I will vent on twitter and to my partner or close friends. Hearing voices for me is an insular experience, I’m the only person that is experiencing these exact sounds and voices. No one else will. So I find it vital to open up about what it’s like in those moments. Find someone you trust, that’s non judgmental, that you can show vulnerability to. It will make a huge difference.