Hello! How was bonfire night? I went to the spectacular, somewhat frightening celebrations in Lewes. There, I discovered an England I thought was fictional, a town inexplicably governed by the Lib Dems when it looks like a model of a Tory paradise, and a populace that still does blackface, possibly to make up for the fact they only have about one or two black people living there. This is something that now, living in somewhere as multicultural as London, makes me feel as though I am an alien. Even going home to Belfast and seeing nothing but white faces on the bus gives me a sense of discomfort. I also experienced that not-unfamilar unease at being Catholic. Behold!
Last week: essay writing. Go me for picking the stupidly fucking complex social issue to write about, and not something easier. It was due on Thursday, I am just finishing it due to completely overwhelming myself with reading.
I wish I had done the friggin’ two year course instead of the one. I couldn’t get the funding. Most people on my course are doing two years, with more time to decide what degree to do, or have already done a degree and need the extra qualifications. I feel like I have a Poké ball in my hand with no clue what’s going to pwing its way out until I chuck it at a monster. And I’ve also lost the ability to make coherent similes. Which leads me to:
This week: Actual writing, that is, the book and some general article ideas. I have absolutely neglected my book since starting this course as it has kept me terrifyingly busy. Part of me feels that I have given up on writing, acknowledged, somewhere, I am not talented enough, nor brave enough, to, er- “get out there”. I’m not a professional and because I don’t pitch myself (people often come to me, continue doing that people, I am fragrant and sexy and enthuasiastic) because I don’t know how, I also have no fecking clue what the actual culture and etiquette is. I never imagined myself as anything but a writer, but hey, ho, a day job beckons. Still, I’ll keep doing it and hope people continue to be patient with me. I’m still trying to gather my brain and my knickers.
THE BOOK, intone it loudly, is also proving problematic because I am increasingly convinced that manic depression was a misdiagnosis and therefore me writing about Mentalism will get me done under the Trades Descriptions Act. I don’t think I have manic depression. (I know that may seem weird as in the past six months, I’ve had two of my most marked mood swings of the past two years- one quite long episode of high mood followed by a severe, sharp turn in low mood. But I’m still unsure, because I keep thinking, shouldn’t I be worse than this?)
People are also not interested in, “I dunno”. I don’t think I have borderline personality disorder either- I came squarely under “traits” that resolved themselves as I got older. There is the whole “labelling” argument, but if I’m asked to write about mental health, it’s somewhat important as it is the framework through which things are understood, and through which treatment is given. Because of my own uncertainty about my mental health, I have no idea if I will be okay or if I will get ill again. Diagnosis=prognosis.
I am also uncomfortable with writing about my relationships. The one I was in for most of the duration of this blog and the years before is someone I am no longer with. Aside from the fact it feels rude to write about him, he has moved on to the extent that he’s having his first child soon, and I have moved on to the extent where I am considering my future in terms of me, Robert and our hypothetical family. It feels a bit strange to try and claw him back into my history, when it is something he may rightly feel liberated from. We broke up eighteen months ago and writing about it keeps me unhealthily tethered and reflective.
It’s also almost pleasure-less to write about yourself constantly- yeah, I know I do it anyway- and also wearying to write so much about mental health, when I am better when my head is not jammed up my arse.
So I’ve gone back to the drawing board and am amusing myself with the ideas of writing about identity. Over the years with this blog, a radio play, interviews and my beautiful medical notes, I have seen, and portrayed, such a convulted idea of myself that there are representations of me out there that I don’t even recognise. I think this is true of everybody; who the self is, the filters through which we are seen. With mental illness, it’s particularly resonant, because- first off, we are defined through various systems by a diagnosis in a way that someone with a physical illness is not. We’re the same person through each diagnosis- I think most of us have been through more than one- and yet, to a different medical professional, even to a different sort of person- we are someone else. When I was told I had BPD rather than bipolar by one psychiatrist, something which I have been consistently told to disregard (aye right, I am incapable of disregarding something like that, for a start, I’m too much of a psychology spod), it has made me think deeply about identity. (Oh yes, it’s one of those posts. Come, let me guide you on a journey up my arsehole…)
A core feature of borderline personality disorder is identity disturbance- and I didn’t have one until the diagnosis! I had “identified” in some way as someone with manic depression- to have that identity dismissed was wounding, but it made me think. It is embarrassing to admit it but since then I have felt like I don’t “fit” anywhere- there is, regrettably, a hierarchy in the “mental health community”, with a lot of manic depressive people tending to be protective of their diagnosis- partly, I think, because of the shit you usually have to go through to get help for it, like with any mental illness. Although I have never particularly considered myself part of a community, it was always good to know it existed, but now, I feel I would be told to bugger off. Likewise, I don’t really identify with a lot of BPD communities- I did when I was a teenager (and indeed, my first forays on the ‘net were to self harm communities), so I don’t really know who to talk to about any of this, which is why I spew it here. It’s all very silly but it’s the nature of any community, they’re a bit tribal. The mental health bloggers are less so- but that said, we all do have our diagnosis in our side bars and about pages. We still identify as one camp or another. And that is natural, and human.
I had often questioned and written about the difference between episodic behaviour and personality- the disentangling of yourself in episodes of illness, and yourself in normality. In a sense, a distinction lets you off the hook, something I am uncomfortable with, but was secretly grateful for, which was another reason I was, “Argh!” by, “Oh, hang on, it’s actually you, ya knobber”. I don’t think that’s the way it works, but they do! In a way, I needed the distinction, because before I had it, I took my more mad behaviour totally on my own head, and the guilt was corrosive. When I started to feel more sane, I was flattened by shame, it was almost unbearable. My depressive episodes were largely fuelled by this, crushing, smothering guilt. I wanted to run and hide, or bury myself and hide- just hide-with, “I’m sorry” being the only thing I could mutter. But even when I’m depressed, I’m a knobber, because I retreat, and it makes it worse.
I was told, over and over again, “This isn’t your fault- you weren’t well, you aren’t well, you are trying”. I still feel that way, and more so since that appointment- it made me think in good ways, to move away from the rigidity of it all, and the warm knowledge that I have come further than I thought- that I may still have trouble with my moods, my energy and all that jazz, but so many other things are so much better, that when I’m not being sneaked up on by depression, I am happy, and here I am, an adult, twenty five, still alive. But also in bad ways, in that I couldn’t help but examine my past, and want to chew my fist off in embarrassment and guilt, for the things I have lost, the things I put people who loved me through and enduring the treatment for something I probably don’t have, which in itself took a stupid toll on me and my life, and watching me try and fail to be normal and live normally over and over again.
In that sense, too, it is interesting if you have an episodic illness- people may get a completely different picture of who you are depending on when they meet you. Most people who have met me in certain periods would say I was very loud, extremely talkative, hard-to-follow, self-obsessed, aggressive, hyperactive, sociable- irritating, even, verging on grandiose, but fun. Vivid and bright and mercurial. I seek out people and experiences. This is me being complimentary- the irritating thing is writ large, as is “rude and indiscreet”. I have made friends this way- I have lost many, too. People who know me better, over a longer period of time, would associate me with shyness and reticence, as my “natural”, and somewhat depressive disposition is towards isolation, solitary things and quietness. When I am depressed I am very antisocial so most people never see me in that state. I think of myself more in the latter sense, because I recognise- or, at least, thought I did!, ah- that one side is a vaguely unnatural state for me. I know when I am cheerful and comfortable with people, I’m chatty and animated, but generally, I am quiet and introverted.
Again, this is true for everyone- there’s no such thing as an introvert or extrovert, it’s dependent entirely on the circumstances. It interests me, and it’s one of the reasons I often prefer visiting people in their homes rather than in a social situation, because I am Harriet the Spy- I want to see your knicker drawer, I want to flick your dust from my knees.
I remember the mixture of horror and hilarity I felt when I found out that my psychiatrist- who I had met, I think, twice- had partly formed his opinion of me and my relationships on my heavily dramatised radio play based on a blog. At the same time, when that play was broadcast, I was receiving lovely emails from people saying, “You and Rob give me hope! Thank you!” while I was bawling into my cornflakes about the decision we made to not have our child, then skipping off on Seaneen’s I Cannot Handle My Grief, as my relationship came to a sad (and for me and my behaviour, punch-in-the-face regrettable) end. I remember it compounding my shame at the time and feeling that I hadn’t just let me and Rob down because it didn’t work out, but also my family, who adored him, and even the bloody listeners, who found something hopeful in it all. It’s ridiculous but true.
My notes, from what little I’ve read (that’s the scary part- it is a tiny sample) contain various falsehoods. One is that when I was on the mental ward in 2006, I cut my throat open. That never happened- it happened before I was admitted, when I was desperately trying to calm myself down as by that point I was steeped in fairly horrific paranoia (thought I was being followed, had barricaded doors, didn’t trust people not to poison me etc etc etc) and a frantic energy I couldn’t control. I was okay on the ward due to haloperidol and lorazepam- when they were withdrawn, I started to get very jittery again and was having very bad racing thoughts and doing star jumps in my room to get rid of energy.
Another is that I had sought stitches for self harm, again, this is something I’ve never done, I have never sought medical attention of any kind for self harm. A huge one was that I took an overdose after a fight with Rob- that never happened, there was no fight, this was a hugely disrespectful jumping to conclusions of a psychiatrist being presented with a young woman who had taken an overdose who clearly wanted to get the hell out of there. (The real reasons can be found in 2008). My age is frequently misreported. (I think this is because it’s often assumed I am younger than I am when people meet me, due to being only three quarter sized.
Another was that I am bulimic- strictly speaking, I’m not. I was always asked, “So, when you binge….” and pointed out time and time that I didn’t binge. I threw up normal meals. I wasn’t an impulsive, “A NOM NOM NOM”, I greatly disliked feeling full so would throw up and use laxatives to counteract it. The bulimia part was also sparked off by doing the Atkins diet rigidly to lose weight I had gained on Olanzapine- it demonised carbohydrates on paper and in my mind. Weight gain has been a frequent reason I have stopped taking medication on the sly, and the stopping taking medication on the sly was often a cause of my “instability”, rather than medication not working. That said, if I can get away with not taking it for the rest of my life, I will.
It basically comes down to, “So, you’re twenty two, a male, and from Mars?” and me smacking my head against a wall.
Anyway, this interests me, because my own memory is notoriously unreliable, with huge blank areas from times of unwellness, and some vaguely delusional episodes- and yet the literature, the everything, is equally unreliable! So, it begs the question- what makes a person know who they are? I have a sense of myself, a deep sense from inside. I know my interests, my loves, my joys, fears, ambitions, dislikes, principles- but there is the importance of memory, the importance of feedback, all fractured. And I know I’m not alone in this. I think lots of people go, “What the fuck happened there?” with nobody and nothing around them to tell them accurately. It’s one of the reasons why when someone says, “Oh, I’ve met you before!” on a “first” introduction, my response is, “Oh, shit”.
So! Yes, that’s this week.
<Removed because I can’t be arsed defending/explaining. I thought my reasoning was clear enough- I don’t think I need medication and the doctor agrees- the stuff prescribed was done via arm twisting>
As is making plans- I have to drive myself forward, or else I will come to a total standstill. Hooray! I am very worried about the future at the moment. I don’t think I was quite ready for this course, but I’ll do my best. I find it interesting, I like my tutor but I haven’t made any friends yet. But the highlight of my week is stepping into the cold and making my way onto Euston Road, dissolving into the masses heading towards the station and rush-hushing buses at the red lights, feeling like I am part of the world, after three years in the wilderness. I like going home and, when he isn’t working, telling Robert about the class as he makes tea. Even though it’s only three hours a week, even if three hours a week and the study is all I can manage right now.
But my benefits are going to be taken away, along with my home, I have no references for three years, and I have pretty much no idea what the hell I am going to do. I have no money anyway, college is compounding that as I still haven’t received a decision on my funding so am buying everything myself on no money, and it’s going to get worse and worse. This country feels a bit like a vice now, watching the life and hopes being squeezed out of people, the news, depressing every day for the feckless, wastrel benefit scum like me. And knowing so many people agree with the government- who have, along with the media, done a wonderful job of dehumanising the poor, the disabled and the unemployed- I had no idea I lived in such a cold fucking country. I will be very much affected by all this, but I think I deserve to be.
I’ve been looking at all the volunteer things you’ve posted, a big, THANK YOU! for your help, lovely people. I’ve spoken to MIND, been told to, “fuck off” by Great Ormond Street and am waiting to hear back from St. John’s Ambulance.
I’m also buggering off back to my dead blog over here so find me there soon.
Filed under: Bipolar Disorder