My Moods Do Not Define Me
My moods are a roller coaster. I see life through the lens of constant up and down. Not many people know this about me, because I have a natural life force and an outgoing personality. Mental illness is so often a hidden thing. Its sufferers are often adept at hiding its symptoms. The image you have of mental illness often comes from the movies. The movies have a habit of presenting mental illness in its extreme form. But not all of us are like that.
Many of us are just human beings doing the best we can in life like other humans. The experience of Bipolar varies from person to person. Its symptoms are expressed differently in different people. Some people are hospitalized. Some are not. Some people experience more of the depression side of Bipolar, whereas others get the mania. Some people spend their money on gambling, while others shop. Some people don’t have the spending problem, but they may have risk-taking behaviors, act out sexually or take loads of drugs and alcohol.
The Early Years
When I was in my teens to early twenties, I used copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. I wasn’t afraid of the consequences. I never seemed able to get enough of the stuff into me. Looking back, I can see how much I was trying to silence my moods, which were often difficult and painful, uncomfortable. I became suicidal and psychotic, hearing conversations in public that I thought were all about me. I saw flying saucers. I couldn’t string sentences together. I got involved in sexual situations I couldn’t handle with people who took advantage of me. My experiences felt sordid and not at all like the real me, or the sunny natured child I had been growing up. It felt as though I was possessed by some dark, unknown forces that were beyond my ability to comprehend let alone resolve. I was suicidal, unstable.
Stealing drugs and money, lying, cheating on people, selling my belongings, and chasing drug dealers was not the me I wanted to be. I hated myself, but was unable to stop my behavior. It took several attempts at recovery, twelve-step meetings, rehab and therapy to finally get myself sorted out. Twenty three years later, and I still do not drink or take drugs because I am frightened of the sickness, the death, the destruction. I am frightened of the person I became, frightened of hurting my loved ones.
I had no trauma. I came from a loving family. My childhood was great, full of moments of joy, love and laughter. It was fun. But I do remember times when painful feelings of loneliness, fear, anxiety and ‘inwardness’ seemed to engulf me. I felt a flat, empty, dull feeling for no reason, which I later came to identify as depression. Other times I was wild,‘out there’ and outrageous. I would strip in front of school assembly for a laugh, showing my non-existent, undeveloped chest. There were times of relative normality, I think. In many ways I was a normal girl with normal interests.
The thing is, I have only just found out since my diagnosis, that the things I thought were normal were anything but.
I have always had behaviors that I have kept hidden from myself, thinking I am doing great, thinking that I am hiding such behaviors from other people.
Now, I can really see how this Bipolar thing has ruled my life over so many years.
A mental illness is different from a physical illness. It often hides its face, unless the sufferer is really obviously affected. My family and partner feel distressed when I get chronic pain symptoms because they can see these. Mental illness is worse, far worse. Often I don’t know, and can’t communicate when I have it. Medication has helped, but is not the cure-all on its own.
It’s impossible to describe my experiences with people who don’t have it. Trying to describe what I experience is like trying to explain colours to someone who is blind, who has never seen colours before. Only other Bipolar sufferers can relate to my experiences. There are many instances of people who have learned to live with Bipolar, who lead productive lives. We don’t always hear about good news stories in popular media, because bad news sells. Many people out there don’t know how to talk about the topic of mental illness. It is not a comfortable topic to talk about, and sufferers are often viewed as train-wrecks, failures or weak. It is my view that this perception is slowly changing, but old ways of thinking die hard. Some people even think Bipolar and other mental illnesses do not exist. All you have to do is visualize wellness, wave a magic wand and think positive or use willpower and poof! All gone, that illness!
I have tried every trick in the book to overcome my own mental illness, and I still have it. While living with Bipolar is not easy, and some days, it is really hard, I do not have to think of myself as a ‘poor me’ type of character. Poor me thinking will not change a thing, only make things harder.
I am trying to get out of bed early and do some exercise with others. I feel very fortunate I have access to this great program called Mood Active, which is exercise for people with mental illness. Mood active is run mainly by volunteers who selflessly give of their time and effort.
I have many people who I love, who love me.I have many wonderful things in my life. I am not living in Syria. Sometimes, it is hard to know what is me and what is my illness, but I bear in mind I am a human being and a woman. This makes it easier not to let mental illness define me.
This post was originally posted on The Many Moods of Me