I’m not sure if it’s time to post to Facebook again

It is Mental Health Awareness Month again around here. Last year I wrote an epic status update on Facebook, outlining my mental health issues, well, some of them. It was a fairly effective way of outing myself to more distant family, those weird Facebook-only high-school friends, and the odd collection of people I have gathered from various random sources (mostly friends of friends). This last group are mostly Americans, who argue endlessly about politics and gun control, so the whole revealing myself as a crazy person was a bit of an interesting experiment.

For the most part everyone behaved. There were the usual “don’t call yourself crazy” lectures, and a lot of “but you aren’t like ‘those’ people”, and of course the obligatory “but you seem so normal”. All sort of annoying and condescending in their own special ways, but well meaning, and pretty much willing to listen. The thing I get the most reaction to is the whole “I wouldn’t change my experiences if I could” thing. Most people just can’t conceive of not needing to be cured of bipolar disorder. To them mental illness has no up side, no positive angle. What they are not seeing is the fact that I would not be who I am without it. Being bipolar is pretty fundamental to the way I developed. It gave me my self-reflection, my compassion for suffering, my understanding of power dynamics and oppression. It gave me a much more robust understanding of joy, contentment and happiness than my peers. I see the light better because the shadow defines it.

So, now that it is “be condescending to a crazy person” week again, I have to decide if I am going to post this year. It has been a much better year, as I measure them. I got healthier, I didn’t get hospitalized, I left some groups that were draining energy from me, and I spent more time with friends who really support me. I’m ready to work (even if I don’t have much of a job yet), and my mood is pretty stable.

Ok, not totally stable. I completely had a panic attack a few days ago, but it is a good story. In the past a panic attack would have collapsed me for days. The recovery was always slow. I became one with the couch. This time I made cookies. Literally. I went home and baked. My husband fully supports this coping mechanism. Apparently, I am learning how to manage again. I suspect that perfectly ordinary, mentally stable people bake as a coping mechanism too. There are way too many baking magazines in subway news shops for this to be just about providing sweet sustenance to your friends and family. I think I have stumbled on to a great secret of the sane world – baking as an antidepressant! Don’t tell anyone. Big Pharma will have it packaged in less time than it takes to brown the edges of a nice peanut butter oatmeal cookie. It can be our little secret. Oh right. Facebook.

I object to Facebook on a number of levels. I am not the user, I am the product. Facebook owns everything I post. They own all my little political rants, and my reposted pictures of kittens, and all the weird conversations I have with old roommates. They own my last “I’m crazy” post. They own all the responses from my nearest and dearest and others. I know that, and I rationalize it by saying that I post with eyes wide open. I know I am giving my words up, so somehow it is ok. It’s not really, but most of the people I “know” on Facebook have no other contact with me, and so I have no other way of contacting them. Ah, the life of the netizen.

The other thing, says my HR manager best friend, is that I am wrecking my employment reputation by ranting about city council and the federal government. I maintain that any employer who would disqualify me based on my dislike for our mayor, is not an employer I would want to work for, but as my savings and my family’s good will dwindle, this feeling is eroding. So, if my potential bosses would freak out because I have a serious problem with his worship, or our glorious leader, it stands to reason that they would shred my resume seconds after reading about my mental health. Stigma-busting and supporting workplace mental health are great for corporate fundraisers, but god forbid you actually have to hire one of these people.

So I’m torn, between my own little Facebook activism, where I force my friends to recognize that they interact with a nutcase on a fairly regular basis, without appreciable trauma, and wanting to present a clean, or sanitized view of me to the working world. I want to be sort of in your face about my illness. I’ve always said that I had enough backup that I could afford to be really open about my life. That resolve is being tested. It pisses me off, though. I know that we all curate ourselves for different audiences. Who I am with my mother is awfully different from who I am here, the sticky part comes when you have to hide parts of yourself, or risk being ostracized or left out. In this case it would mean continued poverty and deprivation. I don’t like being told what to do, and not posting on Facebook feels like someone telling me who I can tell about me. I don’t like it.

Chances are I will post. Some part of me likes watching my acquaintances wriggle around in discomfort as they try to be supportive. Maybe like is the wrong word. It is more about some level of satisfaction that they have had to stretch their minds a little to encompass something they are really good at compartmentalizing away. It is ok for Annette to be eccentric, but keep the mumbling real crazy person away from me. They don’t understand how closely related to that person I am, but that isn’t really the point. Posting about my illness is practice for being out in the world. In my vain little head, I can change them. I can make them think differently. Maybe I can get them to treat someone better, or judge someone less. I’m foolish and pig-headed that way.

On Thumb-sucking, Security Blankets and Trusting Myself Again

It has been a year and a half since I was discharged from the hospital. I still struggle with keeping my feet under me, but for new reasons. I’m not depressed, I’m not battling crippling anxiety, and I have not had to fight off mixed episodes or general craziness for a while. It’s been pretty good, from that perspective.

The real problems are things I am less familiar with. I need a job. I need some direction. I need more sleep. I need to get the physical issues under control.

The medical stuff is sort of crazy related. The kidney damage from the meds means that I have to drink a lot of fluids. That seems to have antagonized my bladder, and now I can’t sleep for more than an hour or so without having to get up. I’m sort of getting used to the sleep deprivation, but it makes everything else that much harder. But, I’m getting off track. This is not meant to be a whine about my aging, cranky body.

I do really need a job. I’ve applied to a whole host of jobs I am sort of qualified for. I have a newly minted masters in Educational Technology, and a few years experience in creating online courses for clients, but my resume is horrible. It is just a listing of all the things I either failed at, or failed to finish. It is a mess of jobs, a career I bailed on, and a collections of degrees that make me pretty interesting in conversation, but not the kind of person you would hire. I’m going to need to luck into something, I think. I have a line on some freelance contracts, and you hate to put all your eggs in one basket, but there are not a lot of baskets around at the moment.

I guess I need to find some way to sell myself, never my strong point. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure how much I believe in the product.

Every time I get sick there is a long road back to being ok. Part of the process is giving up the security blanket. I know how to be a sick person. I’m a pro. The people around me, the ones who love me and support me, know how to deal with a sick me too. We have a lot of practice, dealing with the sick girl. I know how to ask for help, for pity, for support, I know how to get what I need when that constitutes coddling and walking around me on eggshells. That sounds really bad, and it isn’t actually that awful. When I’m sick, I need help with really basic things, like laundry and groceries. I need someone to help me get my bills paid, and to tell me to stop crying, and that I can do this. I really need cheerleaders to get me through when I have no faith. I need hand-holding, and reminders to eat and sleep. It is pretty hard on my husband, and my family, and I’m sure it does not endear me to my friends.

When I’ve been hospitalized, it usually comes as a huge relief to my husband. He can go to work without worrying that he will come home to my body. He knows I’ll be safe there, and he can relax a little, usually for the first time in months. Once I’m discharged the worry starts up again. There is always the questions of just how “better” I am. How long can I be left alone? Will I remember to eat, to sleep? Every bad day is a warning flag. Every bad mood is a potential disastrous slide down into a pit. Every night of bad sleep, or every ridiculously early morning, brings up questions of hypomania. If I am irritable, it is a bad sign. If I get angry, it could be the harbinger of doom. All the people in my life, including me, judge, evaluate, dissect, and categorized my moods, the things I say, and all the other indicators we can come up with. It is a pretty exhausting process, but for a while anyway, it sort of needs to happen.

When you come out of an episode, you are still really fragile. You are like the insect, newly moulted. The new skin, or the new exoskeleton, is soft, and offers very little protection. You need to keep wrapped up in the security blanket. You keep sucking your thumb, for comfort, and as a reminder that you are not yet whole.

Obviously, this can’t last. You need to give up on the protections and get out of your head and into the real world at some point, or the recovery stalls. The problem with this is trust. I have to trust myself. I have to start to believe that a bad day is just that – one day – and not the beginning of the end. This usually takes me a couple of months. It is slow, but I get there. The process is slowed down, though, by my well-meaning loved ones, my doctors and the world in general. They protect me, the keep pulling the blanket up to my chin, they dance around me like I was made of only slightly hardened jello. It is way too easy to buy into this.

This time I didn’t have a job to go back to. My job disappeared into the meltdown of the company I worked for. Every other time I have been working on getting my act back together I have had a job to go to. I’ve had responsibilities, and a place to show up at. This time it’s just me, and school, and school is done now. I have no external structure to rely on for a reality check, and so I have been relying on the people around me, and they don’t trust me.

Well, they trust me, they just don’t trust that I am healthy, or that I can handle adversity, or that I’m not teetering on the edge of disaster at all times. My problem is I tend to buy into this a little too easily. It makes me question myself, and, let’s be honest, it is too easy to give in to it. It enables me to stay sick, or stay fragile, longer than is really necessary. I get to figuratively limp around for a lot longer than I really deserve.

This time is has been worse. I was really sick for a lot longer than usual. I was hospitalized twice in one year, which has never happened before, and I scared the bejeezus out of the people around me. Hell, I scared me. Getting better was hindered by the fact that I wasn’t really sleeping well. I’m still not, not really. Plus, there was the problem of not really having anything to do. I was in no shape to job hunt, and I could barely put sentences together for school. It was a very long, slow process. I had a lot of little relapses, very bad weeks, and some rather dumb slip-ups. It has taken a year to get to the point where I could realistically do a full-time job. So now, I have to get rid of the security blanket.

I’m terrified. I’ve been protected and coddled for two years, and now I’m facing the prospect of just being fine, of giving up my special status, of being ok. I don’t think that I can adequately explain what it is like to give up on the fantasy that you are sick and fragile, or impaired. You lose your excuse for everything. You have to take full responsibility for everything. I know how spoiled that sounds, really I do. It is just that when I am sick, I really can’t do all this stuff. I really am disabled, impaired, or broken. There is just an invisible line that you cross, where one day you are weak and in danger, and the next you are doing ok, a contributing member of the world.

I’m at that point.

Wish me luck, but not too much. I need to get my act together on my own.