Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, or, yes, I made it to the kitchen today.

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.” 

There are pretty much 6 people who read this blog. Once you realize how long this post is, that may start to make sense.

When I started it, I just needed a place to write. I really needed a space, but I didn’t really need an audience. I get a little jump when someone comments, or I get an email saying that someone follows this, but this was primarily a little place for me, and I had no fancy paper notebooks to work with, and my handwriting sucks. Really, it does.

I wanted to write this post, as part of the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, because I think that while it is great that all sort of celebrities are announcing their mental health status, I don’t know that that really helps people on a day to day,  oh god how am I going to get all the way to the kitchen, I’m so tired my teeth hurt, basis. In my experience, the only thing that really does that, is knowing people who have lived through that, made it to the kitchen and lived to tell about it. Today, I made it to the kitchen. You can do this.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1992, after a not very successful trial of anti-depressants made it fairly obvious that I did not have unipolar depression. I spent 8 weeks in hospital getting used to lithium and also getting used to the fact that there was a name for the thing that caused me to lose my marbles on a fairly regular basis, and that that name was not just “tired” or “energetic”.

I spent my 20 year “crazy” anniversary in the hospital too. I’ve been hospitalized seven times in 20 years, which is pretty freaking low, given how things have gone. I have had good treatment, mediocre treatment, and downright horrible treatment. I had the best possible psychiatrist, but then she retired last year. I have taken at least one of almost every class of medication that has ever been even hinted at for BP, including one that is supposed to be for Parkinson’s Disease (that one, for the time being, is working).

I fought an uphill battle with self-harm. Mostly, I won. There are occasional skirmishes. I don’t beat myself over the head with them anymore.

I have significant kidney damage from medication, and it probably won’t get any better than this. I know where every public washroom in the entire city is located, and if I don’t know, I can find one. It is my superpower.

I wrote cranky blog posts about things I found completely unfair about living with mental illness, days when I really wished I could shuffle off this mortal coil without disturbing anyone, and things that are awesome (like peer support and friends).

In and between all of that, I did the following:

  • Got bachelors degree in physical anthropology and human evolution
  • Got college diploma in Early Childhood Education
  • Got bachelor of Education degree
  • Taught elementary school for 8 years
  • Got master of Educational Technology degree
  • Got married
  • Worked for an educational company designing online courses
  • Gave lectures to mental health professionals about lived experience
  • Got unemployed
  • Made really good friends in the physical world and online
  • Learned cross stitch
  • Knit a whole bunch of socks

(Resume available on request. I really need a job, just in case you were wondering. I’m not really trying to advertise.)

Being bipolar is not all of what I am, but it is a huge part of how I became this person. This has been with me my whole life, and it has shaped every decision I have made, and influenced all of my choices. I learned (slowly, and with great reluctance) how to be self-reflective. I learned compassion. That was supposed to apply to me too, but I have not quite got the hang of that yet. Further updates as events warrant. I learned that not only do I have a voice, but I really want to use it. I learned how to be kind. Again, not so much to myself, but I have to leave some startling growth spurts for my 40’s, right?

I also learned how incredibly cruel ignorance is, and how ignorant people really are. I learned what it is like to be marginalized and humiliated for something that is beyond your control. I learned how privileged I am to be a white, well-educated woman, from the right kind of family, when I interact with the mental health system. I learned how dangerous it is to be part of a minority against whom it is still socially acceptable to discriminate. I learned that stigma is a Human Resources issue, and discrimination is a Legal Department issue. I learned that fighting stigma is probably a good thing, but that fighting discrimination and harassment is more important. I learned that people change their behaviour when they have to, and not because you have a good argument.

Other Things I learned:

  • The whole “baby steps” thing is infuriating, but sometimes it actually works.
  • If you can’t get out of bed, put one foot on the floor. Then, if you drag it back under the covers, at least you can say you accomplished something.
  • Practice forgiveness, not in a religious way, but in a “I can let go of this thing I am beating myself over the head with today” way. It is liberating
  • Accept help. No one is so awful that they don’t deserve help. There is no way you are that undeserving, no one is. Humans are worthy, just because.
  • One of my favourite quotes is from Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess, read it. No, really read this blog, and also read Hyperbole and a Half). She says depression lies, and she is right.

Things I like:

  • online virtual worlds
  • Science fiction
  • DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
  • coffee (not the best thing for someone with an anxiety disorder, but there’s decaf, and that doesn’t suck as much as you would think)
  • Twitter
  • Politics
  • My cats

Things I know now:

  • I’m a pretty decent person
  • I can be useful
  • Panic can only last so long
  • I am 100% successful at not dying so far

If you made it this far in the post, I am truly impressed, and a little bit grateful (ok, a lot grateful). This is not something that people can do alone, and having someone read what you write is both scary and empowering. The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project is incredibly important in that respect, and I hope that you go and read a whole bunch of stuff that people have written, and scare and empower them.

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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.