A couple of nights ago my dad mentioned my diagnosis thinking it was bipolar disorder. This upset me because I didn’t get diagnosed as bipolar but Borderline personality disordered (BPD) in 2000. Not that BPD is better than bipolar-it’s not but his tendency to forget what diagnosis I got annoyed me since I’d have been treated better if I had bipolar instead of BPD. Also, I sometimes wonder if I do have bipolar and the suggestion, I suppose, scares me. Why I don’t know since I’ve not tried to kill myself in 13+ years and haven’t been in a mental hospital/ward for 10 or 11 years now. Still, the idea of having bipolar does concern me. My mom’s side of the family is definitely the moody/creative/driven side and mom was likely bipolar (although not diagnosed). She never saw a psychiatrist or anyone concerning her mental health though so I can’t say anything for sure.
I suppose the reason I started thinking about bipolar disorder again is I was watching a couple of Stephen Fry’s documentaries on mental health. He has bipolar and gets quite manic (when not depressed) but I don’t remember ever having been anything close to manic. Even recalling a time when I might have been hypomanic is difficult. I’ve never really done anything over the top probably because I am a very quiet person normally and don’t do much to draw attention to myself. So hypomanic for me could have looked like normal behaviour to most people. There have been times when I’ve felt more confident and ambitious but I can’t say they qualified me as hypomanic. Perhaps being such a quiet person normally is a good thing! When I recall any periods where I felt more sociable and energetic it was only noticeable to me and any close friends I had.
The part I identified with most with Stephen Fry is his depressions and seeming ‘fine’ on the outside but feeling ‘hellish’ on the inside. Like Stephen Fry I am quite good at maintaining my manners and consideration for others’ wellbeing while wanting to die or crawl into a hole. It is not necessarily a good thing that I am so adept at appearing normal when on the verge of suicide or deeply depressed. Fortunately, it’s been a few years since my last serious depression but even then I could still look normal. Fry said a friend of his told him his politeness would kill him; I think I can identify with that. When you have such a strong awareness of others’ and social norms/manners it becomes difficult to let yourself fall apart openly.
Of course I have learnt to express myself overtly when I feel horrible so others are aware, otherwise nobody can tell
I am not well. In some ways I am forced to ‘perform’ my sickness or else I remain reasonably normal looking. This is uncomfortable for me though because then I feel that I am being ‘phony’ and rude to boot! Likely this arose out of a childhood where it wasn’t permissible to express emotions openly so I learnt to conceal my emotions and ‘look normal’. If I had continued to show my pain I merely would have experienced more for not keeping myself together.
Like Stephen Fry, I have a British background (I am Canadian though) where being ‘proper’ was important and showing emotion wasn’t encouraged. I imagine it is the concern with being ‘proper’ that is the reason Fry and I are capable of being suicidally depressed yet normal looking. He described a time where he had just attended a party and decided after it was finished to attempt suicide. In a similar manner I attempted suicide after a formal banquet for residents of the dormitory I’d been living in at the time. Photos of me prior to the banquet revealed little of my inner turmoil. In some ways I envy those depressed people who look totally the part with unkempt clothes and hair, lack of concern about social standards and all the rest of it. At least they don’t have to ‘perform’ their depression if they wish for people to know they’re depressed.
Thankfully I have learned to tolerate experiencing my emotions as they occur and do not think about suicide or death all the time anymore. Yes, I can be moody but I try to be mindful of it and reflect on any contributing factors I might be capable of altering. There’s a lot to be said for mindfulness and healthy living. I think it’s been called mental hygiene before as well. Mindfulness is not mental hygiene per se but helps in many ways so it doesn’t hurt to practice it. Mental hygiene is of course those healthy things we do to keep ourselves in balance, such as getting enough sleep, exercise and healthy food etc.. On their own they are not enough for everyone if your illness is severe but it will prevent unnecessary illness to some extent (if not totally for some anyway).
What has helped me most in achieving a sense of balance and wellness is mindfulness and meditation. Without those two things I would be reliant upon my medication and counselling to be my supports. I feel it is best to do as many different things as I can to maintain wellness. You can’t have too many tools in your arsenal when it comes to coping with mental health issues. In addition to those things I also listen to music designed to heal and relax you. Creative endeavours are also helpful even if you aren’t ‘talented’. The idea is to have fun and express yourself not to produce a masterpiece!
What do you do to stay well or help yourself be healthy?
©Natalya, 2014. Reflections On Life Thus Far®