Last week I watched a few of the programmes on the BBC in their “In the Mind” strand. They were fascinating but it felt strange watching the one on Bipolar ten years on. I vividly remember watching Stephen Fry on that show and him speaking to all those other people who also lived with Manic Depression and realising that I was probably living with depression. The way people described it and their experiences was difficult to watch as it was reflecting me back on myself at this point in my life.
It made me look at my condition slightly differently and just what an impact it has had on my life since I was first diagnosed seven years ago. I do sometimes wonder if the knowledge and labels make things worse in some ways. Depression and Anxiety was my initial label and it made sense at the time – three years ago it became Bipolar disorder and ever since then I’ve tried to come to terms with what it actually means. One thing I know for sure is that the condition is ever-changing – perhaps increasing in speed, reducing gaps between “episodes” – and I will live this for the rest of my life.
And there’s the difficulty I face. However long I live, I will be shadowed by this mental illness and I don’t know how I feel about that. In just the last two years I have had instances where it has had a serious impact on my life and the life of my family. I feel trapped – I’m a broken human and I don’t know where I fit in anymore. Some days the only thing that gets me through is the love of my family; an amazingly strong wife and three beautiful children alongside my wider family circle. But what if there’s a day when that’s not enough anymore? Will this illness not only define my life, but also the way I shuffle off this mortal coil?
Where I once looked at the world as a series of opportunities I now see barriers that the condition has put in the way. A fear that it will stop me from achieving and developing a career and other long-held ambitions. I worry about how I won’t be able to move on in life as I would want to. Watching the show on TV last week, many on it spoke about sharing their story – as I do on here – but instead of being a positive thing I only saw the negatives magnified. My confidence levels are a fraction of what they used to be and instead of taking the “second chance at life” I felt after coming through Cancer ten years ago, I now feel only as strong as I did in childhood.
As a kid I had the external signs of being a confident outgoing person while inside struggling with social interactions, bullying, peer pressure, isolating myself from others in case they realized I had a weakness. Even as a youngster I knew there was a crack in my being – which over time I started to push down and fight against. I found confidence in music and a group of friends who I genuinely could “let in” to the real me. No more pushing away or being the “big character” just to survive. I feel now I’m back at square one with the crack in my personality/mind/psyche more pronounced than ever. While it may not be fully visible from outside, it lives with me and does have an impact on who I am.
Many of us walk around with a mask on, trying to be a certain version of ourselves in specific situations. I don’t know how that works anymore. I’m worried about getting hurt and damaged further by the world around me – how do I deflect and reflect the world around me now? Do I revert to the young JD who was loud, rambunctious and ultimately annoying or give in and walk around exposed and vulnerable? The saddest thing for me writing this is that I have to consider this type of thing at all. My friends and family are always going to be there for me and I don’t need to change for them – they accept me for who I am.
Why am I thinking about this now? Well there are more possible changes afoot in my life and I will have to prepare myself for experiences that put me back in situations where I may have to find a comfortable mask to wear again and I worry that it’s not enough to “be myself”. Also a change of medications have solved one problem with my sleep patterns, but for the first time in a couple of years I’m now noticing the mania creeping back into the mix.
With a slow release sleeping medication I was knocked out all night, getting a solid night’s sleep every single night, but the side effect was for an hour or two first thing in the morning I really struggled to be fully awake. Often I couldn’t physically get out of bed because of the impact. Now I’m on the normal version of the tablets – which knock me out initially but won’t continue to work all night – I will wake up more, I’m dreaming again for the first time in months, (something that almost completely stopped on the slow release tablets), and the length of sleep is not as long as it had been. During a manic phase I need to sleep to keep it at bay. That’s not happening now.
I’m aware of both the dips and the highs again. I’m broken and I don’t know how to manage it apart from even more medication which makes me worry I’m disappearing as a person. It changes who you are being on mood stabilizers and antidepressants and to add more into the mix means I become more diluted and lost within myself. There’s a balance between being JD and being able to function and I worry that parts of me will disappear – leaving gaps where I used to be. And as the illness often worsens with age will I worry that I need more and more medication to maintain functioning as a human being.
Who we are as human beings usually relies on our genes and the environments we live in – nature and nurture – but with more of us living with Mental Illness, and being medicated for it, is there a third element to consider when defining who we are? Are we being nurtured or are we being negated? For my own sake and the benefit of those around me, maybe I should just accept that I can’t function naturally I have to give in to this alternative me that is both acceptable in society and safe for all concerned.
The only thing I know at this point in time is that I’m broken. The “fix” is the hardest thing to accept and understand.