The Sanitation of being Mentally Ill: Part 1

I suppose I'll do a little introduction here, since it's been months since I've last written, and the blog is going to change for a while. I will not be focusing on my work (although I suppose this is part of my work), instead I'll be focusing on having bipolar disorder, and really diving in there. I'm not sure how many parts this series of writing is going to be so I guess we all get to strap in together. 

I'm using this line as a content warning, it will be in all of the blog posts, 
Here's the list
suicidal ideation
self harm
drug use
bipolar
psych meds
trauma
13 reasons why

I'm not going to be holding back, there will be no metaphor or dancing around subjects that might make other people uncomfortable. I will talk candidly about diagnosis, medical professionals, and symptoms. Sometimes mental illness is disgusting (more on that later). Sometimes you say or do things that truly hurts the person you love. A lot of the times you say or do things that hurt you. 

The first topic I want to tackle is the sanitation of mental illness, often by the media (until a white dude shoots up a concert, school, or movie premier) then there's commentary about the mental health system for about thirty seconds and then it's over. There's a lot of romanticism that surrounds being sick, people think of the beautiful art that Van Gogh made, or the music of Amy Winehouse who was very publicly breaking down well before her death.

Being mentally ill is fucking ugly, more than one month out of my life I have been in a major depressive episode and I didn't do laundry, I had piles of garbage in my room (yes garbage, not "hey my room is messy", straight up trash with fruit flies). I used to own zero sheets that didn't have blood on them from self harm incidents, and when I was really down I didn't bother cleaning those either. It was a mental war every day to shower and brush my teeth, and frequently the part of me that was desperate to feel clean lost.  That's gross, and I knew it was gross, I hated myself for it, but I also didn't really care, and any energy that I had left was being used up by doing things like eating and showing up to work like a zombie and pretending I had a fun night out with the friends so I was a little tired. No one called bullshit on that one (except for a few close friends, but no one knew how bad it got), I don't think I'm that good of a liar, people could tell something was up, it was just easier to hope things would go away. 

Then there was the other side, the mania, mania is the most difficult thing to explain, but it's also the most damaging part of my illness. I was manic when I sliced a nerve in my wrist causing permanent damage to my hand. I was manic whenever I drank myself into a stupor. I was manic when I said cruel things to my friends and family. I was manic when I started taking hard drugs. 

Please don't misread this as my blaming my illness for my poor decision making and destructive behavior, because no matter what it's still me. The poor decision making and destructive behavior were definitely amplified by the crazy, but I was still the person in the body.

We are not programmed to try to empathize with something we do not understand, it is easy to wrap your head around the version of mental illness presented in films like Silver Linings Playbook, or the repulsive book/netflix series 13 Reasons Why (which will have it's own blog post eventually). They tug at your heart strings with quirky characters who are a little broken, or they use pure shock value that doesn't do anything for anyone except maybe trigger a whole bunch of people (seriously how irresponsible was 13 Reasons Why?). I am quirky, I am weird, I am actually fairly personable once you get past the prickly parts, but there is a lot of ugly that I have to trudge through on a daily basis to give you all the appearance of a sort of awake, kind of responsible person, and I frequently don't even make it to that. 

I can say that I'm doing better now than I can ever remember, but it doesn't go away. I have more good days than bad now, but the bad days are still really fucking bad. 

Here is an excerpt from my journal on a particularly bad day


"I'd like to tell you a secret, when someone tells you they are sorry you are suffering, what they really mean is 'thank god I'm not suffering'. The care is temporary, because you know what's wrong with you will outlast their patience to help. They love you, but they fear your inevitable implosion. They fear you will hurt them more than you are hurting"

A little bleak yes? Very dramatic? Yes. But written from experiences. There are so many people who have stuck by me even after they realize they did not know what they were signing up for by being my friend. There are many others who went running in the opposite direction the second the fun manic party animal came knocking on their door with blood running down her arms high as a kite and to be quite honest ready for a fight. 

Here's my unsolicited advice, if your friend tells you that they have a mental illness, ask them what they need from you. Often we will just answer, a little extra support every now and then, and no encouraging manic behavior. Don't do your research on a TV show or a movie, because they're mostly wrong, and when you realize that you can't just pull your friend out of bed, make them put some clothing on and give them a pep talk while sending them on their way, you're going to not only be frustrated with your friend, but you're also going to be disappointed in yourself. Healing comes from meds, therapy, understanding, and occasionally binge watching comedy specials definitely not a passionate pep talk (which is also appreciated, but it's not going to stop my brain from occasionally trying to convince me driving off the road is a good idea). You can't fix us, you can be there for us, you can tell us hey maybe you should try to do the thing today,  you can wrap us up in a hug and bring us soup (don't do that to me I don't like to be touched when I'm having a bad day). I do like soup though. 

I will see you tomorrow with another installment.