Bipolar disorder, also know as manic depression, is a mental illness that falls into the category of a mood disorder. It is lifelong, often debilitating and incurable. I have hidden my illness for decades due to the stigma and abuse that the mentally ill suffer and today I decided that enough is enough. All of the shame, mockery and violent retribution I have suffered has been previously very effective in keeping me and others quiet in the past, however I decided today to throw caution to the wind and to live an honest life and be clear and open about my condition. Naturally, many may assume that blogging about it is rather unnecessary, perhaps even attention seeking. Not a bit of it I say. I believe that unless I have done something for humanity I ought to be ashamed to die, and I wish to die empty and spent as well as old and contented. I have longed desperately for things to change in respect to my illness and I realised today that I must do what I can, and I am a writer by profession so that is what I have decided to do. The timing of my decision is inspired by an episode of the US crime drama, Bones. In the most recent episode I watched there was a moment where a character, having been diagnosed with a rare and particularly lethal cancer faced the choice of undergoing treatment for his illness or not doing so, living the high life until his death instead. His decision towards the end of the episode inspired me and his response to the challenge he faced is the name of this blog: I decided to fight. When faced with the quandary of what to do about the attitudes of my society towards people like me I decided to fight.
The illness I have affects my moods in ways that can be funny, upsetting, extreme and powerful. It is now referred to as bipolar disorder, however it was formerly referred to as manic depression. Among the many misconceptions about mental illness, the misunderstanding of the term ‘manic depression’ is common. I often hear people nonchalantly declare that they have been ‘manically depressed’. They usually mean that they were particularly unhappy or sad. This reveals a misunderstanding of not only the illness I have, but also of depression itself. Depression is not sadness or an unhappy state of mind. Depression is a crippling, sometimes suicidal emotional state which renders the sufferer immune to happiness. A person in the throes of depression cannot pull themselves together or snap out of it. It is fast becoming a cliche now, however it bears repeating that a person can no more cheer themselves up when depressed than they are able to walk on a broken leg simply because they would prefer to be mobile.
Bipolar disorder has been well summarised by one of its most well known sufferers, Stephen Fry, as being like the weather. The weather arrives bringing with it whatever it brings, and nothing anyone says or does can stop it. If it is freezing then we all endure snow until it warms up. If it rains we each get wet. If it is hot we all feel good and dress in shorts. Emotions and moods are the same. Nothing anyone does will change a depressed mood or, in very extreme scenarios, psychosis. Psychosis is the loss of touch with reality resulting in the inability to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It is rare and extreme but it does happen to sufferers of a range of mental illnesses. In short, those of us with bipolar disorder are at the mercy of it. Without medical intervention it is very difficult to access and influence the part of a person that is malfunctioning.
A person with bipolar disorder will experience two non-normative states of mood. The aforementioned depression is sometimes referred to as The Black Dog and it is dark, self-reflective, albeit with a warped self-image, and it is horrible to endure. Very often the person will stay in bed for days, possibly neglect their personal hygiene and be difficult to talk with. The opposite pole is mania. Mania is great! We are full of energy, positivity and ideas. The difficulty with mania is that it causes people to do things that, to outsiders, seem crazy. Spending recklessly, attempting feats of daring and often endangering themselves. Ideas flow in the mind like shooting stars and the person not only loses sleep but also often loses friends who are simply incapable of keeping up with the manic person. To the maniac it is all perfectly normal and extremely enjoyable, and often it is very productive and great things can be accomplished. It is the tipping point into craziness that is dangerous. In a nutshell, that is bipolar disorder.
Having laid out above the challenges of this illness I am declaring my intention to blog at great length and in great detail about what it feels like to live with it. That is the sole purpose of creating this blog in the first place. If you are a fellow sufferer then I hope this helps in some way. If you are a normal, non-afflicted human being then I hope that you learn something here and the stigma, misconceptions and prejudices that you may have can be laid aside. Bipolar disorder will make me no less loyal a friend, no less fun a companion. I am just different and I am working it all out as I go along, just as you are. Good luck.