Dylan Voller, Paul Gascoigne and the State of Things

Below is a video you should watch before reading any further. Bear in mind that the subject is a child.

This took place in Australia, but do not comfort yourself with the notion that ‘it could not happen here’. Stanley Milgram put that nonsense to bed in conclusive fashion with his famous study on compliance and obedience to authority. You ought also to remember that, as I so often say here, mental illness can strike anybody, at any time, and in any place. There but for the grace of god and all that.

It has been some time since I last posted and I regret that, however real life has kept me busy. What I have done during that time is watch with dismay as things have apparently deteriorated in respect to mental health care and the treatment of sufferers of this constellation of conditions to which we refer as mental illness, a term which seems to describe far too much and far too little at the same time, has worsened. Now, I have no doubt that Dylan Voller represents a serious challenge for those working with him, however there can be no doubt that what has happened to him has done harm to him, and furthermore it has likely made his symptoms worse. Imagine the outcry if that had been a prisoner of war in Guantanamo Bay. Ironically one need not imagine. We have seen the photographs from there and Abu Graibh in Iraq, and the public fury was universal, the justice meted out to the perpetrators swift and harsh. Yet who weeps for Dylan Voller? Locked in prison since the age of just eleven years old, treated as an adult prisoner with all of the physical brutality that that entails, and written off by society. He will likely never work, never have a romantic relationship, never be allowed to live in such a way that grants him a moment’s freedom from the watchful gaze of the state and its penal apparatus.

Dylan’s family likely tolerate what is being done to their son because he has already sustained a criminal career that most people will never emulate, not even young offenders and delinquent children. This life of his has seen him attack his own mother and he has done the same to practically every authority figure that he ever encountered. In that light it seems reasonable that the state should intervene, I am sure most would agree. Really? Is this really the best that Australia, one of the richest and most enlightened countries on earth, can do? Are we seriously to believe that the only viable options are either to allow this boy to brutalise others, or alternatively to have the state brutalise him? Is there no middle ground?

In reality nothing will change for Voller. The men who have mistreated him will never be held criminally accountable for their actions. The media has taken great pains to stress that he attacked his mother, as though it were the ultimate crime a young boy could commit. Few of them bother to mention the foetal alcohol syndrome that he was born with, which paints him in a different light. All of a sudden we start to feel a little compassion, or I certainly do, owing to this boy’s terrible start in life thanks to his drunk of a mother, herself possibly mentally ill too. I doubt that she has even seen the inside of a courtroom to hold her accountable for that.

The indignity of stripping him naked as you can see in the video above is possibly the ultimate curse that this boy has to bear. I would invite you to compare those scenes with those of holocaust survivors, and, aside from the malnutrition and emaciation, I would ask you to honestly evaluate them and ask yourself what difference between the two is. Those who might serve as apologists for this sort of thing will point out that he could self-harm with his clothes. I say give him a gown made from paper instead. This boy has little to nothing in life, and to humiliate him like that is the final indignity in a whole screed of indignities and abuses that ought not to be tolerated in the future, but where mental illness is concerned then you can be assured that they will be.

Paul Gascoigne

To speak further of naked humiliation, this month Paul Gascoigne, the most gifted footballer of his generation, was photographed in a state of near undress, clearly struggling with alcoholism and suffering the severe effects of the illness he and I share. One thing that is 0bvious is that Gascoigne is, for the press, box office gold. The George Best of the modern day, it is clear that the journalists who follow this man around cannot wait for him to finally drink himself to death. On that day the front pages will be covered in cliched drivel spouting mock sadness over the early passing of a tortured genius.

I refuse to duplicate, or even link to the photographs in question. They represent nothing other than voyeurism, and the morbid tormenting of a human being in pain. I bitterly resent the media for doing this because this is the pain and suffering of a sick man being used to sell copy, and it is unethical and immoral. In the same month that this happened a young woman who broke her neck was given a front page story with the BBC for overcoming survival chances of 1%. Why the disparity? Who congratulates the man or woman who beats the depressive urge to commit suicide and walks tall for another day? Who endorses the courage of a patient who goes to ask for help from the NHS, despite knowing the cost of a diagnosis of mental illness? Where is the praise for the people with mental health issues who suffer such terrible symptoms, yet who entertain us? Did anyone stand by Robin Williams in life, during which he was crippled emotionally by his own bipolar disorder? Of course not, he was simply lauded in death as, yes, you guessed it, the flawed, tortured genius.

I fear for Paul Gascoigne. He appears to be so far along the line of a death spiral that recovery and salvation are now challenges that will seem, to him, nigh-on insurmountable. I never give up hope, however I think that the way the media is permitted to harass this man is going to make it impossible for him to manage his illness. They are throwing him under the bus, possibly literally in future.

What is so painful for me to hear in respect to him is that so many people bemoan his decision not to play for Manchester United. I have heard several times that Sir Alex Ferguson would have ‘knocked him into shape’. It is remarkable how many people think this way. It happened to me personally but it seems to be a common notion, the sense that the mentally ill need to be beaten out of their sickness. Dylan Voller is clear evidence of that, as am I and so is Gascoigne. I have yet to hear of anyone ever being successfully beaten into shape. I certainly have not encountered anyone who was cured of a physical ailment through violence or brutality so I do not understand why this idea is so pervasive and why it stubbornly persists in the public consciousness.

Seriously Paul, I hope you make it.

The State of Things

The state of things is not good. The raised threat and incidence of terrorism has brought with it a now universal trope in respect to understanding the pathology of atrocities. Read about any act of terrorism this year and I guarantee you that there will be a pronouncement somewhere of mental illness being the cause. This is usually done to deflect blame away from religion, but also it is used to understand the ununderstandable. When people ask how a human being could do this to other human beings someone will blame mental illness, usually with a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head. What is going on here is that all of the shame, guilt and outrage over the crime is being dumped on the backs of the mentally ill. There is a word for this: scapegoating. In biblical times society would pronounce that all of its ills would be loaded as a burden onto the back of a goat, and that goat would be cast outside the city, never to return. This is, in a nutshell, what happens to sufferers of mental illness. Every act of terror is now laid at our door. There is not a single dissenting voice in the media now. The notion that it is all our fault and that the mentally ill are the main threat to society is absolutely ubiquitous. Nobody doubts it, nobody speaks up against it, yet, as I have previously proven conclusively, when it comes to crime, the only thing we may be sure of is that a person who has a mental health problem is not only far less likely to commit a crime than a mentally normative person, they are also far more likely to be a victim of crime than an otherwise normal person. Yet still the myth propagates and dominates debate. This has to change. We are literally killing ourselves through this act of collective scapegoating. In blaming the wrong thing we cannot solve the problem. In blaming the innocent we make a mockery of our supposed compassion and enlightenment.

Advertisements

What is Mania Like?

The question of what mania is like is one that may be answered in at least two ways. There is the issue of what it is like for the sufferer, or the maniac to use a rather unpleasant term, and there is what it is like for those who are related to or intimately connected with the sufferer. Incidentally, as a brief aside, maniac is one of those words that is so deeply ingrained in our discourse that it demonstrates how we as a society view afflictions of the mind and those who suffer with them. It is a word that means a sufferer of mania. Nowadays most would concede that it is an exclusively negative term and one which bears the connotations of violent conduct, unpredictable rage and generally deranged and insane behaviour. Words such as imbecile, idiot and moron were all similar clinical terms describing various degrees of mental retardation and all are now unanimously pejorative, just as maniac,mania and manic all are. The word paranoiac is another such term but that does not have the same connotation. Paranoia is not desirable but one would never use it as a broad spectrum insult in the same way, however that would seem to me because paranoia is insular and often leaves no outward markers of its presence and affectation. In short there is a rule regarding illnesses of the brain that are manifestly visible with clear symptoms. If you lose your mind then you lose a whole lot more with it. One’s job, one’s dignity, one’s place in society, even one’s life are all considered acceptable losses. By that I mean that if I were to tell you about someone from whom all of those things had been taken then the moment I suggested that he or she possessed a mental illness or affliction then there would be immediate hand-wringing and shrugging of the shoulders as though such collateral damage were inevitable and ought to be accepted as a part of life. This must change, however that sort of thing is not the subject of this post.

I intend to discuss mania from a first person perspective. It seems rather foolish to me to attempt to portray the travails of those living with a sufferer rather than as the one suffering themselves although there is some overlap. Anyone who was been through a manic episode knows the heartbreak of crawling through the wreckage of their behaviour, attempting to make amends and correct some of the crazy – quite literally – things that they did. Therein lies the first characteristic of mania. It is episodic. It comes and goes and during episodes it can and will vary in its intensity. At the beginning of an episode life is great. Euphoria is prevalent and a person trapped within this phase of an episode is usually inspired, productive, fun, energetic and able to function to a high degree of productivity and usefulness. This is why those with bipolar disorder are often drawn to creative professions. Creativity demands energy of often epic proportions. I know that to most normal people the act of writing, painting or composing may seem cerebral and restful but I can assure you that both my firsthand experience and the testimony of others reveals it to be anything but. The mental drain upon me as a writer during such times is extraordinary and that is why mania helps. Ideas flow plentifully and it almost seems as though one is working to the specifications of a commission from the Gods of Mount Olympus. These phases can be among the most exhilarating times of a person’s life.

But then the worm starts to turn. One starts to become irritable, difficult to work with and be around and extremely unpredictable. Imagine the world’s most annoying morning person over the course of a year and distil that energy into a concentrated burst of energy. This is where perception matters so much. However it may look to others, here is how it looks to me. I am on a roll, bouncing around the room ready to create something so stunning in its creative genius and so remarkable in its manifestation that I need to stay awake for several days. I find suddenly that people are staring at me, their incredulity towards me matched by my incredulity at what they find so incredulous. Can they not see what is going on here? I am on the brink of creating the next great work of fiction and they are staring at me as though I am the crazy one! I become annoyed at them and their stupid, dull minds that are incapable of keeping up with the flow of energy that is pulsing through me wildly and powerfully. I begin to exhibit signs of annoyance and wilful disrespect to those who are not like me and do not have the insight that I have. People cease to spend time with me, thinking it impossible to keep up and at some point I find myself furiously producing either writing, photography or music. I remember an occasion where I produced a whole album of instrumental progressive rock music in a single day. A single day! I remember writing an entire book in a week, some sixty thousand words. I remember once being so desperate to fall asleep at night that I cycled around a hundred and fifty miles in two days. I was simply so needy of normal routine as I felt my mood rising into mania that I tried the only medication that I could think of that was free of charge to wear myself out.

It did not work.

Soon arguments break out as people try and fail to live with the inaccessible speed and pressure at which I operate. I talk so fast and assimilate ideas with a rapidity that, were I able to control it would be a great asset to me. I argue relentlessly in defence of my great ideas and unassailable genius. Do they not see? Can they not comprehend what is about to happen? I record musical ideas and leave them half finished because the next one arrives so fast that I know that I will forget it if I do not produce a recording immediately. I start writing story after story for the same reason, desperate to hold on to the ideas before they fly away as quickly as they arrived.

And then comes the crash. I start to read what I have written and I often think it is genuinely great work, something of which I may be immensely proud . Unfortunately I leave it half completed, often for months on end. The mania has subsided and the energy it brought to me is no more. The mood starts to sink and I head towards the other pole, depression. But that is the subject of another post.

Homogeneity and Mental Illness

Homogenous we are not. This post may seem a little contradictory at the outset. On the one hand it is a plea for the mentally ill to be treated as a group, yet on the other hand it is an admonition for the world not to see us as one big group. Rather odd I know, however it can be resolved. Often one will see a group of teenagers, all dressed a certain way and listening to the same music and so on, typical teenage behaviour and it is not unusual to hear adults say something along the lines of ‘they all want to be seen as individuals but they all look the same’ and those adults genuinely think they are being clever in citing the seemingly rather obvious implied paradox of what Stephen Fry refers to as being a part of the crowd and apart from the crowd. Those adults have dead hearts, unable to remember the angst and yearning for self expression and self determination that is often forged in fire and in great pain. In the same way the mentally ill as a group are much maligned and in need of better treatment in every sense, yet also in dire need of understanding and a sense of appreciation for who and what they are as individuals. It is perfectly possible to address a group of people as a whole without diminishing the individuality and dignity of each member of that group. We are a part of the tribe and each one of us is also apart from the tribe.

It can be very difficult to resolve the apparent contradiction of wishing to stand out from and yet be a part of a crowd. To be both a part of society and apart from it presents an arrangement that seems impossible at first, however it is not as absurd as it first seems. Variation within specific parameters is far from unusual. It is not hard to confer respect upon a whole group without having to worry about the group in terms of its differences. All groups possess individuals who delineate themselves from the apparent normative but that does not diminish their individual humanity, their group solidarity and belonging to the group. I know this because the mentally ill must do this themselves. It is no easier for me to comprehend the experience of a schizophrenic than a person who suffers no mental health problems. In that sense, even though I refer to the mentally ill as a group, there is no group of people craving respect and acceptance as such. The secret to understanding this is to learn to how deal with a member of a particular group as though there were no group at all. In short, I did not choose to be in this group but I am, yet I am also a human being and whilst my illness is an aspect of my makeup it does not define me.

I am indebted to my illness for my belonging to the group, but I owe bipolar disorder nothing for the content of my character, my loves, my hates, my passions and so forth. Ask yourself this: to what is a person with a mental illness indebted which makes them who they are? I guarantee you that the answer is not their illness, for identity is often undermined by illness as it surrenders to it rather than being enhanced by it due to it’s non-existent origin within the illness. In that sense we are simultaneously a part of the crowd whilst also being apart from the crowd. The things that a person possesses within themselves that are peculiarly them, their ‘them-ness’ have very little to do with who they are. The philosopher Martin Heidegger often used a German word, wesen to describe the essence of a thing or a person. To him it did not mean the essence per se, it means the thing that a person continues to be and which maintains him or her as what they are as they travel through time. A person’s wesen is the thing by which you measure their existence over the passing weeks, months and years. In that sense, again, I do not think that my illness is anything to do with my wesen. The things to which I am indebted for my continued existence as what I am go beyond the mere aspects of my illness and my responses to it. My substance is my personality and character, of which my illness is not a part. The substance of a manic depressive is not his or her illness any more than the content of a black/Asian/European/white person’s character is a product of his or her skin colour. In short, we are more that the sum of our parts, mentally ill or not.

It is not unusual to hear or see a person with a mental illness have their opinions or feelings dismissed as the illness talking. It is frustrating and downright demeaning to have someone refuse to take me seriously because it is easy to dismiss me because I have bipolar disorder. When you do that you homogenise me. I am compartmentalised and parked in the brain of the person doing it and I will almost certainly never get out of the spot marked ‘nutter’. Humankind would go a long way towards bettering itself if it just realised that when a person is dismissed like that it damages us all. I have previously talked about the remarkable contribution the manic depressives in particular have made in the sphere of human creativity. I do not think that I would like to live in a world where some of our best artists, writers and musicians did not fulfil their potential, instead living lives forever parked in the nutter box.

What is worse is that dismissal leads to lax practice. Can we not just medicate them and shut them up? They should be in a special home right? These are things I have heard routinely. I am willing to bet that you have said them too, no doubt more than once. It has often been expedient to throw the mentally ill outside the city walls, leaving them to wander in the desert alone. We ought not to scapegoat anyone like that, least of all the weak, vulnerable and sick.

You might well ask me: if I am so set on being an individual who is not at all categorised by bipolar disorder, why do I still address the issue as though the existence of a group is so important? Why be a part of the mentally ill crowd too? This question is as susceptible to reason as any and the simple fact of the matter is that the world addresses us as a group, we are seen as a group and we are classified as a group and therefore the world at large is only ever likely to listen to us as a group. For better or worse strength is all too often found in numbers and in a democratic system the individual may be empowered with a voice and a vote, the reality is that an individual has little real power on his or her own. I am convinced that the question of mental illness is one of the great civil rights issues of our time and one need only look back through relatively recent history to see that civil rights questions are always settled by the action of force in numbers. When there are more of ‘us’ than ‘them’ change is effected. The campaign for LGBTQ rights gained strength and brought about change at remarkable speed only when there was a majority and that majority was not comprised of LGBTQ people. They needed the heteronormative majority on their side and the same must happen for the mentally ill. The right of those of all sexual orientations to be taken seriously came about when the generation demonising them had children and those children grew up among gay people who had the courage to come out. The world saw that gay people represent no threat and can do no harm to anyone and as such the prejudice rolled back under the weight of the opinion that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is simply immoral. There remains work to be done of course, however their can be no doubt that the tide has turned.

We, the mentally ill are a quarter of the population and change for the better will only come about when those not defined by the group become a part of the group. Just like the LGBTQ struggle, the walls between Us and Them must come down, and that is why it is so important for us to be seen as more than our illness. The group will bring about change yet the group must be more than the sum total of its members. We need those without mental illness on our side, for so long as we are viewed as pariahs to be feared and scorned we will not possess a sufficient number to bring about our own emancipation.

I am currently reading the Tripods novels, a series about a post-apocalytpic world dominated by alien machines. The machines ‘cap’ humans at the age of fourteen, meaning that a sort of cybernetic helmet is fitted to people and this keeps humanity subjugated. Occasionally the capping goes wrong and the victim of this becomes a wandering vagrant, indulging in odd behaviour and is generally feared and shunned by others. I and others like me have been capped and the wiring has gone wrong somewhere along the way. With the acceptance of humanity and society we can be a part of the world and culture at large. In many ways we are already a part of society, however this is not recognised by successive governments whose response to mental health problems remains woefully inadequate. I suppose at this point I can only make an impassioned plea:

Accept us as a group, love us as individuals, treat us as people.

The ongoing fear that grips me now that I have ‘come out’ and publicly discussed my illness is something that I would much rather live without. I would give a lot to live without the familial rejection I have experienced and to no longer read articles about the horrors inflicted upon people like me and live in constant fear that I might be next against the wall. I and many like me have stepped into the light. It is up to those of you born normal to do the same, both for us and for the future generations like us.

Bipolar Disorder, Misunderstanding and the Armchair Diagnostician

Head in Hands

Possibly the world’s greatest face palm?

I have been inspired to write this post after reading a recent article on the Guardian website. As is often the case it is not the article that interests me, although I agree with much of what it says, rather it is the ignorance and buffoonery one sees in the comments section. I rarely pay attention to comments but in this case I have made an exception as I have a personal interest in the content. It is not necessary to post the precise text of the comment to which I am referring because it is not that specific content to which this post is a response. Additionally, I do not wish to give the author the oxygen of attention. It is easy to find if one looks. I am concerned about the ongoing misunderstandings it represents.

On Misunderstanding

The most difficult challenge one has when dealing with those who misunderstand mental illness is that they do not understand that they misunderstand. In fact it is far worse than that, since rather than being passively unsure of themselves owing to the fact that they are neither well read nor well informed on the matter, they will often aggressively assert themselves as though they could not possibly be wrong. This often manifests as the tyranny of common sense and the notion that all problems share the common characteristic of being simple to solve. The dreaded certainty of the Alexandrian Solution. Well, I am afraid that snipping through this particular Gordian Knot is neither productive, nor is it going to help at all. In reality this is no more than the Dunning Kruger Effect, something more commonly expressed as the following aphorism:

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

The illusory superiority which ignorance confers upon its misguided subjects is a powerful weapon in the hands of those wishing to attack something they do not understand. I enjoy the words of H.L. Mencken on this subject:

‘For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.’

You can often observe the Dunning Kruger Effect in full flow when listening to people talk. I am sure that everyone reading this has come across folk who genuinely believe that ‘Britain would be great again if we got rid of all the immigrants/politicians/Jews/black people/insert minority here’. I have no wish to argue about politics but I do hope that you can see how nonsensical this is. It is nonetheless true that an ignorant population is so very easily controlled and very often a simple buzzword or catchphrase is all that is needed to mobilise them. Racists regularly proclaim that ‘there ain’t no black in the Union Jack’, a statement rendered doubly stupid since the Union Flag is only a jack when flown at sea. That aside, the National Front has sustained a violent, racist organisation on that statement and little else. Elsewhere many of you will no doubt remember this powerful political message:

Labour isn't working

The famous ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ election poster.

This meme all but annihilated the Labour government against which it was a very well thought out and deadly attack. It meant that the Labour Party was not functioning, that the labour of the person reading it was getting them nowhere and also suggested that the word ‘Labour’ is the antonym of the word ‘working’. It remains a powerful image to this day and a testament to the fact that in order to win over hearts and minds it is more important to be pithy, catchy and appealing than it is to be armed with honesty and facts. In the current day and age media, marketing and public relations amounts to warfare, and as many of us know all too well, the first casualty of war is the truth. When it comes to mental illness the truth may well be the first casualty of war, however behind it is a long line of desperately sick people and those who have committed suicide out of desperation, amongst others. All because of those who believe that their simple answer is better than complex truth.

The Armchair Diagnostician

We have all met them, armchair diagnosticians. They are the people peddling their simple-minded solutions and thought processes as genius. They are the people who cannot grasp the concept of the law of unintended consequences, something that also has a pop culture version of itself that goes like this:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Armchair diagnosticians do not apply their genius to mental health issues alone. They are the same people who can tell you why climate change is a myth and that almost every climate scientist is wrong, despite being the most educated people on earth in their fields. They are the ones who know who really killed JFK or that NASA did not really send men to the moon. You might even hear their gusty proclamations concerning the notion that the world is unfair because it is run by Jews, for Jews. Of course, sometimes they turn out to be correct due to serendipitous good fortune and nothing else. For example, the historic practice of allowing nobility to hunt animals has led to the preservation of the UK’s beautiful countryside. This is not an argument in favour of hunting of course, simply a positive unintended consequence of morally objectionable behaviour,  and an outcome such as that can often embolden them to be even more militant about their preposterous views. The flip side of this rule is informally referred to in some quarters as the Streisand Effect, named due to Barbara Streisand’s efforts to censor photographs of her home that had been posted online. Her efforts only served to publicise the photographs which in turn resulted in them being downloaded 420000 times, as opposed to just 6 times prior to her lawsuit. This all serves to demonstrate that ignorance is dangerous not only for what it intends, but also for what it does not necessarily intend and cannot foresee.

So how does all of this relate back to mental illness? Ironically the connection is simple and easy to see. The comment in the above article suggests that it can by often be difficult to distinguish between genuine, bona fide mental illness and ‘SLS’ (sh*t life syndrome). That may seem reasonable to some, that many of those claiming to be mentally ill are in fact simply unhappy. After all, how would one make a firm distinction between the two? The answer to this is that there is no need to distinguish between the two because SLS is something invented by those who wish to sweep mental illness under the carpet. You will have never read any scholarly materials about SLS because nobody has ever observed it or documented it’s existence. It is a complete fabrication that bears no resemblance to reality.

SLS simply does not exist.

Our society and culture is currently in the throes of a massive denial epidemic concerning mental illness. Very few people wish to have any dealings with it and we have not moved on from the old way of doing things. Granted, we rarely use asylums any more, save for secure hospitals for people who present a danger to society, however what is noticeable is that where there used to be asylums there is now… Well, nothing really. If you presented with mental health symptoms tomorrow then where would you go? What would your family do with you? Call the police perhaps? As I will demonstrate in a future post, the current police response to mental health challenges is woefully inadequate, to the point where it borders on the criminal. Returning to the question, what does a mentally ill person do? Now that we are no longer shut out from society, are we a part of society? Or are we apart from society? Would you laugh at us and our symptoms? Or would you diagnose us as ‘faking it’ or ‘putting it on’, or my personal favourite ‘trying to get out of work’? Which one has, in the past, been your go to diagnosis for those about whom you would rather not go to the trouble of thinking?

Or did you just throw your shoulders back, puff out your chest and deny ever having done anything like that? You certainly would not be the first to have done so, but all of these truisms highlight the crushing, desperate, critical need for a new conversation to open up in our discourse and the first thing we must do is re-frame the question. No longer must we ask ‘what do we do with the mentally ill?’, rather society ought to say to itself ‘how can we love the mentally ill more?’. Two point four children is the average family size, or something of that order, and current research puts the prevalence of mental illness as affecting one in four people, almost always indiscriminately. That not only means that you almost certainly know someone with mental illness, but you also cannot comfort yourself with the notion that you will never be ‘one of them’. Madness and mental illness is no respecter of persons. It can strike anyone at any time, anywhere. Do not salve your conscience with the false consolation that it has not happened to you. Each of us is a heartbeat away from losing our minds, possibly for good. If and when it happens to you or your kin, those folks that you mocked, ignored or pretended were invisible, what will you do with them then?

Difficult questions lie ahead for the UK in terms of dealing with the mentally ill. Aside from the current government strategy of pretending that grossly inadequate NHS funding and provision will somehow right itself onto a straight course, the notion that the mentally ill are to be pitied, given a pittance in handouts and quietly shuffled into the corner is a recipe for disaster.

About Bipolar Disorder and This Blog

Bipolar Disorder

The madness of moods, bipolar disorder.

Why?

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.

Bipolar Disorder

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.