Friday, 22 October 2010

Believing I was Bipolar

Back in 1998 I quite rightly was sectioned after being isolated for two years following the death of my father. Friends at that time didn't visit, send cards, phone or email unless I quite frankly hounded them and eventually I gave up on doing even that.

I say, rightly sectioned because (as mentioned in an earlier posting) I was imagining my house was under surveillance with tiny microphones and cameras. Helicopters flying overhead, and people driving past with earpieces to their mobile phones were all spying on me or so I came to believe. Such was the effect of lack of company, lack of a job, lack of food and sleep. I went down three dress sizes.

I'm about to make this one exception to my rule of not divulging anyone else's personal history, but for a good reason. I used my sitting in two chairs exercise to decide whether or not to do so (which will follow shortly). The reason is that my history of mental illness was profoundly effected by that of my mothers. The ripple effect of living with someone with any form or long-term illness (mental or physical) is profound. Her condition has had an impact on every member of my family in one way or another.

In order to prevent others being affected or becoming as severely ill as she was I have chosen to share my own experiences and something of hers. She would feel betrayed if she was still living I know. It's been a family secret and a taboo to mention it outside the family, but I believe it's that very taboo that makes matters worse. We can't resolve or come to terms with difficulties if we don't face up to them.

Like many who have lost a loved one, I still talk to her and in my mind, and in my mind, she is completely well now and understands and is backing me up on this. My siblings and father would agree that I was the closest member of the family to her and her primary concern throughout her life was to put a stop to all the suffering and cruelty.

She had been a nurse in Northern Ireland in her early life, patching up bomb victims from both sides. It's not the whole reason why I believe she became ill by any means, but as it's enough of a reason for anyone to become ill. I will leave it at that.

As the medical team were aware of her illness they made an assumption, that I was ill in a similar way. Over the weeks and months of my treatment I was diagnosed as bipolar, schizoid affected disorder, and more recently 'mixed', meaning I had learnt my behaviour patterns from my Mum's illness. But she wasn't the only person I learned from, I learned from all members of my family and from everyone outside of it too.

I saw people throwing tantrums and getting their way at work by being angry. I saw how people staying quiet were often overlooked and railroaded over. I saw how being supportive of others won respect and love too. I saw how playing the victim and seeking sympathy could win support. I tried everything I saw in attempts to find meaningful relationships in my life. Though at the time I was unconscious of my mimicry.

There was only one problem with all this - none of them were quite me, or at least the whole me. It's taken me many years of exploration, work and practice to find out who I am and take full ownership of my own responses.

I now no longer want sympathy at all. Years ago I really thought I did and that I deserved it. Now what I want is acknowledgement for my experiences which is very different. I've wanted respect for having largely overcome them too, but have found that if I don't seek it the more I receive it.

My history highlights the age old debate between nature and nurture, between what is genetic and what is learnt from the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in. In my counselling I've learned that the percentage of what is nature (genetic), and what is nurture (learnt), varies for each individual and that both can change with a lot of practice and by having a bit of luck in who you mix with.

My genetics are a mix of both my parents, only one of which was mentally ill so it was in many ways very wrong of the medical team to assume I was a repeat of my mother. Aside from anything else none of us what to feel identical in every way to anyone else. We all want to be regarded as individuals in our own right and appreciated accordingly.

However, I am not angry with my medical team because despite the labels (which never to justice to the reality of living with any form or illness or disability 24/7), I find I can do nothing but thank them for guiding me back to health; for being the catalysts in helping me find the true me; for giving me the courage to find my voice and use it.

Nor do I regret all the work I had to do to manage what they thought to be a bipolar condition, for that process of setting limits of my thoughts and moods has given me better control, improved the quality of my life immeasurably and made me a happier person. Even the medication I was put on gave me insights that helped.

Most of all I found the talking therapies to have been the greatest source of help, but am conscious that they might not have been as effective had I not also been on medication. Talking therapies only really work when we are receptive to them and enter into them with full commitment and honesty and that means sharing what we don't ever like to admit about ourselves and what is painful.

Recently I came across an article about Ruby Wax in which she feels Stephen Fry is irresponsible for not taking any medication for his bipolar condition. Ruby is also bipolar and she opted for medication. I will never dictate to anyone what they should do about their health (mental or otherwise) because I believe you have a right to decide for yourself what is best for you. All I would do is suggest and recommend. I am not responsible for your life, you are.

So here's my recommendation - speak out for what you need and keep people updated. And my personal opinion (you are at liberty to vehemently disagree) is that I am open to the idea that talking therapies alone being all a person may need to prevent becoming so ill they need to be sectioned.

However, I see no difference to a person needing medication when sectioned to a person needing medication in an Accident and Emergency department to save their lives when brought in from a car accident. The point is, while we are out of hospital we should use our ability to seek forms of help that work for us and that is different for everyone.

I take aspirins for headaches and antidepressants if I'm depressed. What's the difference? Diabetics have to take insulin to ensure that they are healthy, others takes mood stabilisers to secure their health. It's not their fault their bodies don't naturally produce enough of what is needed. Thankfully there are drugs these days that can help if required. As I never want to be as ill again I doubt very much I will ever come off medication entirely. You have the power to choose, do so wisely.

One last point - as a consequence of the work done following being sectioned I have never been sectioned since - not even when my closest family member (my Mum) died. It didn't prevent another deep depressive episode which ‘seemed’ as bad at the time but looking back now I can see that being sectioned had taught me how to survive and cope far better.

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