Dear Bipolar…

To the most significant relationship of my life, my Bipolar Disorder.

I’ve always known you were there.  I’ve known since my earliest memories that another being existed within me.  After 28 years, on my birthday, when it was given a name, I wasn’t shocked.  I wasn’t upset.  In fact the cake that my best friend and parents shared with me that day wasn’t to celebrate my birthday, but to celebrate the relief.  It’s funny how a name can do that.

You see, having that name took away some of your power.  You fought in the following years harder than you’d fought before to assert yourself, but I had a little power too, now.  That’s not to say that you didn’t win at times.  You did.  But your victories lost some of their fear.

Bipolar Disorder. 

I pored over books and articles, equally comforted and shocked when they all described me.  How did they know?  This was never a public relationship, you and me.  It was intimate and private.  You know everything about me.  But I can never know everything about you. 

I’ve never been able to accept you as part of me, despite the endless therapists coaxing me to do so.  You’ve always, since the first memories that I formed, been separate.  You had to be or I couldn’t fight you.  But then, that makes acceptance in to a challenge that is impossible to conquer.  I will never accept you.  Not completely. 

We’ve known each other longer and more intimately than I could ever know another person, and it’s not always been bad.  Your voice has soothed me to sleep on more occasions than I can remember, and been the only voice that I could hear through the countless months of darkness.  It’d be easy if I could hate you all the time, but I can’t. 

As I get stronger, it gets harder.  There’s a definite release in breaking down completely.  It’s hard to completely admit the level of nostalgia I have for those times.  For the nurses shining torches on me every 15 minutes throughout the night.  I swallow the Lithium every day and your voice gets further away.   Now I just have questions.  When is it coming back?  How much longer do I have before it ultimately wins?  And the classic:  Is this me, or the ‘illness’? 

You break a vase once, and you can rebuild it, knowing where the cracks are and where to hold it gently.  If you break that vase time and time again, and rebuild it painstakingly time and time again, it is impossible to know where the original breaks really were.  So it is with you.  You have reduced me to nothing so many times.  To no words, no thoughts, no voice, no dreams.  I’ve rebuilt everything; every thought inside my head.  But, as after an earthquake, I’ll never place a foot in front of another with certainty again. 

You are the most significant relationship of my life and I know that is why I have no room for another.  How can another person be inside my mind and being as wholly as you are?  It’s not that I haven’t tried, but sooner or later every relationship hits the wall of everything that I can never describe to them and every place they can never access. 

I wonder constantly what my life would have been if I hadn’t fought so hard.  Other than the ultimate victory, I wonder what else you could have done.  Or will do.

I am grateful to you.  When you live with something like you, there is no middle ground.  You pushed me to live the best life I could.  You brought me to a career that I love with all my heart, and you showed me the world.  At times you took everything.  But you also gave me this.  

I can never survive you.  You will always be there until death do us part.  That scares me more than I am able to admit.   But it’s also a comfort.  I know your name and that gives me more power than so many others.  There will be more times in the future when you win.  I know that.  But I want you to know this; I’m winning now.  For how many more years, months, days, minutes, seconds…I don’t know.  

But I’m glad you allowed me this.

I’m no guru

Let’s start with some truths.  I’m no guru.  I don’t know what this is or what I want to say.  I don’t know who you are, and yet I know every terrifying thought that has made its home in your head.  I don’t know why you’re reading this, but I would guess that it’s for the same reasons that I’m writing it.  I’m going to be straight with you: this won’t be some cozy, self-help bullshit.  If that’s what you want, then search again, although, if you are anything like me, I’d also guess that you’ve had plenty of that.  Actually, there is only one thing I know for sure.  One vital, tiny, but overwhelmingly significant thing. 

I’m alive.

And here’s another truth.  I very nearly wasn’t.

Am I supposed to tell you my life story now?  Would you even be interested if I did?  Inevitably, I’ll tell you all that soon enough.  I’ll write of hospital wards and sections; drugs good and bad; electric shocks and a coma.  But here’s enough to begin with:  I’ve suffered.  More than most but less than some.  I’ve gone as low as it is possible to go, not once or twice but multiple times.  And yeah, I survived.  I would love to tell you how.  But I can’t.  Like with any pain, the path isn’t a straight one.  I don’t know how to trace it.  Duplicate it.  It’s no better than your story; no worthier of time.  But it is mine, and it’s all I have.

So, is this all a waste of time then?  No.  I’m not going to pretend to know the answers but sometimes the fact that we can ask them together is solution enough.  I don’t think we need to waste time getting to know each other, because we do know each other already.  Right now, is it 1am?  2?  Are you lying in bed desperately searching for anything that will calm your insistent and all too present mind?  Is the bright light coming off your phone causing your eyes to ache after hours of shed or unshed tears?  Are you wondering how on earth you made it through the day and also feeling certainty that you can’t make it through tomorrow?  I know.  I’m so sorry that you’re reading this, because it undoubtedly means one of two things:  You are suffering or someone you love is. 

I wish I could offer you some real comfort but please just know this… I see you.  Right now, in my mind’s eye, I see you.  I’ve been you.  I am you.  And you’re not alone.

I am not presuming that I can help you.  We only just met, right?  But truthfully, all you need to do right now is breathe.  That’s it.  From the lonely pit of my nighttime, to yours.  Just breathe.

Do you believe me yet?  I don’t blame you if you don’t.  I said I wouldn’t tell you my story right now, but there it is jostling for position in my mind and demanding some attention.  Our stories are never that far beneath the surface, even if we pretend they are.

This isn’t a novel.  There isn’t some fancy pre-planned plot line with a beautiful resolution at the end.  I don’t know what order everything should be in, once the memories have survived the blender that is in my head.  So, let’s start with this:

8 months ago, I wanted to be dead. 

Only once, right?  Lucky me!  No, we both know that isn’t true.  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the suicide watchlist over the years, but this time I meant business. 

I hate the phrase ‘I wanted to die’.  It’s such a weird mix up of tenses that are somehow designed to sugar coat and tip toe around the real truth.  I couldn’t give a tiny rat’s arse about the actual ‘dying’ bit.  That’s just a means to an end.  I wanted death.  A clear destination.  Oblivion.  Emptiness.  And, no more pain.  I guess I’m supposed to say that it was a mistake, but I don’t want to lie to you.  Maybe you’ve been there, although I hope you haven’t.  As the concoction of well-researched pills settled in my stomach, there was no regret or dread.  I felt peace.  Sometimes, I think I’d really like to feel it again.  Sometimes, I wonder if it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.  But we’re not supposed to talk about it like that, are we?

Can I be completely contradictory and tell you that it absolutely wasn’t a mistake, at the same time as tell you, beg you, never to do the same?

I think we’re getting closer to what I really want to say.  Stay with me.

The thing is…the thing is…since I woke up from the coma, one truth has been very clear to me.  Painfully.  Literally blindingly stark under the harsh hospital strip lights.  You commit an act like wanting to end your life, and immediately lose ownership of it. Like vomiting your feelings in to an over-sharing Facebook status which is then claimed by those who like and comment on it, the act is no longer yours but instead belongs to all those that permanently mark it with their reaction.  When I woke and saw my family and the doctors and nurses around the bed, I knew this wasn’t mine anymore.  I couldn’t speak due to the tube down my throat, but the doctor asked me “did you take those pills on purpose?”. I nodded, and every reaction on all of the faces around me claimed that single nod as their own.  It wasn’t mine anymore.  It was theirs. 

Theirs to diagnose.

Theirs to medicate.

Theirs to cry over.

Theirs to bundle up deep inside, seal with masking tape and never open again. 

Their shame.

Their taboo.

I saw it all in an instant. 

Maybe I didn’t need to take a thousand words to be able to say what I’m going to say next.  Maybe I did.  But, how often have you heard that we need to talk about mental illness more?  Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not entirely true. 

We are the ones suffering.  Being able to blink and breathe is enough pressure in a day, without telling us that we need to educate others as well.  I mean, for goodness sake, people are so afraid of it that they can’t even label it correctly; why the hell are we talking about Mental Health instead of Mental Illness?  This illness (not health) is burden enough; I don’t need to help non-sufferers understand it better.  That’s on them.  Dealing with our own feelings is bad enough, but what makes it suffocatingly dangerous is how much of it we entrust to others. 

So, here is what I propose.  Here, tonight, it’s just you and me.  Just the two of us battling our own feelings and taking steps through the minefield of other people’s reactions.  Ignore them.  Ignore that pressure. 

Let’s take this back. 

I never, ever wish to encourage or glorify anything I or you have been through, but there are millions of us going through it every day and we shouldn’t have to tone it down or be scared to shock. 

Let’s take this back.

Let’s ignore all the fly tipped reactions of others that we carry with us every second of every day.

Let’s say all of the stuff that we know we’re feeling but we’re not supposed to say.  Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make those ‘untouchable’ thoughts not more prominent, but less scary.  Less dominant.

I’ll start:

I wanted to be dead.

Sometimes, I still do.

I hate that I survived.

I love that I’m alive.

No one else can ever understand what this feels like.

I know I’m not alone.

I want you to know.

This shouldn’t be about everyone else’s ‘acceptance’ or ‘reaction’.  It’s not about them.  It’s about us.  Our Mental Illness, not other people’s badly renamed Mental Health.  We need to stop justifying ourselves, and start talking to each other.  We don’t need to regulate the feelings we do and don’t share and end up censored and self-hating as a result. 

I don’t need someone in the street that has never experienced this hell to understand me:  I need you to understand me.  I don’t need to feel like I’m the only one experiencing this.  This is our fight.  Our lives.  And we don’t have to edit or suppress it for anyone.  We are amazing.

Eight months ago, I tried to kill myself. 

I wish that it had worked.

I’m happy I survived.

I will not regret it. 

That’s just me.