Category Archives: Bi Polar
A new contribution from Keir Liddle who is founder and blogger over at The Twentyfirst Floor.
Batman has a special place in the mythology of my mental illness.
Batman also has a special place in the ire of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals for depicting an unrealistic vision of mental illness. They raise concerns about the sometimes overtly psychoanalytic and heightened depictions of mental health problems like psychosis and the way therapy and prison intertwine into a gothic whole in the twisted vision of Arkham. Part asylum, part penitentiary, all nightmarish vision of insanity and the worst excesses of an imagined US prison system.
I don’t wish to add to the criticism that has gone before. Nor do I intend to defend the cartoonish and exaggerated world of Gotham against such allegations. Except to say that I find these concerns less pressing than my own concerns about how mental health is represented in more mainstream media such as TV drama, film and in particular soap operas. Where typically you find that a character with mental health issues has been sketched around a writers reading of the DSM criteria and is more often than not only ever on a journey from blood spilt crisis to crisis: Either perpetrating acts of violence against others or themselves or providing a misplaced foil for some ill conceived comic relief.
Batman is special to me in many ways. I could never therefore give a fair and objective account of whether these comics do harm and stigmatize the mentally ill.
I can tell you about my relationship with Batman though.
My mother was/is schizophrenic. The qualification is required as I haven’t spoken to her or even seen her in the last fifteen years – I am now 30. In my defence this is not for want of trying to build burnt bridges though to my shame in recent years I’ve abandoned the long sessions standing at her door knocking endlessly and never being let in.
Central to one of my mothers delusions was a board game we were gifted by a family friend specifically the Batman the Movie board game. It randomly became a focus for her and her obsession culminated when she took me and my brother driving in the middle of the night to try and find the Dark Knight. We were ordered to turn our faces to the open windows of the car in the back seat as she believed it was filling with poison gas (no doubt placed there by her enemies at the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and we had to answer her incessant questions about the location of Batman. She eventually abandoned the search turning quickly into a frozen field and we drove silently home in the dark.
A lifetime’s obsession was born.
Now I look at Batman and I can see an allegory for my own self loathing and mental health issues.
You could consider that many of Batman’s foes represent a twisted reflection of at least an aspect of the Dark Knights personality or psychological makeup:
- The Joker as what Batman could have become driven mad with grief
- Two-Face as representing the struggle between Batman and Bruce Wayne as the duality at the heart of batman’s existence
- The Penguin and Black Mask as versions of Bruce Wayne who turned to crime instead of vigilantism
- And Mr Freeze as an older Bruce Wayne loosing his wife instead of his parents.
When Batman looks in the mirror he might see, in his darker moments, his foes reflected back at him or at the least the “madness” that drives them.
This is something I can relate to when I look at myself in the mirror when I am in the sinkhole of depression. For it isn’t always me that looks back, it isn’t always me that stands in front of my critical and hateful gaze. It is a twisted reflection an amalgamation of failures, faux pas and slights both imagined and real. It is a twisted corpulent mess of scars and self loathing.
When I look into the mirror I don’t see the Joker, Two Face or the Penguin. I see all my weaknesses, all my faults and flaws reflected back like an exaggerated comic book villain but all too real. Etched into my reflection is every ounce of self doubt that I inflict upon myself, every inch of self loathing and hate. Every bit of guilt and shame I feel (deserving and undeserving) looking back at me taunting me and telling me I am worthless, useless and obsolete.
If you stare into the abyss sometimes you become the abyss.
Not only that but when the mirror presents such a twisted self image I, like Wayne, adopt my secret identity and put on my mask. Stick on the smile and get on with it and pretend nothing is as bad as it is or hide under the duvet refusing to leave the Batcave. You rarely see a depressive at their worst – which must make it difficult for most to believe the bad days exist but they most certainly do.
Though unlike Batman when I put on my armour and head out to face the world my battle isn’t with supervillans on the streets of Gotham but it is a battle with myself in my own head.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Our latest contribution comes from Charlotte Ross who blogs at charlotteeross.wordpress.com
Recently, I have had a lot of big questions swimming round my brain. They have got in the way of other thoughts and bounced off the inside of my head. Like rubber balls. And they have made it difficult to think about anything else – work or home or family or love or opening letters or phoning the bank. And all of these circling questions orbit an even bigger one, that is lurking darkly: just who the heck am I now?
About six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I’d asked for the referral myself from my GP. I had been noticing increasingly marked patterns in my mood swings and periods of depression over the last few years, wondering if perhaps they amounted to more than momentary lows and highs. I had been finding out about the illness, talking to others with it, trying to see if the diagnosis fitted me. And I was pretty sure it did. So I really shouldn’t have felt the shock that I felt when the Consultant Psychiatrist said, “yes, after reviewing your history, I think you do fit the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar II.”
I really thought I would be relieved to know that, to find out the reason why I felt the way I did. Be able to find a few answers. But you know what? I really didn’t. No, I left the clinic feeling pole-axed. And it has taken me, is still taking me time to come to terms with that. I feel quite silly about it. I feel I am making too much fuss. After all, I am the same person who walked into the clinic as walked out. Nothing has really changed except for words. Except it has.
All those bouts of depression that I suffered, I felt I’d “beaten”. I was proud of getting over every single one, but each time I fell into another, I got cross with myself for the perceived weakness that meant I had allowed myself to get ill and depressed again. I wanted to see my life as a happy life, just peppered with occasional moments of depression: I have always hated being referred to as “depressive”. For god’s sake! I’m the cheeriest person you’ll meet! I am a cock-eyed, ridiculous optimist. I am annoyingly sunny and I love life. I am silly, I laugh a LOT. I did not want to think that my life could be summed up like that: “depressive”. No. Not me.
But worse than my changed view on depression were my new views on the mania, I realised. Because I have always lived my life up and down with very little in the middle. I am not severely bipolar, and when I’m high, I am not at all antisocial. I just do everything faster and faster, sleep less and less, have more of a ‘devil may care’ attitude and ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm for practically any venture you’d care to throw at me. My fuse is shorter then too, and I am inclined to be rather impatient. I’m probably exhausting to be around at that point. But the thing is – I quite like me like that. I feel good. I can do things. I can write things. I have energy and a buzz. I make stuff and my kids think I’m fun to be around.
So the bit of this ‘coming to terms’ malarkey that I’m really struggling with is looking at this part of me, which I really like, and wondering if it is really just down to mental illness. Is it me, who knits scarves into the early hours and comes up with plots for novels, and invents cakes or is it illness? Is it creativity or mania? Is the illness an extraneous part of me, or am I the illness? And do I have to treat it? Can’t I just keep that whizzy bit? Find a way to get some sleep, but keep the crazy thrill of doing everything at super fast speeds? There’s got to be some bloody upside to it all.
But that thrill doesn’t stay. That’s the problem. The faster I go, the quicker I get to the top of the summit and then the faster I plummet to earth. Crash and burn. I’m a mum to three children, on my own, and I can’t be crashing and burning and looking after them. And I go to work. I teach. I can’t be falling apart in class, I need to find a balance of stability within myself and my life. I don’t want to lose parts of me, but perhaps in the short term, it’s a risk I have to take in order to manage the responsibilities I have. The flighty part of me doesn’t want mood stabilisers. The grown-up part knows it’s probably what I have to do. I’m frightened I’m going to find I’m not who I think I am when I start taking them. I don’t want to be cured of the bits of me I really like. I really like riding the rollercoaster you see.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best advice and the kindest words I’ve had, have been from my children. We have talked about my illness and talked about what Bipolar means. My children had questions of their own, of course, especially the boys, who in their lives have also come to terms with lifelong diagnoses of their own. They asked, “Can you get better and be cured?” (sadly,no); “Is it like Dementia, that it gets worse until you die of it?” (thankfully, no); “If you take the medicine will you feel better?” (probably). “Will you always have it?”. Well, yes I will.
But my eldest son said to me, “Mum, it’s just a diagnosis. You will get used to it.” He should know.He has got used to his. As has his younger brother. And of course, all three children were right: I’m the same mum, I’m the same me. I just have a new label, a new signpost.
“You will get the right help now, Mum, that’s all it means”, said Boy 1, “What’s for dinner?”
And as I cooked the supper and the kids bickered over the tv remote, I realised why I was upset in the clinic. I had wanted the doctor to tell me I was mistaken, that it was all in my head, that I just had mood swings and the odd bout of depression. But of course, that is exactly what the consultant told me: really, it is all in my head.
Running away from the past is a foolish endeavour when you’re tied to your history like a black dog tied to a fence post.
You circle the same ground over and over again. Snapping at the future but never escaping the length of the leash. Condemned to run over the same events, feelings and problems time and again. Holding you back, dragging you under and keeping the future just out of reach.
You think you should be able to just pull against the leash and snap it. That then you could run free. But no matter how hard you pull it snaps you back. Like a choke chain it robs you of the oxygen of hope.
So what do you do?
If you’re like me you take some analgesics that make you forget the leash sores around your neck. You start to smoke, start to drink. You do these to excess. They mask the pain temporarily and make you think the leash doesn’t exist. But it snaps you back ever more violently than before and it hurts even more.
So you try prescription drugs and medical intervention and miraculously the leash seems to vanish. But slowly as your body grows accustomed to their ministrations you realise that the leash hasn’t disappeared it’s just got that little bit longer.
It will snap back if you don’t do something with the slack you’ve been awarded.
So what do you do?
Me I’m trying a mix of self administered CBT and counselling now. I’m starting to take more physical exercise by running to address my body and confidence issues. It helps that I am addicted, in a sense, to endorphins. But that’s also been a curse in a way as it has encouraged and enabled my self harm over the years. Self harm that is most pernicious because my body means little to me. A collection of scars are not the horror to me that they seem to be to others. More worryingly fresh and healing scars look to me somewhat beautiful in their own twisted way. But I digress. Running may be more effort than taking a knife or a razor to my arm to superficially scar it but it’s certainly more socially acceptable and probably more healthy in the long run.
The CBT is an odd one. It’s self directed so depends upon my motivation to follow it thorough. I won’t lie it’s essentially beneficent brain washing. It’s very difficult for me to brain wash myself.
I don’t do it when I feel up, as what’s the point? I don’t need it then and exploring these issues, emotions and thought might only result in extinguishing the small light of hypo mania by making the leash tug harder and choking me with sadness.
But I can’t do it when I’m down. Because… Well shit… Because I can’t do anything when I’m down. The malignant sadness holds me down and smoothers me. It’s too much effort to fight to stay alive and just “exist” to be able to critically examine my thought spirals and get them under control.
But I persevere. As despite the rather negative paragraphs above it does help. It’s loosening off the grip of the leash, it’s an analgesic for the sores and scars and slowly but surely I can feel it loosen around my neck bit by bit.
It isn’t a magic bullet. But hell, neither are the drugs.
The most recent endeavour is counselling and after just one session it has me starting to gnaw at the leash. It’s hard going and it’s painful to remember and vocalise the events that have moulded and shaped me into the depressed mess you see before you.
But it seems to help and it carries the promise that with hard work and honesty I can either gnaw through that leash or pull that fence post from the ground and run free.