An honest blog sharing the ups and downs of my personal mental health journey

Friday, 24 July 2020

If I Do Say So Myself, This Is Worth Reading.

The Kanye West situation has been extremely triggering for me. I think it's fairly obvious I was going to write something about it, so in the words of Kenan & Kel, "aaahhh, here it goes".

Before it's potentially mentioned, this is nothing to do with his politics. I literally do not give a shit about his politics. This post is not about that. If you have a political opinion I'd prefer you write it on someone else's, maybe someone that's actually talking about politics.

This is purely about mental health, the depiction of his mental health in the media and the struggle of actually living with bipolar disorder, written by someone that (have I mentioned?!) actually has it.

I think this gives me a fairly good right to speak about the subject for the millionth time.

A lot of people are either completely ignoring his illness or treating him as an absolute 'psychopath' because of some of his actions. Or somehow even both. 

I get it, you don't understand it. So it's easy to judge and say horrible things about people when you've never been through it, have never known anyone with it or just aren't bothered about it whatsoever. 

Well, chances are, within all of our lifetimes you will either have it and be misdiagnosed, have it and are eventually diagnosed, have it and never realise, have a friend that has it or has a family member that has it. 

Whether or not the person experiencing this struggle actually talks about it is literally because of the way they'll be perceived, and the reason they're scared is because you're the ones making them feel that way - whether you know it or not. 

"1 in every 100 people will be diagnosed with it at some point in their life. Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after 40".

I first experienced severe depression at 11 years old. I was diagnosed at 26. I'm shit at maths but even I just worked out that means it took 15 whole years for me to get a diagnosis for something I've struggled with since childhood.

I'm really sick of trying to educate ignorant people on such a serious illness. 

It's a catch 22 - all I want to do is speak about it and educate people so that one day, hopefully, maybe, a lot more of the world also feel confident and comfortable enough to speak about it and don't have to hide in fear, lose friends, feel completely alone, feel completely helpless or end up in hospital. All of which have happened to me.

However, if I keep banging on about it people will start to switch off and stop caring because it's all I ever seem to speak about, right? But if I don't speak about it, other people may do the same, so how are people going to understand? If other people stop speaking, then I stop speaking, then more people stop speaking - then it's back to the very beginning. 

Also, for those that choose to ignore people with this illness - most of all end friendships and neglect people because of it (because it's so called 'easier' to do that) - you're actually almost worse than the people holding these strongly negative opinions of it. Because by staying silent and not trying you're a huge part of the problem. 

"Bipolar is one of the UK’s most common long-term conditions with almost as many people living with bipolar as cancer, it is more than twice as common as dementia, epilepsy, autism, rheumatoid arthritis, and learning disabilities".

If Kanye West had cancer rather than bipolar I think we would be in a veeeeeeerrrryyy different situation, wouldn't we?

"Bipolar increases an individual’s risk of suicide by up to 20 times".

If people aren't surrounded with the correct help and support they're far more likely to commit suicide. So as human beings, friends and family, we actually have the ability to potentially help people out of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Why wouldn't we want to do that?! If you are continuing to stigmitise, ignore and misunderstand mental illness you're practically contributing to people wanting to die - that's uncomfortable to hear, isn't it?

"90% of people with bipolar had told their employer about their condition but 24% of them regretted making that decision".

I told my last employer on the day I started that I had been diagnosed with bipolar and he asked what it was and what it means because he'd never been faced with that situation before. He/the rest of my team never bothered to find out or even Google it to get a better idea. They changed my job role completely and unexpectedly after I had a week off because I was feeling down, which I was completely open and honest about (which takes a bloody lot). They changed my job. People are off with flu for a week. Do they get their jobs changed when returning to work? Nope. Did they change my job because I have bipolar and they discriminated against me? Yup. 

No wonder people aren't honest about taking a day off for the sake of your mental wellbeing.

"3 million people in the UK have bipolar disorder".

As mentioned, very high chances are that's someone you know and someone that will never speak about it the way I try to.

There are 3 types of bipolar disorder - Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymia. 

Bipolar I (Kanye West) mood scale ranges from: 
  • Mania with Psychosis
  • Mania
  • Hypomania
  • Elation
  • Balanced Mood
  • Dysthymia (persistent depression) 
  • Mild Depression 
  • Moderate Depression 
  • Severe Depression 
  • Severe Depression with Psychosis. 

That's 11 moods. ELEVEN. How do you reckon you'd feel suffering from potentially 11 moods throughout not only the span of your lifetime but potentially in the space of 1 or 2 years, on repeat. Pretty fucking knackered, fed up, livid and confused, I'd imagine. 

For any of those interested, I am diagnosed with Bipolar II. This means I have moods spanning from:
  • Hypomania
  • Elation
  • Balanced Mood
  • Dysthymia (persistent depression) 
  • Mild Depression
  • Moderate Depression 
  • Severe Depression
(So yes, I can still be 'normal' and in a balanced mood for long periods of time regardless of this. An interesting and what should be a fairly obvious fact is we're not just either high as shit or low as fuck and that's the end of it).

These moods can vary from person to person and from different time scales. I typically have months of depression, followed directly by elation and/or hypomania which can last anything from a few weeks to a few months. I also suffer from mixed episodes of both elated mood and depression. So yeah, that sounds pretty weird and shitty doesn't it?

Two of the main bipolar triggers are PTSD and stress. If I have high stress levels I can spiral extremely quickly, which then results in a hypomanic episode directly afterwards.

Cyclothymia ranges from Hypomania - Dysthymia and cycles far more quickly but at a lower frequency than Bipolar I and Bipolar II. 

These symptoms/descriptions of elated and manic/hypomanic moods on the Bipolar UK website may help understanding too:

Mania - total loss of judgement, exorbitant spending, religious delusions and hallucinations, lost touch with reality, incoherent, no sleep, paranoid and vindictive, reckless behaviour - again, Kanye West.

Hypomania - inflated self-esteem, rapid thoughts and speech, counterproductive simultaneous tasks. Very productive, everything to excess, charming (lol) and talkative (bigger lol) - me.

If people are interested to know a few more famous people ala Kanye West that have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder:
  • Carrie Fisher 
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • David Harbour
  • Demi Lovato 
  • Stephen Fry
  • Frank Sinatra 
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Mariah Carey 
  • Russell Brand
  • Sting
  • Tom Fletcher 
  • Mel Gibson
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Sinead O'Connor
  • Lily Allen
  • Chris Brown
  • Britney Spears
  • Sia
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Pete Wentz
  • Dave Chappelle
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • David Walliams 
  • Ruby Wax
  • Brian Wilson 
  • Nina Simone
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Winston Churchill 
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Sylvia Plath
...the list goes ooooooon and on and on.

I really hope this helps raise some awareness, some understanding and importantly that people start taking this illness more seriously. 

I will continue to bang on about this until something is done. I will continue to speak about this to help other people. I will continue to educate myself about this not only for myself but for the millions of other people in the world that have it and will never feel comfortable talking about it. 

I don't understand why you aren't doing the same.


Monday, 20 July 2020

If You Watch Too Much TV Your Eyes Will Go Square

I seem to have gained this fairly irritating ability to preempt when a storyline in TV and film is going to result in someone having a mental illness, which ultimately is only used to add 'entertainment' and 'shock value' to the plot.  

This has been an issue from the beginning of time, but I guess I've started noticing it more because it's now more relevant to me - almost everything I'm referring to in this post is the way people with bipolar are portrayed in particular. 

In this day and age, in a time when we're (slowly) making positive strides to understand and accept mental illness, why is it apparently okay to write a character into a storyline that is portrayed as being literally fucking insane?

It's seemingly pretty obvious that the vast majority of people writing these characters into stories have zero understanding, experience or exposure to anyone going through a struggle whatsoever, most of all themselves.

So, who better to create a character battling with their mental health for all to see? Someone who has absolutely shit all clue what it's like to have it, that's who.

I've noticed a lot of things are written almost like someone has gone to Google, bashed their head against the keyboard, gone to page 180 of the search, copy and pasted something into their script like, "I think we've bloody nailed it here". No, you've not even used blu tack on this one pal.

I want to try and make a careful comparison to how a lot of other long term illnesses are portrayed differently on screen, but it's difficult to make one when I've not been through those experiences myself. I don't want to use a specific example, but let's just say a lot of other stories with characters suffering from long term or serious illness are usually shown as impassioned, treated sensitively and the audience feels empathy and sympathy for the character.

I really don't think this is the case with depiction of mental health whatsoever, at least not with anything I've watched involving it.

In particular, if a character in a storyline has bipolar, they're portrayed as frantic, irrational, unstable, unsafe, villainous, homewrecking, a sociopath, and almost every time there's a lot of emphasis on them stopping taking their medication - which further adds emphasis that the character is ignorant, stupid and out of control. Because apparently by not taking their medication, they're purposely choosing to go 'off the rails'. 

Ultimately, it's made to seem it's their fault they're acting that way. 

As soon as someone is perceived as not being arsed or not taking their medication just for (apparently) the hell of it, there's absolutely no empathy or sympathy for that character because they've now been made to look selfish and irresponsible by doing it.

Well, that's really just not how it works. 

 people with bipolar (and let's face it, a lot of people on medication regardless of what you're taking it for) stop taking their medication because it's either not suitable for their symptoms, they haven't been prescribed it correctly or because they are in a better/elated mood they feel like they don't need to take it. Now, this last one can be part and parcel of the illness itself - when you're feeling in a manic or hypomanic episode and you feel good, you often don't compute that you're feeling that way because of the illness. 

So, linking that to being prescribed something that's not suitable, you're going to think it's okay to stop taking it because you feel good. Get it? Maybe not...but it's worth trying to explain it anyway.

If written into a storyline was: 'Sandra was devastated a few days ago because she burnt her toast and was late leaving for work. She went outside for a little breather to calm down and fell over a gnome. Whilst facing the ground she found a 4 leaf clover and 2 magpies flew by. She then drove to work and there was no traffic whatsoever, so she actually got there right on time. Sandra also got a promotion that day. On the way home she saved a stranded puppy and lived happily ever after. Nice one, Sandra'. 

I'd imagine that probably leaves the audience feeling quite happy and rooting for Sandra.

Here's another storyline: 'Sandra, who has bipolar, one day flipped her lid because she burnt her toast due to the fact she stopped taking her medication that day and she didn't realise the toaster was on full whack. But actually the silly bitch wasn't even using the toaster after all, she was off her nut and thought the oven was actually the toaster because she's delusional, harharhar. She wasn't late for work because she can't hold down a job because she's useless. She then went completely berzerk, smashed a couple of Derek's garden gnomes out back, then shaved off all her hair circa Britney 2007. She then continued to have a breakdown and went on a killing spree, then she killed herself. Sandra is crazy. Everyone stay away from Sandra'.

The second storyline would be far more shocking (on second thoughts I should probably start writing movies myself...) but as we should be able to see by now, Sandra's second portrayal is exaggerated, factually incorrect, ridiculously stupid and actually just really fucking offensive. 

Basically, it would be really nice for people to stop depicting mental illness as weak, stupid, scary, selfish and intimidating for thousands, nae millions, of viewers to watch. 

The only thing this incorrect portrayal is doing is further encouraging people to completely and utterly misunderstand mental illness and make the stigma 10x worse because supposedly it's entertaining. 

Why not start writing realistic, positive and educational mental health storylines instead. If you're a good enough script writer you should be able to make that impactful and positive anyway, right? 

I watched a film a while ago and within 2 whole minutes you discover a character in the storyline has bipolar and kills herself AND her Mum at the same time. Within 2 minutes of the film. Then, to add insult to injury, it's basically irrelevant to the rest of the film and I believe not actually mentioned again. Not only is that pretty upsetting and offensive, it's also just lazy and pathetic 
story writing. I did actually watch the whole film was the weirdest thing I've ever seen so lay off that one. 

Since then I've seen 3 or 4 films that end up with a character either killing someone, killing themself, or both.

I read a book once about a man struggling with his mental health who has just got out of hospital. The book itself does not mention what diagnosis he has or the specifics of what happened while in hospital. It's actually a really subtly humorous and uplifting book and doesn't necessarily use his mental health negatively at all. 

The film adaptation the first 5 minutes the audience are told he has bipolar. It's not even in the original story. Why?!

This also happens in true life documentaries too, however they are usually slightly more tactile with how it's portrayed. They do like to leave the person killing themselves towards the end though for a good shocker, because that always seems to be what happens. 

To turn this on it's head slightly, another example from a particular true crime documentary I watched, is someone with bipolar had been arrested for murder and given a shorter sentence or was not convicted correctly at all (I can't remember which, it was shit).

I'm not going to go into this much because it's extremely controversial whether this should or shouldn't happen, but what I will say is by doing this they're fighting to excuse or justify a man killing another man...just because he has bipolar. Maybe his mental state did have some sort of effect on why he did what he did, but the evidence shows that he actually just really hated this guy and that's obviously more likely to be the reason he killed him (not like that's an excuse, of course).

As far as I'm aware I've never killed someone and believe it or not I don't plan on doing it either. 

You'll notice I haven't named the movies and documentaries above because I don't want to promote something that makes mental illness even more stigmatised and unacceptable than it already is.

I urge anyone that actually wants a realistic portrayal of mental illness to listen to mental health podcasts such as: Happy Place, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, WTF With Marc Maron, The Hilarious World of Depression, Unlocking Us with Brene Brown.

Books that are written by real people that are going through/have been through real life struggles: An Unquiet Mind, First We Make the Beast Beautiful, Reasons to Stay Alive, The Psychopath Test, We're All Mad Here, The Recovery Letters, Notes On a Nervous Planet etc, etc, etc.

But, most importantly, actually have a bloody conversation with a person who is suffering (there's literally no excuse to not be doing this anyway).

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