Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
To all my brethren, bipolar or otherwise – You are not alone. Read ANY of our blogs and you’ll find a thread which spans all continuums of wealth, influence, physical prowess and beauty, ambition and popularity. That thread being the nature of our self-talk whilst depressed. The same sentiments echo out from every nook and cranny of the internet. You can predict almost word-for-word what we will write when the Black Dog digs its way into our yard.
Having watched Australian Story last night with Adam Boland, I stand (well, sit nursing a coffee) ever more convinced that it doesn’t matter how little or much you achieve in your life – The nature of depression is that you will have re-occurring thoughts along the lines detailed in the toon above. Everyone suffering from an illness involving depression and anxiety does.
The most difficult part of a diagnosis of any mental illness is that you have to accept that you are not the originator of all the thoughts going through your mind. NOTHING in the world can be as counter intuitive as this. It is the most difficult concept to grasp and internalize. I remember saying “I am my thoughts.” This is simply not the whole truth, however. I am most of my thoughts but there are some that are spat out by the random-negativity-generator of my illness.
No-matter how well a person sits on the power/wealth/beauty continuum – If they are depressed they are tasked with enduring the exact same self-loathing and self-assassination that we all go through. The most empowering lesson I have thus-far learned is that these thoughts aren’t born of any external stimuli. If you could remove your eyes, ears and give yourself nerve damage so as to not have any tactile sensory feedback at all – these thoughts would persist in exactly the same format. They are nothing to do with the wider world. They’re weeds in your mental garden.
I was a little bit disappointed last night that Australian Story reported that it was A.Boland’s specific industry and career that led to his undoing. The truth is that a breakdown for someone yet undiagnosed and therefore unaware of their illness can happen anywhere and at any time. Mine occurred when I was visiting a wonderful woman, in a very romantic and remote location. I had no reason to be unhappy, I had great company, great views, it cost me nothing and I was meeting fantastic people whenever I managed to leave the house (rarely).
I was at the opposite end of the continuum of external stressors to A.Boland. It didn’t matter at all. Prince or pauper – When these illnesses come a-knockin you really know about it!
Nevertheless; break down I did and in magnificent fashion. I rarely left the bed, I thought of suicide every few seconds and I cut myself off from communicating with the wider world. My universe had shrunk to the bedroom I was in and I had already given in to the belief that no one other than my lady friend was even interested in hearing from me. They were probably glad I was out of the way anyway, I thought.
If not for the intervention of a close friend, responsible for my diagnosis, I would have become homeless in the first instance and, I would imagine not long after, one of the 2000 people who commit suicide and make a good job of it in Australia every year.
I am glad that Australian Story worked with Adam Boland to put his story into the public domain. I only wish that the program had been more to do with mental illness and less to do with celebrating a career in television. If someone yet undiagnosed with Bipolar was to watch the program, I fear that they may evade a diagnosis further when they see mania characterised purely as happiness, spending sprees and insomnia. For many Bipolar II sufferers mania doesn’t manifest as happiness at all. Rather it shows as heightened irritability and a confrontational bent. Depression may not be absolutely crippling the younger you are. You may deal with it remarkably well and shrug off a suggested diagnosis because of it.
Unfortunately the program’s exploration of even Bipolar I seemed a little shallow. Seeing headlines such as “Trapped by Television” pop up in the press this morning also prompts the thought that really, the boogey-man of mental illness is sidelined completely, in favour of a more romantic and easily sensationalized antagonist.
My hopes are high, having heard Adam Boland’s sadness that he didn’t use his profile to combat mental illness stigma, that he will yet prove a significant figurehead in that battle. One thing I would say is that he shouldn’t feel a moment’s guilt for not opposing this stigma before he was diagnosed, or immediately afterwards. As with anyone else dealing with a mental illness – his top priority HAS TO BE making himself well.
Here’s hoping that he comes back to Cairns and spearheads an attack on mental illness stigma. I stand as a ready foot-soldier. Until that time, I wish him all the best.