I tried to objectively ask myself this question, but I don’t think I could be honest with myself, not even in a whisper, perhaps because I am inherently biased.
If I were to alter the question to—How often should I write about mental illnesses?—would the answer be different? If you’re like me, blogging is a cathartic process, a therapy in itself, and blogging is writing. Does it matter that the writing becomes viewable, outside of a personal journal, for example? (Just a side thought.)
In the cold light of day when the crap has hit the fan, I’d say every day. Every. Single. Day. Because every day is a different perspective, a different battle. And rules for one day don’t matter the next. What works today may not work tomorrow. So when your goal posts keep moving how can you simply state that this is it for the next week, month, six months. You can’t. I can’t. But people want to hear the answer they want to hear, so how do their expectations factor in to the equation?
I have a fail-safe mechanism when I start to spiral up or down, or around the houses when I feel I’m going in both directions at once. I climb into bed, and I don’t speak. I retract from the world, as close to a hermit as possible, limited contact with my family, uttering as few words as possible outside of my own head, wanting only to write it all out but that function is marred with paranoia and also a deadening of senses. Moving doesn’t often happen, it is possible to stay perfectly still staring at some spot on the wall whilst a tirade of images and conversations dance behind the forehead. So in this instance the act of writing would be positively superheroic. To leave my bed will be a reluctant task, perhaps go to the bathroom, at the most to perform some parental function, always with a crushing guilt weighing on my shoulders. But it’s generally all done as automatically as possible. I say this is a fail-safe. What I think I’m doing is trying to put out the fires that are raging behind my eyes. Some fires burn very hot, very bright, and very loud. Other fires are as dark and as quiet as nothing itself. Being automated reduces the use of any of those chemicals that get banded about, the ones that are blamed for my being in this situation, they trip switches and fire up processes that I’d rather were a little calmer, and less paranoid.
I don’t get a chance to send a post card, email my contact list, call any of the people who appreciate my voice, to warn them of the impending self-reclusiveness, be it for a few days or a few weeks. I just have to stop.
And I wonder, should I have mentioned this? Should I have been more vocal up to this point as to what was going on so that people could learn the signs, spot the patterns and the triggers, for them to be part of my programme? Should I be incessantly reminding others that day after day after day is a relentless question of is this up, down, all around, is this a rational thought, or isn’t it, is this too loud, did I say too much at once, do I make sense, are they talking about me, do they think I’m crazy, are they trying to ignore me gently so I don’t really notice? Sort of questions. It even tires me out too. That’s alongside the self-deprecation because of previous events foretelling how it all goes down and that if I carry on being just this little bit happy or this little bit motivated then eventually I’ll turn into that helium balloon again, and all balloons have to pop eventually.
How do you ask someone what their daily limit of absorbing information about managing a mental illness is? It’s a mouthful just thinking about asking it. How much of this stuff are you willing to listen to, to read, before you are a catalyst for the change needed at every level of society? I guess that’s partly what this is all about, writing to inform, educate, to forge some sort of call-to-action so that folk realise that it isn’t working, the way things are. It doesn’t work that we ignore so much, that we can talk running, nutrition, and protein shakes, we can talk grand ideas, education and holidays, and drinking parties, disco moves and assault course races until we are drunk and merry and comatose with delight, but we can’t talk about the dark side, the other side of being human.
There’s a misunderstanding that it only happens in the head, and it can’t be seen. But it can be seen, by those who dare to look. It can be seen in the downturn of the smile, the deadening of the eyes, the slump in energy where the body physiologically changes. One day you are training and firing on all cylinders, and the next day you sleep up to eighteen hours unable to fathom taking another step. It’s in the higher pitch, the lower tone, the faster pace of thoughts and ideas, the memory loss and the cancelled appointments. It is such a physical condition to be managing a mental illness, that we tend to glaze over the obvious with denial.
OK, I get it. The stuff is everywhere, all over the news, in every magazine, in every workplace. It’s now such a prevalent topic that I bet there’ll be folk out there who are sick to the back teeth of hearing about people whining about their conditions, how it’s a daily battle, yada yada. Just move on with your life! We all have crap to deal with too! But if society is determined by what is right, then does this mean that having a mental illness is wrong? And it’s wrong to talk about it? To write about it?
I know some folk will think that, because that’s what I was told. I was asked why I haven’t moved on yet. But move on to where? What does that even mean? Forget about it? Stop talking about it? Stop letting it manage your life? Stop letting it be the focal point of your existence? You are not your illness but you are your illness because you are no longer who you are without it. Here take a pill it fixes everything, because statistics tell us so. But we can’t heed the call of talking, of listening, of therapy, because suddenly you are being told you are not a person, you are a condition that manifests at times like a person, but in reality you’re not like the rest, and I will show you this by treating you differently, in a look, with a decision, with a disregard of your worthiness to contribute.
Probably all of the above, and plenty more once you start to delve into the philosophy of meaningful existence.
Once the cat’s been let out of the bag, though, that this is what you’re supposed to do, to not badger people so much with your problems, it’s easy to imagine that that’s what they all think. And it comes down to an us and them situation. Doesn’t it? Those of us who know, and them that don’t. Those of us who haven’t yet figured out where to move on to, because there isn’t such a place in society yet, and them that don’t see it, don’t know it, don’t feel it, don’t want it.
On another day, I will answer that question—how often should I blog about my mental illness?—reservedly. I’ll say, just enough to keep your toe in the conversation, a droplet here and there so you don’t alienate yourself from the society that feels threatened by you, moderating your tone so that even when you are melancholic, or revealing the darkness of the human mind, you’re still able to lift someone’s day and not burden them with your complaint. This bundle, all neatly shrink-wrapped for bite-size digestion, is just enough to keep that fashionable clique from being submerged with your woes of the stigma they exacerbate, but won’t admit to.
I watched Touched with Fire recently, a film based on the book of the same name by Kay Redfield Jamison. I’m still in cultural research mode, trying to figure out how we portray conditions in film without turning the sufferer into a murderer or the problem in society. An extract from this film, and one passage in particular, positively stood out for me, because it serves as a reminder that society has in fact been enriched by those who are essentially ‘touched with fire’, and thank goodness they were:
Nurse Amy: Yes, it’s beautiful!
Marco: You know why?
Nurse Amy: Why?
Marco: Because it’s the painting of the sky he saw from his sanitarium window when he was manic.
Nurse Amy: Really?
Marco: Yeah. You don’t believe me, go look it up.
Nurse Amy: I believe you.
Marco: Well, when you go out tonight, and you look at the sky and you see how dull it is, think about if you would’ve medicated Van Gogh!