Last week I had a conversation with a woman on Facebook who misunderstood the intention of my previous blog post. She took umbrage with the way I had described my own experience of mental illness and to be fair, I hadn’t prefaced the post with my diagnosis of Bipolar type 2. She assumed that it wasn’t coming from someone who had first hand experience with depression and mental illness. I wasn’t upset or offended by our exchange; I don’t expect everyone to like my writing and I’m thick-skinned enough that is doesn’t bother me when people express negative opinions. I’ve had a few people get in touch with me after the Facebook altercation, assuming that I was hurt by it. I didn’t take offence and she had a valid point that I’ll consider for the future. I’ve been on the receiving-end of internet trolls before and it’s important to remember that when people say spiteful, unkind things online, it is usually indicative of bigger problems in their real life. Behind every barbed remark is probably a load of pain that they are unable to express elsewhere.
However, it did make me think about why I write frequent articles on mental health. I want to welcome any new readers, explain my motivation and what you can expect from this blog.
I write about my Bipolar disorder because I think it might be helpful. I was diagnosed when I was 30 and I kept it a secret for a long time; I was deeply ashamed and I felt like a freak. I now realise that this was ridiculous because it’s an illness that is very serious, but manageable with the right treatment. When I used to feel bad about my diagnosis, my husband would compare my Bipolar to his Asthma. He has to take medicine every day and if he doesn’t he will get very sick and possibly die. It’s a dangerous but treatable condition that he did not choose and never causes him shame. So why should Bipolar disorder be any different to Asthma? Or any other illness? For the vast majority of the time, I function normally and have a productive life. I still have ups and downs and living with a mental illness can be really hard. However, I get through it and I attend to my work and have positive relationships with my friends and my family. I hope that other people reading this will feel a bit better about their own struggles and may feel less ashamed and alone. Shame is a mostly useless emotion which can be extremely damaging in the context of mental health. The stigma surrounding mental health fuels shame which in turn engenders secrecy. It’s very difficult to get well when suffering with a secret illness. The stigma has to stop because it is potentially fatal. In order to do this, we need to talk openly and realistically to normalise the subject.
Sharing my experience is cathartic and therapeutic. I can’t claim to be entirely altruistic; it helps me to be honest about my Bipolar disorder. Before I was diagnosed, I spent years knowing that there was something wrong, but I was too frightened to go to a psychiatrist. I did my best to cover it up or distract myself and made several poor choices along the way. If I had known earlier, I could have avoided a lot of confusion and anguish. I’ve found that being forthright takes the pressure off. I used to assume that if I told people they would think I was ‘crazy’ and run for the nearest exit. Now I’m happy to share my diagnosis with anyone who’ll listen and, generally, they don’t bat an eyelid. Perhaps this is because I’m candid and pragmatic when I talk about it, but most people don’t judge me and those who do are not worth bothering with. Living without a painful and cumbersome secret is a massive relief.
I also write about fashion, which may seem a little strange juxtaposed to my content around mental illness. This started out as a fashion blog, but over time it developed into something else. I still love fashion and getting dressed in a certain way helps my state of mind. This will not be for everyone and I would never suggest that clothes and makeup are the answer to life’s more pressing problems. However, expressing my style makes me feel a bit braver and stronger, even when I would prefer to crawl under the duvet and never come out. Putting on my favourite dress and doing my makeup gives me the confidence to leave the house and get on with my day. There is also something very satisfying about expressing one’s internal-self externally. I’m not saying that anyone else should necessarily do the same, however I encourage my readers to find an extra activity that provides a little confidence or tranquility. Of course, this should be in addition to talk therapy, medication or any other appropriate treatment. But having an extra form of self-care is useful as it’s not only restorative, but also empowering. Dealing with MI is a daily battle to stay well, having activities that improve my mental and physical health make me feel like I am winning that fight. For others, self-care may come in the form of exercise, meditation, yoga, music, journaling, healthy food or any number of things. I also use cardio to manage my mental health – I like following online HIIT videos from home. Strenuous exercise burns off excess energy when I’m manic and lifts me up when I’m feeling down. Finally, it’s my blog and I love fashion, which is reason enough.
If you’re new here I hope you’ll come back and do let me know your thoughts, I’m always open to feedback.