Wow, are you a creative genius?
There is, apparently, a link between bipolar disorder and creativity. I’ve written, elsewhere on this blog, as to why I have my doubts about that. I’d like to think I am a creative person, and I suppose that sometimes this question is raised by people who are trying to make me see the positive side of my situation. However, sometimes that can be a bit of gaslighting – if bipolar disorder does aid creativity, then surely it is a gift, rather than a debilitating condition.
It isn’t a gift.
It means I never know what mood I’m going to be in. It means a day can start out well and go to shit at the drop of a hat. It means plans go out the window and friends get alienated and everything fragments.
So no, bipolar is not fun.
I suppose this means you are going to fly off into a rage and not be safe around children, correct?
Um, no. Bipolar disorder doesn’t necessarily cause violence. I have never actually engaged in any sort of violence towards anyone but myself. I may have periods when my control over my actions is less than it should be – doesn’t make me a danger to others. So no, you can’t section me and stop fucking joking about it.
You said you had a migraine. Was that why you were off work?
I do get stress induced migraines quite regularly, and this is a pain in the backside and has made me miss lectures and work days.
However, I am often not in because I am not in a fit mental state to leave my house.
I’m not exaggerating this. There are days – infrequently – where I can’t trust myself to leave my house because I have a very strong urge to introduce myself to the path of a passing bus. Or take a wrong turn on the way home and end up in the river. Or, if nothing as dramatic as that, seriously harm myself in someway or another. I can distinguish these feelings of intense negativity from actually feeling suicidal, because in the former state of mind, I don’t have a plan. I am just walking about seeing dozens of opportunities and hearing a part of myself daring me to take those opportunities up. In all likelihood, I probably won’t. But is it conducive to my health and well being to be out of a safe environment when I am in this frame of mind? This is not to say that there are not risk in my house. However, in my house, I am in a familiar environment. I can sleep. I usually have a housemate or two around or nearby. I can keep myself in a state of relative safety until the danger passes, and I get back to normal.
These mental states, or the intense periods of despair that lead up to them, are an everyday lived reality for me. I don’t expect people who haven’t had severe mental health conditions to understand that reality. It’s something I live with on a daily basis.
And it’s also a lot easier to say “I have a migraine,” than it is to say any of the above under duress.
Did you get enough sleep last night?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or ME, isn’t linked to sleep deprivation. My sleep patterns are a mess, as a general rule of thumb. I sometimes sleep ten hours. Sometimes, I have crippling insomnia. Currently, I am going through a phase where I wake up everyday at 4 am and cannot get back to sleep. This, obviously, results in some tiredness, but getting the “right” amount of sleep isn’t going to cure me. I have a fatigue disorder, not a sleep disorder.
On the other hand, sleeping does allow me to recuperate energy, and so when ME is particularly bad for me, I do sleep a lot, or try do, or pop enough sleeping pills to make me unconscious. My relationship with sleep is complex to say the least. My problem is not, however, that I am staying up all night like a teenager addicted to MSN, and that’s affecting my working life. If I am up late, it’s more often than not because I am doing some sort of work.
You have been off work for x number of days. Surely you must be better now?
Define better. If, by better, you mean this current phase of brain fog, excrutiating joint pain, difficulty concentrating, slurred speech and slow thought process has thankfully abated a little, then yes, in all likelihood, I am better. If you mean by better that this will never happen again, then no, I am not better. I never will be better, on balance. I am probably going to be exhausted and have the pain for the rest of my life. It might even get worse and leave me bedridden, in which case a swift trip to Dignitas is called for. So, yes I am better, but, no, I am not better.
Are you aware of how unprofessional you are when you aren’t focussed?
Acutely, so stop reminding me every five seconds. Though I would challenge you on the “unprofessional” bit. I think I am trying to cope in the most professional manner possible with several intersecting disabilities and mental health conditions, which make all the every day things you do without thinking about ten times harder. Also, by constantly calling me unprofessional for being ill, you drive me to the point where I simply cannot be bothered doing what I am meant to. What’s the point? Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, but at least if I don’t, I might have the energy to enjoy life.
Can’t you rest on the weekend?
The way my life goes at the moment, I tend to go to work, burn myself out trying to keep on top of things, and then crash every weekend. I say crash, rather than rest. There is a difference. Rest implies a meaningful process of recuperation. I get the time to do things like work on my PhD, spend time with my partner, go to the gym, see friends, enjoy life, in a nutshell. Crashing just means I am lying in bed, in chronic pain, often unable to sleep, throwing up all the time, and feeling lower and lower because my only free time (my weekend) is being consumed. Do you have any idea how depressing that is? I feel like, as a result of CFS, my job has become my life. It is often the only reason I leave the house.
So in theory, I could rest on the weekends. But I can’t, not as things are currently.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Oh, you have PTSD? What happened? Were you in the army?
Depending on my mood my answer will be:
Well, I got sexually molested twice, a family member tried to kill me, I was kept socially isolated for most of my childhood, I was denied nurture and love, I have been a victim of harassment, stalking, arson, attempted murder, and had several situations where I have been held responsible for suicide threats. How was your weekend?
None of your fucking business.
Don’t ask someone with PTSD “what happened.” It’s just not cricket.
And, no, you don’t have to be in the army to get PTSD. You don’t have to have watched your buddies go down in a hail of Taliban gunfire to have nightmares. You don’t have to have seen civilians blown to bits by IEDs to get feelings of intense fear over the smallest things.
So, are you really stressed then?
Yes, I am. But that’s not necessarily connected to PTSD. I do have serious issues with stress. When I was 21, my stress levels because so high that my appendix ruptured and I almost died. But that’s story for another time.
What is PTSD like? Well, it’s like this. I’m frightened. I get scared of things you might think are perfectly normal: priests, for example. People praying. People shouting. Communion wafers. Being touched (sometimes. I’m normally a tactile person who loves a good snuggle, but other times, no. If in doubt, ask me.) Imagine the sense of fear being a constant bassline to your life. You can’t escape the fear. Doesn’t matter what you do.
It’s also a process of having to relive what I went though without warning. Sometimes I will be sitting on my own, and I’ll have a vivid flashback, and that fucks me up for a day if not more. It also means not being able to sleep. Ever. I have graphic nightmares every single night. I wake up screaming at least once a week. There is no rest, there is no respite.
And you think it’s bad that I’m always tired.