THE SECRET LIFE OF THE MANIC DEPRESSIVE
Addressing the Bipolar Stigma
The Secret Life of the Manic depressive are Stephen Fry's words, coined in his two part documentary detailing his breakdown, his secret shame, and the stories of countless others that go through the debilitating effects of untreated trauma coping mechanisms.
And live out the incredible highs. Make art, make people laugh, succeed at a lot in their lives, and fail in silence or in big old public. They are high profile people, they are secret introverted individuals, they are on the screen right now, they are at home in bed unable to get out of it.
It could be your neighbour. They remember better times when they used to have so much fun, and now they're stuck alone at home, pacing in the same old circles, struggling to make sense of their increasingly crippling symptoms.
They are the mother you see driving her kid to school, until one day, daddy starts coming instead, from thereon out for as long as you watch them. Where has she gone? She is taken away for 'treatment' for months. She is hiding in bed, and can't get out.
She is everyone like her, too. Painting murals on street corners, fighting fights, staying out late drinking. Maybe she's homeless now, because she had one too many stressful events in her life and it has triggered a collapse like no other.
Don't get me wrong, this is a very difficult to understand disorder, for lack of a better word for it. We don't hear much about it, don't speak much about it. It's a pretty feared pathology actually, because it can be so intense.
It's got a stigma to it, even TO THE POINT of the person themselves denying there is a problem, even faced with clear as day evidence. We can think it is our normal, to be completely intense, and high and impulsive.
That the lows are just that, low moments that crept in when we couldn't cope anymore. We might not even see that the times in between were also distorted. High definition, reckless and very intense times. It feels like no one is understanding us. They just can't see the vision! They just don't know what it's like to be able to feel your mission!
But nothing ever gets done. Oh nothing gets done. You can't seem to complete the tasks. The mind goes at a million miles an hour but at the end of the day, nothing tangible is borne. You can't seem to relate to anyone. You feel so strongly about this, but then you don't again.
Who is in control again?! Who's playing with your switches? It looks like you are perfectly functional to most actually. You're just a little odd. A little much, a little scattered. And then they don't see you, not when you're home alone for weeks, in your bathrobe crying over the scattered bills on the table.
You can't make sense of your reality. You are lost in a land not many people understand. You see it in the movies. They are the characters most often portrayed as impulsive and reckless, even dangerous. They begin to lose their minds in sound and colour, but no one ever calls what they are experiencing.
They become increasingly delusional under increasing stress from demanding jobs and roles they are not even sure how to fill anymore. They spiral out of control, but no one sees it happen, because to be ill you have to be miserable, right? What about indecisive, visceral? What about high functioning depressed? What about unreasonably convicted?
Who decides where the line is drawn between what is normal behaviour and what is not? Who decides which responses to stress are acceptable and which are not? Why is going to the bar on the weekends and trying to drink away your problems, as long as you don't cause anybody any issues, considered a safe, okay, perfectly reasonable, understood way to cope, but if you're sensitive and susceptible and you break down into madness, you are the problem?
What if you could not cope with the constraints of your job, your life, your own mind? What if there isn't insight into what you're going through? What if you are someone's mother, brother, sister? Teacher, therapist? Who tells your story? Where is your support when all hell breaks loose?
How do you explain yourself, present yourself in a world that does not understand what is like to be you? What it is like to cycle between extremes, at rapidly intensifying rates? In ways that make you doubt your sanity, doubt your wisdom and security? The effects it has on yourself esteem to not be able to hold a job down?
Where do you turn when you are convinced that what you are experiencing is not everyone's cup of tea? Who do you speak to about this and what do they say? Do they tell you you have a problem? Do they hand you a bottle of pills in exchange for your silence? Do they drive you away into the good night and have you admitted somewhere against your will?
Do they divorce you? Judge you? Do you lose friends? What about losing your job? Where do you go with this massive secret? How do you tell the world in intervals what you are going through? Sometimes too high to make sense to ANYONE who you are and what you go through, sometimes too LOW to even make a single move, let alone write an epic saga about your crystal clear isolation in a twilight zone of cycling extremes?
I love you, you know that? I see you. I know what you are going through. I know a lot about the triggers, background, ways it comes on, the traumas that build it up, the life changing events that shake you to your very core. I know so much about what it is like to manage, and think you are invincible, and even not know what is going on with you.
I know about your secret life because I have lived it. I live it every day. I now about the madness and the genius, I know that I didn't know how to deal with it because I didn't see myself anywhere except in comic caricatures of myself in movies, where we glaze over the struggles as if they don't matter. As if it's not important to know the history, and the support we can have in the now.
I too was lost in denial wondering what was going on, and not being able to connect the dots. I resonate with the secret life of the manic depressive, because until now, it has not been all too clear what is causing this, or how it manifests. It has even been celebrated behaviour in our societies to drive yourself into an early grave with too much work.
To be over-caffeinated and hyper-focused, OBSESSED with getting the task done. To be aggressive and forward thinking. We might even have missed that many of these people are not well, or are being triggered past the point of no return. They need to stop, slow down, be asked 'are you okay,' with someone really willing to listen, and someone trained to see the symptoms for what they are.
In the movie Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the main character Riggin spirals out of control and takes his life, and no one, NO ONE even knows why. No one is privy to the internal struggle he goes through. To the manic cycles he is the creative purveyor of. To the mental prison of an out of control system. To the extreme internal doubt and dialogue that fuel his misery and madness.
We need to talk about this more. And if I know anything about this it is that CONVERSATION and insight have saved my life. They have opened me up to be more candid about my experience, open to new steps and also to embrace and work with what I do have. I have more insight on what I go though BECAUSE of the lovely souls that have shared with me their experience and given me their input on what they see.
If you want to reach out and talk about this, for an article, a video or a podcast piece let me know. If you want to just talk about it between just the two of us, my door is open! If you need support about what you go through, I am here ready and willing to share what I know and shine a light on this secret, that can be our greatest gift and teacher. A big blessing in disguise, if only we know where to look, what to do with it, how to communicate it.
I want to speak up more about bipolarism, and its various manifestations. I want to showcase that it is okay to be relatively cracked, and not like what society tells you is normal. That you are beautiful regardless, you are beautiful no matter what. You are awesome, and holy in your brokenness. You are so breathtakingly beautiful and I support every silent move you make, every thing you do for you to try to make the world listen. I am here with you until the end, your secret is safe with me.
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