I’ve been out to gigs with friends. I’ve had nights out dancing and joking. I’ve caught up with friends over coffee. But I’ve been really struggling this year.
That might not sound like someone struggling with mental illness. However, most people can still have a social life and have a good time even when they’re having a bad time with mental illness. Socialising is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind. Although I appear to be stable and well, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have a severe mental health condition, bipolar disorder. It catches me out when everything is going well, and I know this stability could only be fleeting. The thing about mental illness is it’s complicated. It’s not black and white. It’s not all or nothing.
It isn’t just staring into space, or laying in bed or on the sofa all day. There are ups and downs within a bad patch. I can smile and laugh in the same week as when I can’t stop bursting into tears. It’s complicated living with dipolar and the mania/depression cycle.
People expect when you’re depressed that you must spend all day sitting crouched in a corner, clutching your head. I don’t think I’ve ever done this, once. They expect that you spend all day in bed in your pyjamas. I do have dark moments when I sit with the curtains closed and feel like I could never properly function in society again. Like everything in life, this feeling is transitory, an impermanent state. I start to feel more like myself. Then I feel like going outside, then seeing a friend, then levelling up to going out to social occasions.
Life goes on when you’re depressed and sometimes you have to go with it. It’s not all about putting a brave face on things. Sometimes, I just feel like me again. It might only be for a day, half a day even. In this short space of time of feeling better, you’re damn right I’m going to make the most of it. I go out and see friends and generally try to enjoy myself. I know it’s not going to last so I take advantage of the moment.
I can also be going through a manic phase, but deep down I’m miserable. I can hate my life and be despairingly unhappy, yet I can’t stop all the thoughts racing through my head.
It’s not just that people expect certain behaviour from you, they’re almost insulted when you don’t act that way. I’ve said I’m depressed and people have been surprised when I’ve managed to go to a party on Friday night. When I’ve been signed off work ill I’ve hidden from colleagues. I’ve gone into town during the day, or had a meal out in the evening and been paranoid someone would see me and assume I was faking being ill. So I’d isolate myself and sit at home. Then there’s the inevitable question people ask,
“But I thought you were ill? you must be better now, right?!” If my answer is no, I’m still ill and struggling, I can see the look of disapproval on their face. How dare I take control and embrace a few hours when I feel better? It doesn’t make sense to them, because they don’t live with a long term mental illness. I can understand it’s hard to empathise with something you haven’t experienced. All I expect from people is to try. To listen and put themselves in my shoes. If you knew life, every day, every moment was going to be monumentally tough for the foreseeable future wouldn’t you want to capture those fleeting moments of happiness? I think we can all agree you would with a resounding yes.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.