Monday, October 13, 2008

Being bipolar

So a reader of this blog emailed me recently, because she saw that I had written something about being bipolar.

Not her actual words: "I couldn't believe that you were bipolar because you seem to keep your life together." She has family members with bipolar and attends meetings for family member support.

I always like to say, I have bipolar, it doesn't have me.

I like to dispel the images that people have of mental illness: images they get from the media, including the movies One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Girl Interrupted, What about Bob? (just to name a few.) I can't watch them. Images in film that I find a little more palatable: the uncle in Little Miss Sunshine who was depressed because he was jilted, the mom in About a Boy that attempts suicide, the woman in Cosi who is dealing with drug issues. (Funny, all of those movies feature Toni Collette, and two of the characters in this list are played by her.)

A bunch of confessional memoirs by people with bipolar disorder have been published recently. I can't read those either. Not to be petty or snarky but they are too drama queen-ish and don't reflect my experience. Not that I only read books that reflect my experiences (I've never been a mole learning about the joys of rivers, for instance) but I find reading books about mental health issues are either full of information I already know or experiences I narrowly (and gratefully) missed by what I can only call the grace of God.

Last night, in a fit of insomnia (darn that afternoon nap) I read the entire book Ana's Story. It's the story of a girl in Central America who has HIV. She is 17, has a child, and has lived most of her life with her HIV as a secret, even from her best friends. There is such a stigma. This is one of the reasons why I blog anonymously. I want to be able to write occasionally about my mental health, but I don't want someone to be able to Google me and discover information that I do not want to share broadly.

It was such a joy to get this email, so encouraging to have someone who knew a little bit of what I live daily, but also to have someone say you seem to have a stable life. I am very hard on myself. When I look at my apartment, which at the moment is in shambles, or my kitchen, which is full of unwashed dishes, or my piles of dirty laundry, I forget to look at the small amounts of progress: I have some clean silverware. I have clean underwear, clean towels, and clothes to wear (clearly I own too many clothes). Today I went grocery shopping and pretty much stuck to the list, which means I have food in the house for at least a week. Which means I don't have to rely on restaurant food.

It was a joy to have today to myself. This week I stupidly went over to Max's FB page (WHY do I do this) and found that he wrote about me as "a woman I know that is mentally ill." It took a day and a half of soul searching to realize that it was more that HE wrote those words than the words themselves. Yesterday I ran into someone I have been interested in on and off for a couple of years. I was glad to not have to hash those two issues out with my therapist just yet.

But one thing I did realize, as I was writing an email back to the woman who emailed me about bipolar. I have been wringing my hands over the fact that I lived undiagnosed for about ten years. That I lost those ten years. Which in some ways, I did. But the blessing is that by the time I was diagnosed, I had pretty much developed my identity as a quirky woman who loves books. My identity is NOT wrapped up in my diagnosis. It is a part of who I am, much like the fact that I lived overseas from age 5 to age 12. But it doesn't define me.

I love the Walt Whitman quote, from Song of myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Observers of this poem say that it is not so much a poem, but a list. And so I give you a contradictory list, I leave you to get some vittles.

1. I am an open book (except for when I'm tightly closed)
2. I'm low maintenance in relationships (except for when I'm not.)
3. I am a world traveler that longs for a hometown.
4. I am a de facto Pittsburgher but will never really belong as I was not born here.
5. I long to live in a place where I don't need a car, but I enjoy driving country roads on the way to my current job.
6. I believe very strongly in my beliefs, but I will fight for you to believe what you believe, even if we completely disagree. I actually prefer having a group of friends that don't exactly always agree with me.
7. I adore the show SATC and yet own very few labels and only one pair of high heels.

I'll stop there, because I need to figure out dinner. Listen to me, I need to figure out dinner, not "I'm off to microwave whatever is in there." (Which is probably still true, but I have choices!)

One last note: I had swordfish for lunch. I did the hot foods at Whole Foods. With drink, my lunch was less than $7.00.

Tomorrow is the election in Canada. They'll be voting for Prime Minister. I hope you will join me in praying for citizens there.


Amy A. said...

I like you, SL. I like your perspective on things, and I'm sorry that boy hurt your feelings. xoxo

cuileann said...

Thank you so much for taking the time and boldness to say this, Sl.

Sarah Louise said...

@amy--thanks. I like you too. That boy is not worth thinking about, even if he does SLAM the doors really loudly late at night. Thanks for the support.

@cuileann--you're welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read and reflect.


Dani said...

How did I miss this post? Wow. I love your outlook. You have a gift for putting it into words, too.

I need to boost this post somewhere so others will read it. Off to Stumble, Digg, etc....

Sarah Louise said...

@dani you crack me up. Thanks for your comments...I'm off to be a non-stalker on your blog.

Schmutzie said...

You have an excellent perspective on this type of illness. I have been diagnosed as three different things over the years, but none of the diagnoses have ever owned me. I own them. Thank you for pointing this out, because I had never put it into quite those words before.