I wanted to write a bit more about why I’ve chosen to blog for MDF today. I think many of the Blogathoners have gone for charities which have some kind of personal meaning to them, and I’m no different there. I’m one of those lucky however-many percent (10? 20?) of the population who have Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression.
Being Bipolar isn’t cool. It isn’t trendy. It doesn’t make you interesting or different or emo. Or, you know, perhaps sometimes it does, but not in a good way in the long run. It’s not teenage angst. It sure as hell doesn’t make teenage angst any easier to deal with if you’ve got the one on top of the other. It is a serious and difficult condition, and it’s not something that will ever be “cured”. It’s classified as a mental illness, and it is… but it’s due to chemical imbalances in the brain, which in my opinion makes it physical as well.
As the term “bipolar” suggests, the illness causes extremes (poles) of mood. Depression can range from feeling ‘down’ and detached for no outside reason, to not being able to cope with interacting with other people, to not being physically able to get out of bed to even eat something, to really black depression and suicide. I’m lucky: I’ve only had one instance of feeling at the very bottom of that spectrum. But I have been pretty low, so let me try to explain it for you.
I can’t imagine it’s easy to understand why I just wouldn’t get out of bed to get dressed and eat, why I might unplug my phone and hide under my duvet it the doorbell rings. Why don’t I just do those things? They’re not hard. Eating is kind of necessary. And yet, when I’m that low, I just can’t grasp it. All my motivation to even move is gone, and trying to find it, trying to find a reason to do anything “normal” is like scrabbling on the sheer side of a glass mountain. Real life is on the other side of that glass, and I have no way of connecting to it. The smallest thing is overwhelming. I lose great gaps of time: in fact, this description is quite difficult for me because I don’t entirely remember my periods of depression. I certainly have no concentration. I will often feel bleak despair for no outside reason. All in all… it sucks.
Mania is the other end of the spectrum. And in a lot of ways, it’s the really tricksy one. You start out feeling great – bouncy, creative, full of life. This makes it really hard to catch and stop, because quite often, I find I don’t want to stop feeling “good”. But if it goes that little bit too far, then it tips over into feeling like I want to do a million things, but not being able to settle down to concentrate on any of them. This is when you can spend recklessly, and behave recklessly in general. It is not, for example, a good idea to drive when you’re in this kind of state. Everything’s faster than everything else, to paraphrase Meat Loaf! After this, the inability to concentrate escalates into constantly racing thoughts which can cause insomnia for days on end, all of which worsens the whole thing. I find that I often feel extremely frustrated and angry with myself when I’m in this kind of mood, and very agitated and anxious in general.
Just to make it all the more fun, it’s also possible to have “mixed states” where symptoms of both mood extremes manifest at once. Trust me, those are great.
MDF is a charity that provides help and support for people with bipolar disorder, and for their family and carers. They promote research and awareness of the condition (did anyone see the documentary fronted by Stephen Fry last autumn?) and work against discrimination. Their mission statement says that they aim to “enable people affected by bipolar disorder / manic depression to take control of their lives”.
That is exactly what I want and need to do. No, bipolar disorder doesn’t have a “cure”, but there are a range of medication and therapies available to help those of us who have it. Early diagnosis would be an enormous help so that those can be put into place as soon as possible. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 27, and I’d been having episodes for at least 10 years at that time. MDF’s goals can only help with that, and to make care available to everyone who needs it.
I’m doing my best to manage my condition, with medication and support from my local mental health team, and by having worked on a plan for recognising symptoms of an episode before they become serious.
Which brings me to why I’ve also chosen to knit (hah) for this Blogathon. You see, knitting helps me both when I’m depressed and when I’m manic. If I’m down, it’s not too difficult to do, and if need be I can do it without getting out of bed! I’m physically producing something, which gives me a sense of achievement, and it does also give me something to focus on and take my mind away from the mental bleakness of those episodes. When I’m manic, knitting is calming – there’s only so fast I can make a stitch, and I think the repetition really helps as well. Again, I’m producing something, which is good when I can’t concentrate on anything else enough to do anything that I perceive as useful.
So there we have it. Hooray MDF, and hoorah knitting! And if you’ve found this blurb interesting or thought-provoking in any way, perhaps you would sponsor me for a pound or two? If not, why don’t you go and take a look at the MDF website. Chances are that even if you don’t know someone with bipolar disorder, you have contact of some kind with somebody who suffers from depression, or a related illness. It’s an interesting site, and well worth a read.
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