The Translation Game

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Depending on my circumstances, every day or so, someone finds out about my bipolar, about an aspect of it, or that I’m experiencing a mood shift. Inevitably this means that I am on the receiving end of some of the most inappropriate lines, obnoxious comments and naïve assumptions. So, in a bid to prevent this from happening I decided to create a top-ten, because, as we all know, the internet loves a list!

I’ve narrowed it down to my most frequently heard and I’ve annotated each one with a translation which emphasises exactly how ridiculous they sound. I will save the worst until last.

Shall we?

 

  1. Cheer up, I reckon I can make you smile! – (On multiple occasions this was swiftly followed by my ex pushing his face in to mine and yelling ‘COME OOOON!’ …I don’t miss him.)
    1. Cheer up, I can prevent an infection by telling a good joke!
    2. Watching someone try to “cheer you up” is awful. It invokes guilt, frustration, anger, on both sides, and generally makes you feel worse so please, just stop.

 

  1. Snap out of it!
    1. A heart attack? Snap out of it!
    2. Trust me when I say, nobody choses to have a mood swing, there is only so much control you have over it and acting like it’s as simple as making a decision is insulting, hurtful and ignorant.

 

  1. You have bipolar? I have depression, so I know exactly what you’re going through.
    1. You have an ear infection? I have a bad back, so I know exactly what you’re going through.
    2. Just because they both cause pain doesn’t mean they are the same. Yes, depression is a part of bipolar but it’s not that simple, for example, my life mainly revolves around mania. Besides, you and I are different people, we will experience things in completely different ways so, no, neither of us will know exactly what the other person is going through.

 

  1. Why is mania bad? Being happy is awesome!
    1. Why is a kidney stone bad? Beach pebbles are awesome!
    2. Being happy and being manic are totally not the same (please click here). This is not so dissimilar from people saying depression is the same as being sad.

 

  1. Sometimes I don’t want to go to work either but you just have to get up and get on with it.
    1. Sometimes I don’t want to walk but just because your leg is broken doesn’t mean you get take the bus.
    2. *Face Palm*

 

  1. You look alright, to me.
    1. I can’t see your blurred vision, so therefore I deem it non-existent.
    2. Mental illness is not necessarily visible. Even if it was, the medication I take to make me functional makes your assumption null and void. Also, are you a fucking doctor?!

 

  1. It’s so in to have a mental illness right now.
    1. It’s so in to have diabetes right now. Or worse. Do you actually have bipolar or are you taking life threatening medication just to look cool?
    2. I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing this. Most of the time I will, wrongly, just tune out and nod along because I can’t bear to get involved and I’m slightly afraid of what I’ll do to the person who has deemed it appropriate to say such an insulting thing to me. I have no doubt there are people in this world that fake mental illness but to generalise to that extent about a struggling community, and then casually throw the comment around is obnoxious.

 

  1. You shouldn’t take medication, it’s not good for you.
    1. You shouldn’t take blood thickeners, they’re not good for you. Or I am not a doctor and I have no knowledge of your medical history or current symptoms but I know better because INTERNET.
    2. It is irrelevant if you have your own personal experience with medication, with bipolar or anything similar to me. I do not care if you are even qualified in certain areas related to my diagnosis. If you don’t know my symptoms and my medical history or you aren’t my psychiatrist you should back the hell away from my treatment. Medication is right for some, it is wrong for others. It just so happens that it is right for me at this current time. I can appreciate that someone telling me this may have my best interest at heart but I can also tell you that it is an inappropriate thing to lecture me on and you are not within your rights to tell me what to do with my illness.

 

  1. I think everyone is on the bipolar spectrum.
    1. I think everyone is on the spine bifida spectrum.
    2. That’s genuinely how stupid that sounds. Yes, everyone experiences mood swings, some more than others but that does not make them mentally ill. Saying so is insulting to mentally ill people. The “Bipolar Spectrum” IS a thing but it refers to a wide array of mental illnesses and does not encompass every living person. Admittedly I have, often, agreed with people on this, if only, to get them to stop talking!

 

  1. Bipolar? Oh cool! Like Stephen Fry!?
    1. Cancer? Oh cool! Like Morrissey?!
    2. This, I cannot stress enough. Not fucking cool. I hear this so, so, so many times and I hate it each and every time. I want to punch you square in the jaw for your blatant stupidity and insensitivity.

 

So there we have it! Can we have a big cheer for everyone involved! I would like to take the time to thank everyone that inspired my list, always a privilege never a chore, without you, none of this would have been possible!

On a more serious note though, these comments have come from strangers, friends, best friends, employers, teachers, my parents, maybe even your parents (who knows!) my point is, is that mental illness is a minefield, for those who have it and for those who don’t. As a result everyone makes mistakes, puts their foot in it and on occasion comes across as insensitive and stupid. A good general rule to keep to is, if it doesn’t make sense when substituted with a physical illness it probably won’t make sense with a mental one. Another general rule is never assume you know someone, know their life or their state of mind.

Or, put more succinctly by Jerry Belson in 1973…

“Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME

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Dear Diary, I’m Manic As Fuck

Imagine that you are talking to someone who has never experienced pain. Now explain how it feels to stub your toe, in a way that they can understand.

That level of “err…” right there is what my face has been doing for the last week, trying to conjure up an effective analogy to mania. There just isn’t one. So, I’m going to take a pass on my poetic licence and just say it how it is. This is my scale, it’s not hugely detailed but it gives you what you need to know;

10% – I’m happy, I don’t seem to feel the cold and I’m mentally sharper

25% – My intelligence noticeably improves, I have a weird glow about me – you can see it in the eyes apparently. I can talk for hours, I want to and, genuinely, you want me to too. Everything is sexualised. The sun is deliciously warm, food tastes exquisite, everything is glorious – This is hypomania and it’s amazing.

50% – My brain begins to run a little too fast for me to handle. I can’t STOP talking or moving and people begin to notice that something is a little off. Food tastes horrific or it’s so strong it physically hurts my taste buds. I get prickly goose bumps, especially on my scalp and my temper flares. I have monumentally strong urges to make drastic life changes and my sex drive goes through the roof

75% – I want to, literally, scream or squawk; I don’t have to talk I just need to make noise. My brain is moving so fast it scares me. Psychosis begins to creep in as my self-control hangs by a thread. I can’t shut my eyes for the fireworks. I don’t want to touch anything or eat anything but I want to touch everything and taste everything. I hate the world because it’s all too much.

100% – I shatter.

3rd February 2016, 12:32

Something that no psychiatrist has ever asked me about are the hair follicles that erupt across every inch of skin, as soon as mania is on the rise. The slightest rush of air, the luxurious trace of fingertips or the brush of soft, supple fabric all elicit a shiver down my spine and an upsurge of goosebumps. I can even reach a stage where my triggers transcend tactility, where colour is as intense as an unexpected plummet in temperature. Overall, however, my biggest stimulant is sound. I’ve always loved music, my Dad is an incredibly talented musician and I grew up, learning to read and write music as I learnt to read and write, so, my ear is trained enough to hone in on a beautiful chord, a perfect cadence or a flat, lack-lustre tone. In mania, music sets off such a strong reaction that it, depending on my mood level, creates a love-hate relationship. During Hypomania the goosebumps are not so frequent and when they hit they’re blissful and warm, with a luxurious touch. Today, I am not in hypomania, I’m not even teetering on the edge, I am, already, tumbling down the rabbit hole. I know, because I’m currently listening to Katie Melua on my new IPhone (bought, on Monday, out of no necessity, other than my mania was hungry) and I can hear every note; feel every beat; every breath she takes, I take with her. I cannot even begin to describe how good it feels to let the music swallow me up, but whilst the bass laps at my ear, I can feel the harsh waves crash over my body. Every time Katie hits a perfect note, goosebumps rise so high on my scalp I reach to smooth them over, every time her blues band produce a beautiful melody the hair on my arms spike like sandpaper and every time her voice rings high in to the rafters, every follicle on my entire body flexes so much it hurts. ‘I Do Believe in Love’ on her ‘Piece by Piece’ album is killing me. However I haven’t thrown the phone across the room or even just paused it, I’m still listening because the pain is worth it.

3rd February 2016, 18:01

I’m on the train home and I’ve switched to Miles Davis, the goosebumps, are still, tormenting my nerves and Miles is a little harder to resist moving for. His ‘Birds of Paradise’; eloquent, sexy, stunning. One of the things I love about Jazz, besides how spellbinding it is, is that I don’t know where it’s going until I’ve listened to it, which is exactly how I feel about Mania. I can guess the next phrase, the chord progression or the final note of other genres, but, with Jazz… it has its own freedom, of which mania approves. Today could be my last day at this height, I could wake up tomorrow completely stable, I could plummet in to a depression or maybe I could sky rocket in to psychosis. I have done what I can to outsmart the fast-approaching storm but I won’t know, until it hits, if I’ll have to weather a minor gale or a hurricane.

4th February 2016, 13:16

The prickles on my hairline are holding fast to Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered’. Her voice is shooting through me and it’s absolutely gorgeous to the point where I have butterflies in my chest and I’m choking back tears. Although, I just flinched at her diction on the word “Pint” at 2:58, but it’s okay because I know the piano is about to beautifully meander at… there it is, 3:08. The sound of those keys alone have brought a smile to my lips and right now I want to be a Jazz singer; I can hear my voice inwardly whispering how I’ve always wanted this, I can see myself on stage in New York, singing under a blue light, in a smoky jazz club. I remember first loving jazz, my best friend, Lucy’s, Stepdad was a fan and she and I ballroom danced round the kitchen to Nat King Cole’s ‘Orange Coloured Sky’. We were only 14 and for some reason I forgot all about my love for Jazz, bar that one song, for just shy of a decade, until, here I am falling in love all over again. Head over heels, heart and soul, body and mind, in love. This is an addiction that could never destroy me.

4th February 2016, 23:35

I have to be up at 5 for an AA meeting before work tomorrow and the tranquilisers I take for my psychosis aren’t kicking in. With my mood heightening, mania has made the decision to override the medication. It happens sometimes. So, here I am, writing about it, because I can’t stand another minute of fidgeting and flipping from side to side, on my mattress. I am living in a world where, when I shut my eyes, I see a blank canvas, on which an invisible pastel scrawls, desecrates, just scribbling and scribbling, faster and faster; pressing so hard, the picture is thickening with layers of crayon, closing in and I can’t breathe, until I open my eyes…Then I’m safe…until I shut them again. If that’s what my mania can see in darkness just imagine what it can see in daylight.

My bipolar demons aren’t satisfied with just rejecting the comfort of my memory foam, they’ve spent today rejecting food. I thought it was because of a bad reaction to the greying meat in my sandwich, but it has just dawned on me, as I lay with my eyes wide open, that it wasn’t bacteria, but mental health that was causing the issue. My mood has declared war on food, once again it’s a battle to eat; with me it’s not just a loss of appetite, it goes much further, I feel overly satiated after the smallest amount of food and get hit with wave after wave of nausea until I throw up or starve. There’s no denying that mania makes you thin, sometimes dangerously so. But when I’m stable, or depressed, I try to do as much exercise as I can, otherwise the weight piles on, so, trying to achieve an appropriate, healthy and stable body weight is tough. I find myself lying to a lot of people, telling them I never eat junk food or I’m just always at the gym; I’m not lying when I say I work hard to keep my figure, it’s just not in the way they think.

Not sleeping and not eating is making me irritable, I’m messaging this guy at the moment and he just used one too many emojis and now I want to punch him. I’m full of rage, because of one purple demon picture, rage so intense it feels like it’s about to burst from my chest. I’m breathing deeply and overruling the urge to take a swipe at him in my response. I need to extract myself from the conversation. He’s just replied with two sentences and five emojis; that’s too many for me to handle; my rage instantly dissipated, I want to bury my head in my hands and have a good cry.

5th February 2016, 8:43

What a delightful situation when two powerful mania-inducers are both symptoms of mania. Lack of food and lack of sleep wind up my brain’s clock, turning it in to a ticking bomb, utter insanity being the detonation. In times like these I experience a sort of split-brain; now that I am mindful of my bipolar and of what each stage means, I am rarely sucked in, until psychosis descends. I’m in that split-brain now. Half of me is in the rafters of arrogance strutting down the street to Judge Jules’ Trance Anthems (Jazz has been and gone) saying ‘I’ve got this. I don’t need to change anything, think of what I could accomplish without taking time out to sleep or eat!’ The other half is saying ‘Turn that music off, it’s a trigger and for God’s sake, call your psychiatrist, your meds aren’t cutting it.’ I have an appointment in nine days so I will just have to wait; where I’m from, unless you’re mid-breakdown or post-suicide you will not get seen for quite a while, regardless of how high priority you are. Luckily, due to my “psychology based mentality and insight”, my psychiatrist trusts me enough to alter my meds to temporarily ground me and that is exactly what I shall be doing. Until then, I can feel my mania brewing; it’s gargling salt water and exercising its vocal chords, preparing to scream in my face, so loudly my ear drums will shatter.

I have things to do today, I have a job, I’ve organised an evening out with friends. Tomorrow, I’m going in to London for a fancy lunch and a visit to an indie theatre. I cannot afford to be manic, but then, my mania doesn’t think that’s any of my business.

Seeing Ghosts

Bipolar does not play by the rules. It doesn’t stick to a routine of 6 months up, 6 months down and 25 days holiday, it doesn’t cow tow to tablets strong enough to destroy fully functioning organs and it never clears on the days that you need it to. In its defence, it is ever faithful, and you can count on it arriving the moment everything crumbles to ruins. Rarely one to be perturbed by a lack of invitation, bipolar is the first to deliver its congratulations on a job, the first visitor in your new home and the first to grip your hand when you lose a loved one. Nowadays, I have reclaimed a certain amount of control through diet, exercise, sleep, sobriety, meditation and medication; whilst nothing is guaranteed the improvements are astounding. It’s not as simple as eat healthy, be stable; it’s about balancing the scales. Eat too healthily and I’ll get manic, too badly and I’ll become depressed; I have been known to sit and chomp my way through a ridiculous pile of carbs in a, successful, attempt to temporarily calm the manic storm. However, above all else, nothing, and I mean nothing, summons my demons like a lack of sleep.

Late 2014; I was sitting at my desk when I knew I had to quit my job. Edible make-up was my destiny. I wanted to hand in my notice, then and there but, luckily, I had enough sanity left to recognise my lack of finances, the fact that I knew nothing about the topic and I had no products to sell. My 9-5 took a back seat as I buried my head in as many browser tabs as I could open. Pay day wasn’t for another fortnight and so I created list after list of online shopping sites so that I could empty my purse the day it became full. It took every ounce of strength I had not to sign up for a payday loan. I was filled with limitless energy, focus and enthusiasm for my business. It was, after all, completely logical. Every cosmetic you use gets absorbed through your skin, so surely, by making them edible, it was one less way for your body to get sick, one less way for me to get sick. I’d stopped wearing make-up, I was teetering on jacking in deodorant and toothpaste and I panicked over soap. I told everyone about what they were doing to themselves and they looked at me like I was crazy. I thought it was because they couldn’t see the bigger picture, it was probably more to do with my frantic demeanour, aggressively fervent speech and impressive pallor, than can only be achieved by a redhead without foundation.

Edible make-up took up every second of every minute of every waking hour. I researched loans for small businesses, marked out my national and global competition. I scanned recipes and ingredients, mapped out my demographic and how to cater to them all. I couldn’t learn enough. There were times when I felt like my brain was splitting in two it was whirring so fast, I got so exciting I had butterflies in my chest, my heart rate was through the roof at all times and I was permanently accompanied with a nauseating sense of awe at what I was about to unleash on the world.

Two months came and went along with my desires to create a make-up empire; I was getting more and more irritable the further I slid up the mania scale. I can recall my mother leaping in front of me when I went to taste something out of a mixing bowl, ‘It has sherry in it!’ That single preventative action was pure kindness but I wanted to scream at her for being so vicious. I wasn’t sleeping, I was permanently wired and I was living off of caffeine and cigarettes. Every five seconds I would feel a wave of goosebumps that crept right up into my scalp; my nerve endings were on fire. I was fast approaching a dangerous levels of intensity and with no project to focus on, the focus became me. I had spent hundreds of pounds on cosmetics, cleaned compulsively and exercised frantically and for a brief period I toyed with becoming a personal trainer to the stars.

In January 2015 I went into anaphylactic shock (doctors say it was because of the stress of closing the door to my addictions and my mania becoming unmanageable) and having been prescribed two Epi-pens I read everything and anything I could about them and the accompanying diagnosis. A week before payday, I had spent the morning trying to find a bag that looked chic, had enough space to hold two Epi-pens and could keep the temperature regulated. Quickly realising that there was nothing for me to find I became frantic. I searched high and low, to no avail. There was barely anything the right size let alone anything stylish. It was a disaster of monumental proportions.

Every daughter promises herself she’ll never sound like her mother but I felt a whisper in my ear, “If you want something doing…” I had no choice but to exploit the niche in the market and start my journey to becoming a practical bag designer. The web browser opened, my mouse clicked and my fingers flew across the keyboard as food, sleep, friends and work took a backseat to yet another new career. I remember standing in my parents’ living room, talking ridiculously fast, maniacally fast, about how no suitable Epi-pen bag existed. I was going on and on and on until I finally mentioned that I would have to make my own and this piqued my mother’s interest. Her daughter, the entrepreneur – she loved it. We were talking over each other, we couldn’t get the words out fast enough. ‘You could put little slogans on them! Think of the colours! Waterproofs? Beach bags! You could expand for a Diabetic pouch!’ At this point we were both on our feet and were doing a strange walk and talk with no purpose except to circle round the dining room table, discussing fabrics, sewing patterns, threading technique, both of us bubbling over with ideas.

Reaching giddier heights of mania I was still blissfully unaware of how dangerous I had become but I was acutely aware of my internal discomfort. I wanted to shake everyone by the shoulders and tell them about my ideas and I was shocked and hurt when they didn’t mirror my own enthusiasm, or that of my mother’s. Although, one of the bonuses of being articulate is that when you tell everyone at work about how you are launching a range of Epi-pen bags, most of them actually take it at face value, thus narrowly evading letting the crazy out of the bag.

The time until payday was excruciating. I had picked patterns, slogans, materials, even the thermal fabric had been found. I was ready but my bank account wasn’t. The last three days stretched out in front of me like 3 years. You think I’m exaggerating but asking a manic manic depressive to wait for money is like asking a 4 year old to hold their bladder. Starts out uncomfortable, grows to be painful until they just have to go; except my version of sullying myself is running up thousands of pounds of debt.

Somehow I held steady and pay day arrived. I felt like my butterflies were going to burst out of my chest akin to Alien’s prettier siblings. I was shaking with fatigue but breathless with energy, my mind was hovering over its invisible clutch waiting to switch up a gear.

“I’m going for a scholarship at the Royal College of Music”. I clicked Buy Now and £99.37 left my account. I was to pass my A-level music in 6 months along with grade 8 in my piano, guitar and singing. I’d always wanted this, I told everyone that the reason I’d never pursued it before was because I was afraid of failure but I wasn’t afraid anymore; even I believed myself. It was fate and once again I told the world of my new way of life. My father, a musician, agreed to give me piano lessons once a week and mark my theory homework. I kept this up for five weeks before I began to lose interest and I went back to being a businesswoman with no business.It wasn’t for a few months that my mania become impossible for me to deny.

It was a normal day but I couldn’t sit still to save my life. I thought I was going to throw up if I didn’t start screaming at my desk. At one point I went and sat in the corner of the bathroom and placed my scarf over my head, staying there for about 45 minutes, not knowing what else I could do. If I moved I was going to punch something, or, worse, someone. If I spoke I was going to sing or yell or cry. In my head my thoughts were sounding more like a newborn’s babbling than an adult’s speech. I was losing it and I was in a very public environment. This time I knew I was in trouble, no amount of disassociation could bury my acknowledgment…or could it?

I stood up, dusted myself down and went to wash my hands when a light bulb went off. My brain turned down the gas so that I was no longer bubbling over and seeping on to the linoleum. The world came into focus ‘We’re in a zoo.’ I looked at my reflection, not recognising the big brown eyes staring back. ‘My God’ I saw her whisper, so quiet she could’ve been mouthing. I steadied myself against the sink, ‘That’s what ghosts are…How has everyone missed this? This is ground-breaking! I need to get out this stupid bathroom and tell the world! I can’t tell the world. I can’t tell anyone. Oh Christ, there’s no way they could handle the truth. Imagine their reaction – Oh, okay S, when people see ghosts it’s actually our alien zoo-keepers having a glitch in their “cloaking system” – No, people wouldn’t believe me because they’d just be launched into denial. I’m going to have to get us out of this mess myself.’ With that thought my back straightened, my eyes glimmered and I winked at the confident woman before she stalked out of the bathroom and back into the office, swung round her chair and sat down.

I glanced around me, everyone busying themselves with their work, ‘I would have to save them all, even the ones I didn’t like.’ As an aside, one thing that psychosis has taught me is what I would do if those we-have-24-hours-to-live scenarios happened; not very many people can say that they have readied themselves to save the world.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon writing on scraps of paper and attempting to get our zoo-keepers’ attention, without attracting the attention of my co-workers. Come 5:30 I left work with everyone else and started the journey home, still desperately racking my brain for way to communicate with our alien captors. Thirty minutes from my house and something snapped ‘Oh dear Lord you are insane.’ I was back and by some miracle I was already laughing. I told my boyfriend everything when he came over later that night, to which he chuckled, kissed me on the forehead and affectionately said “You. Are. Nuts”.