I’ll admit I knew nothing about mental health before I had my personal experience. I had my first episode out of the blue and it was terrifying. After the second one, I got formally diagnosed.
In some ways I was lucky to get diagnosed so quickly without struggle, and rapidly found medication that helped. That part of the process was unpleasant too, because you become the consensual “trial and error” guinea-pig regarding drugs that might help you.
Becoming suddenly ‘one of those people’ is a stigma that the newly diagnosed will thrust upon themselves in sheer terror and self-revulsion: this is after feeling relieved that these ‘crazy feelings’ have a name. At that point you’re numb with trying to compute it all.
What has happened is that you have fallen totally out of your tree and down the rabbit hole. And remember, people with bipolar are quite often top of the tree in achievement. Having a mental illness does not stop you from being a unique and talented individual with a reason to be here.
My love of classic Gothic literature had me sobbing with empathy at the plight of Frankenstein’s Monster who very humanly just wanted a partner who understood him despite his struggles. Or feeling cursed and frustrated like Robert Louis Stevenson’s beautiful, terrifying vampiress Olala.
I had gone from a principled and passionate Jane Eyre, to suddenly having the self-concept of being Mrs Rochester the First. A dehumanised monster: all id no intellect. This idea of a deranged lady in a bloody nightgown does stem entirely from the literature of this period and it is entirely outdated.
A mental health ward is not peopled by white-coated Renfield-esque men with wild hair, in Britain at least! A mental health ward is large, airy and light, more like a hotel than a hospital ward. Meals are regular and well balanced and the bedrooms are neat and clean, bathrooms likewise. It is largely full of people who are not dangerous, but extremely tired and overwhelmed. People needing a rest as part of the general cry for help their body sent out after the peak event of an episode.
Additionally, people who are not thinking straight and are incredibly physically and mentally tired (shout out to anyone who has ever cared for a baby or worked long hours in the City) are more a danger to themselves than anyone else. It is that central concern, the desire to give people a space that is conducive to healing, which is what a mental health ward is all about.
Knowing the name of the beast is one thing, the nature of the beast is just something you come to know. After all, everyone walks around believing that they are the hero of their own story… No one ever expects to have to deal with the idea that they might be the villain or the monster. To my past self – You are not the monster. You’re a chipped diamond. Your essential self hasn’t changed, even if you’re chipped, and the flaws that perfectionists fight to hide – are actually what make you relate-able to others.
~ Pola ~