I used to keywork a guy- a young guy- who became increasingly chaotic and difficult to manage in terms of behaviour. Eventually he was moved away from where I was working and into a different service. Yesterday, I bumped into someone who works at that service. She said he is doing really well, and that he started college on Tuesday. It made me really happy to know that things are good for him, at least to the point where he can do something like that. People progress, we should never forget that.
A family member of mine- the lovely partner of a very close cousin- passed away at the end of last week. He was so young, and the shocking news has shaken my family. I didn’t meet him many times, but I knew him well enough to know how happy he made my cousin and their family.
Maybe I’m wording this wrong. He’s not around anymore- not physically– but it’s not about how happy he made them. It’s about how happy he will continue to make them. Nobody who makes such an impact will ever be gone, or forgotten. Amidst the grief and shock and pain, I’ve seen so many posts and stories about how kind he was, how funny and how great. He will always also have the power to make people happy, even through stories about his life, even through photos of his smile. The girls will continue to love him. My cousin will continue to love him. My family, and his of course, will continue to love him- no matter how much time passes.
I wanted to write this to express my love and sadness for my family, especially my beautifully strong cousin and her amazing girls. I also wanted to celebrate his life as I’ve seen it: the caring way he acted, the silly moments with my cousin and the girls, the love that surrounded him. I wish I had known him better, but I’m glad that I knew him at all.
Rest peacefully. You’ll always be around.
I promised to be honest on this blog, a long time ago. So here’s the truth. I’ve been going through a hard time lately. Various mental health symptoms have shaken every part of me, to the point where I’m not sure where my outline is. Though I hate to admit it, I need the medication I refused to continue taking back in January. I’m “welcoming” back the sleeping pills, the medication, the visit to A&E, the interventions I’ve been avoiding like an actual plague (bubonic/ zombie-creating/ whatever). I’m torn (again) between these two things: (1) the medication may make me less like myself but (2) I can’t be myself if I’m not really surviving. If I actually, literally, don’t survive.
I haven’t blogged because I feel like a hypocrite, who gives out advice about how to cope with mental distress, but actually refuses medication and becomes really, really unwell. And although I’ve spoken again and again about how mental unwellness is “nothing to be ashamed of” I have been deeply, deeply ashamed of having fallen back into the trap it has laid me. I feel like a total mess. I have some great support around me, and without that support, the place I’m in would be a million times darker, even though that feels impossible. I’m exhausted but I’m fighting. I don’t have some inspirational sentences to draw from that, because I’m not inspirational. I’m just medicated and moody. Needy. It’s an embarrassment I can only overcome enough to write this because even though it’s rubbish, I’m hopeful someone, somewhere, will feel slightly less alone because they feel like this too. Even that seems unlikely right now.
Peace & love.
They can print a thousand pages
All the paper filled with words
And a multitude of metaphors
That I have never heard
Makes no difference to me
In the end, well, I’ll say “I’ve read it all”
– Josie Vanders, Literature Lovers
I really enjoy reading formulaic, entertaining crime thrillers, particularly Scandinavian, French and British ones. I don’t consider this a guilty pleasure because I don’t think any pleasure taken in reading should be considered “guilty.” As someone who loves literature, I can’t write this without acknowledging that (in my opinion at least) there are “better” works of literature. I think that whether something is “good” or not transcends genre, and is about something else entirely.
In every genre- be it social commentary, literary fiction, Young Adult fiction, poetry or plays, I appreciate language. I appreciate the use of the vernacular, innovation and even sensationalism where it has its place (I’m looking at you, 18th c. Gothic). I like the elements of writing that capture the time and place of writing. I like those with an eye for the ridiculous, I like playfulness, I like plays on words, I like “abuses” of language and I like the influence and use of other talents (Blake was a trained engraver). I like comic books and “postmodern” allusions to them. These irreverences and innovations are how great art is made. My literary heroes have choices to defend. In a sense, so do everyone’s: some literature is not built to last, so the writing we now consider “classic” is made up of novels and poetry that have survived because of the very differences I just talked about. This is important. I don’t think a book should ever be a classic just because it’s old. It needs to actually mean something, otherwise it deserves to fall into obscurity in the way that I (sadly) expect my favoured crime thrillers to fall into.
Recently, I had to go to the GP for some mental-health related stuff. I went with my partner, for moral support. We both introduced ourselves and we both explained who we were. Soon after she realised what the appointment was for, however, the doctor began addressing my partner instead of me. I drew her questions back to me, but it annoyed me that she clearly thought I wouldn’t be able (or willing?) to speak for myself. Of course, I understand that when you bring another person into an appointment, it may well be because you aren’t comfortable/ confident to speak… but it shouldn’t be assumed that you just can’t. Even when I had made it clear(er) that I had things to say, she continued to check basic details and actual details of symptoms with my partner, without actually asking me first.
In addition, the doctor asked the same questions over and over again- perhaps she was uncomfortable, or perhaps it was her way of getting to the bottom of it, or perhaps she had had a long morning but the experience was extremely frustrating, particularly given that not all of the questions were pertinent to the situation at hand.
Eventually some progress was made and I have to stress that without support, I would have left that office without a single plan in place. I also have to note that the GP for her job, asking a colleague for support and realising (eventually) that something needed to be done.
I just wish sometimes that people understood that mental health doesn’t prohibit a person from describing, explaining, or advocating something for themselves.
Once when I was in hospital, a doctor (or nurse, or someone, I don’t recall exactly, I was ill) asked whether I “identify” with my bipolar diagnosis. Later that week someone else said “I can see your diagnosis is something you really identify with.”
I have really mixed feelings about what it means to “identify” with a diagnosis. I know that psychiatry is not an exact science, so there is guess-work and a subjective sense of what fits where, and how. So yes, in a sense, I do identify with the diagnosis of bipolar. I recognise in myself the highs and lows, the behaviours, thoughts and attitudes that come with them. Textbook. And the acknowledgement of this, of my recognition, brings some positive results with it: more helpful prescriptions, a framework for treatment, and (the usefulness of this is underestimated) a logic within which others can read me.
On another hand, even if psychiatry is aiming at a pinata in the dark and hoping for a lucky strike, I’m not sure a diagnosis should be something you “identify” or “don’t identify” with. Certainly, I can say when something doesn’t feel right to me. If someone diagnoses me with an illness whose symptoms I cannot recognise in myself, I can definitely make the case for this not being my diagnosis. This will hopefully lead to the results I mentioned above, re: treatment.
But some people don’t “identify” with their diagnosis- nor do they necessarily identify with any. The pressure to hammer square symptoms into the round holes of diagnoses can lead to counterproductive outcomes. For example: over-diagnosis of some conditions because some of the symptoms fit for many people and there’s nowhere else to put them; diagnosing people with an illness of which they have only one or two symptoms; abandoning hope for some people, assuming that their lack of place within the rigid structures available means that they have no illness at all (and that because of this, the symptoms of the now-non-illness need not be taken seriously anymore). Not everyone “identifies” with a diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean nothing is wrong.
In addition, while I understand that psychiatry is inexact and sometimes a blunt tool for a fine operation, I think if you are going to use something as medical-sounding as “diagnoses”, you can’t afford to put that much emphasis on “identification.” Nobody “identifies” as having a physical health condition. And no, physical and mental health conditions are not the same- despite what people say, they are often not even similar- but if you are using the same language, giving the same weight to the same words, you need to have something behind those words. Something that doesn’t just depend on whether someone “feels” like you might be right.
I know I have written before about how I “have” rather than “am” bipolar. It might not seem like an important distinction, but the point I was making at that time was that recognising the signs and symptoms of an illness within yourself, doesn’t mean that these define you. They may be important and have a big effect on shaping who you are, but this doesn’t mean that they are all you are. The diagnosis, the illness, isn’t necessarily intrinsic. But something not being an identity in and of itself, doesn’t mean that it isn’t tangible in real terms. For example, I don’t think of myself as “identifying” as a lesbian. I just am one. It’s not something I picked and chose to call mine, like being a goth or an emo or a banana or whatever. It’s something I consider intrinsic and ingrained, which would exist regardless of my own understanding of it (whether cultural or personal). In the same way, I don’t think bipolar is something I “identify” with. It’s something I think explains a lot of my symptoms, and for me it is a useful framework to work within. However, this exactly the reason that I don’t think of it as something I identify with. I have it, or I don’t. The diagnosis is useful to me, or it isn’t. The language of identification doesn’t belong in medicine of any kind. Not from the same people who, when you “identify” as mentally healthy, take this to be a symptom of your illness. No. You can’t identify your way in or out of a problem.
“It’s OK to say you were happy,” M says. “I don’t expect you to have been miserable all the time before me. It’s OK to say you were happy with other women.”
It’s a sudden, strange realisation that she’s right. It’s very unlikely that I was horribly unhappy, all of the time, in every single one of the half-a-lifetime of relationships before I met her three years ago. In a buried sort of way, I think remembering the small, happy moments always feels like a betrayal. When you’re with someone, you’re fully with her, and it’s easy to minimise the good points about anyone else. It’s the way children behave with their friends: anyone your “very best friend” doesn’t like (even if you do like them) can easily become the absolute worst, in a bid to validate the “very best friendship.”
Hearing, from M, that it doesn’t have to be this way is refreshing, because it allows for a third space. It’s common for people to say “I wasn’t really in love before; I just thought I was.” This is said so often and by so many people that it takes on the role of cliche, of myth. It validates the love you’re in now, by invalidating the love(s) you were in before. Knowing that M didn’t need this kind of negative validation- that she felt OK, secure, with us- was so reassuring. It means neither of us need ever lie about our pasts.
I’ve realised that it doesn’t have to be like that. I love who I’m with. I am fully immersed in that- in the rightness of that. I really believe that nothing before has come close to being this good (through my fault, through the fault of others, through no-one’s fault at all). I have never been so peaceful. That doesn’t mean I have never been happy before, or that the happiness before was false, or that I never felt any love, of any kind, for anyone else. One thing (or person) being the best doesn’t mean that every other thing (or person) was the worst.
The brief moments in which I realised this were a swift re-writing of history, a highlighting of the rights amidst the wrongs. The unhappiness and the horrible moments were not, and cannot be, erased. I don’t want tinted sunglasses. But I realised that this history- of rights as well as wrongs, of fun as well as misery- makes me appreciate our present (and future) all the more. There is less satisfaction in contrasting the negative with the positive, than there is in contrasting the OK with the amazing.