WHO ‘s Health Matters?

Hello friends, this past week I have so much to think about.  Get angry about.  I ALMOST left the safety of my couch, but thought no, don’t resort to such desperate measures immediately.  No.  I needed to think tactically and strategically, and the best way to do that would be to get feedback and action through this blog.   Recently (and they have been for a while)  a number of events, conferences, launches and inaugurations go on each day that cost super millions that could pay for THOUSANDS of people’s healthcare. One such example were the discussions convened in Geneva on non-communicable diseases. Whilst I only saw the proceedings from a certain perspective, I would say that people with mental illness and intellectual disability were NOT adequately represented, and even if they were, they certainly didn’t look or act like the people who live where I do.  Or most importantly the ones who live in areas where healthcare is a luxury.   The ones who are forgotten, whose lives are forgotten, who communities are forgotten, in exchange for a per diem or an unnecessary party favour.

I watched proceedings, the pretty outfits, made-up faces, matching t-shirts, and importance level of each person who wore these, much have cost so much, event branding and lanyards and labels, and a whole lot of funds not dedicated to funding mental health services the world over.  And I have to ask, beg, plead, that perhaps we could exchange a couple starters for services, main meals for medication or medical staff, an appropriate number of psychiatrists to diagnose instead of desserts?  And when I saw an important person from this session fly home business class… And so painfully thought, that I had LITERALLY begged, cried, laid on beds with no proper linen, been treated badly by staff who did not care about and left me to cry myself to sleep.  That some days some of medication was not available.  But let me not have sour grapes – that person needed to be comfortable in transit.

From these proceedings, or the recent decorative presidential inauguration in South Africa (cost approx $10 million), I’ve conceded friends that it is not because there aren’t funds to help us.  No.  It’s because branding is important.  It is because celebrity advocates can better articulate the experience of the masses, well because they have better boardroom manner (dress and make up).  It is because we cannot be seen, we are never heard, and never matter.  I have unsuccessfully tried to access simple services, and I, like many others have either been turned away, directed elsewhere, or collapse during the process (which I have also done), because the pressure and stress of being in a Public Hospital’s Triage which was too much for me.  Perhaps I would have received a service had I worn an appropriately branded t-shirt / matching cap / hoodie?  Instead my friends I am asking you – what should we do to tell the World and the Health Organisations in it, that we are the ones who matter.  Our health matters and we mind oh so very much, when you expend the few resources that there are on the wrong things.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Mopping Up Mental Health

I went to the clinic on Friday.  Quite cheerful I was when I arrived there and ready to get things DID. I shuffled past the HIV and AIDS Section.  The Reproductive Health Section with many blushing teenagers and finally turned the corner at the clinic to head to the mental health “corner”.  I paused briefly to think that the signage is intended to be functional, it screamingly communicates and impacts on the people waiting so much more.  What would you say if a friend passes you by in the HIV queue?  Hi, I’m here for a fun check? Blushes and shuffles feet? Anyways, almost fittingly,  the mental health section is in the most inconvenient area that is too small to seat the large number of people who require a service on mental health Friday’s. Yes.  On Fridays, when the psychiatrist graces the mentally ill with his or her presence and the nurse (no mental health specialisation) who are at their most tired, open the clinic to the mad, crazy and otherwise, on condition that you are prepared to queue from 4 in the morning outside.

As I lodged myself into the long queue, with an approximate waiting time of two hours for two people (not exaggerating), we all waited anxiously, knowing that although you were at a health centre, and could have braved massive odds to get there, there was no guarantee that you would actually receive the service you required regardless of  how serious your ailment is or what you’d come for.  In my hard-won um, experience, I have learnt that the South African Health System is more adept at turning people away than it is at servicing people who need it the most.  As an example, I had a close friend with mental illness tell me that when they were suicidal and reported to a hospital, they were told to come back when they had more serious symptoms.  I’m sorry did I miss something here?  A symptom of suicide?  Well.

I had come for a meds refill.  Not that hard.  I had a script, a detailed psychiatric history and referral letter from my resident psychiatrist.  So you could say I was capacitated to come and that the paper could speak for me because you know, someone with mental health anything is NOT able to do that.  Like we may have years of experience of living and coping with our disorders, but cannot describe our symptoms unless a psychiatrist decodes the language we apparently speak. center  Symptom of suicide indeed.

I no longer know what it will take to draw attention to the needs of the mentally ill in our families and communities in Africa because I have it unfortunately on great authority that we are fully and fundamentally being failed. We should not be turned away,  or have it suggested that we actively go home and allow our mental health to deteriorate. Because we matter.  Our families matter.  Our communities matter. And research/statistics in our country and the world says that mental health issues are undetected, and ravaging communities.  So perhaps, mental health services need to be primed to helping people not making them sicker?  In the meantime, whilst I mull this over, I am going to take that cleaner’s bucket which became so intimately acquainted with the tender flesh on my knees during the time I should not have waited, and I’m going to mop clean at the local clinic.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

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Chronic Illness is NOT Invisible

I have been quiet for a while, not posting in this forum, cause well nothing new happened.  I stayed at home, tried to avoid the public health system, heck, public in general and hoped everything would be alright.  It was for a while inside the comforting embrace of the walls of our family home, with my children, family, whom are mostly supportive and accommodating.  They are this way I think, because I have trained them through trial and oh, oh so much error.  And we all learnt, felt and found new ways of being together.  Ways that are supportive of my health.  Ways that I think would be supportive of other people’s mental health.  Couple of key points include that you shouldn’t treat that person like a weirdo, talk about them without them when they’re in the room (or period actually) and that supplying them with truckloads of chocolate is necessary.  And this morning’s discovery was also to NOT distribute the kind of poster I received on what to do when you friend has a chronic “invisible” illness.

This rather um, insightful resource suggested that “friends” with mental illness are prone to having a nap at any point (I imagined myself walking and collapsing into a foetal position automatic nap mid-Supermarket), are likely to cancel plans before or on the day (going to use this for next own kid’s Birthday), and that they may need to leave a party and / or social engagement early (covered).  Added to this list includes that the person may or may not be interested in the conversation with you and my personal fave: may or may not answer the telephone.  I KNOW that a lot of the above is true and I am guilty of each every single day.  But if this is the nature of some (I have seen others) of the correspondence to the world on how to be more what, um, accommodating (?) of people with chronic “invisible” illness the message is WRONG and I think it makes the situation worse for those who do and contributes to erasing us even more.

Anyone who has lived with anyone who has chronic mental illness knows that IT IS NOT INVISIBLE.  And when it is, and when the signs above are shown, it’s not about accommodating me.  It’s about HELP.  I need you to actively enquire about how I am, what you can do, not shrug it off and take it seriously.   I and anyone who has it, does not choose to operate like a toddler coming off a sugar high requiring a nap.  And importantly, please don’t treat me like one, or think that raising your voice will help me hear / respond more clearly / appropriately.  No.  It doesn’t and makes it worse.   Create the environment where I will be ok.  Fight for the environment where people like me, like you, need not be afraid of how we will be treated or perceived.  Where we don’t need posters emphasising the symptoms of our suffering instead of our strength.

Help me see the things I am, the things I can be, and to savour the sunshine however fleeting it may be. Celebrate that I have depthless empathy,  that I love deeply, care greatly and can sometimes laugh loudly.  Laugh with me.  Celebrate the things that I do DO, not things the things I don’t.  Push past, push down, forward and back, but ensure that messaging about mental illness, chronic illness ensures that we are not anymore invisible than we already have been and are. Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

 

Traumatic Triage

I’m not one for exercise.  Never have been.  Unfortunately, I had an exercise that I had been delaying for FAR too long that I could no longer I avoid.  I needed to go jogging off to a public hospital / clinic in order to fill my script, perhaps do a couple of psychiatric push ups, and leave with pills and mental health in hand.  Great.  Except that I live in South Africa and the public health systems just doesn’t work that way.  No.  Our public health system serves one of two purposes:  1) Either you decide you would rather NOT go (like me) and possibly die from your condition and therefore contribute meaningfully to population control or 2) that it serves as a beautiful advertisement for private healthcare, which if you cannot afford it, you’d sell your soul to the devil to attain.  Let me explain.

On arrival at the hospital, I met a security guard who asked whether I had an appoinment or a referral letter (looking me up and down).  Initially I was startled, thinking to myself that I was not aware that security guard training now included health assessments as well.  Because as far as I know, in pretty much any country, you should not be turned away at the door, particularly by someone who does not have the capacity to assess how well you are, particularly when like me, you have a “I can’t see it” condition.  Whipping out my referral, I passed the first hurdle and whispered a quiet prayer of thanks whilst dropping the contents out of my bag at the entrance because of the nervousness the security guard had instilled.  If I left without my medication from this visit, I would have none left. no money to buy more, and quickly deteriorating mental health that no-one, especially me, would want to see or experience.

The next hurdle was actually finding casualty which one would have to go through in order to access mental health services.  I found the triage, and immediately asked the first available nurse what I should do and where I should sit.  Most people in South Africa know and plan to spend the whole day in a public health facility, because of the waiting times, no matter how urgent your case may be.  One such example was a women who was clearly in severe pain and she could not sit and wait.  But she was made to.  She was made to walk a too far distance for someone who loudly winced with each step that she took and then she needed to wait again.  On talking to the nurse she took a full ten minutes to explain to me, whilst rubbing my arm gently as I explained I required mental health services, that I was at the wrong hospital and needed to go somewhere else.  I told her I was not leaving and would go to other hospital on another day, but not today, and that I needed my medication.  She frowned, stopped the I didn’t want her to rubbing and barked where I should sit.  Great.

After waiting for hours, my blood pressure was taken, and I was asked to take a pregnancy test.  I said listen if I WAS pregnant then there’s a few things:  the baby is high on an extensive amount of psychiatric drugs, it was conceived via immaculate conception (I am FAST asleep thanks to said drugs way before sex time) and like the only thing I’d like to be erect about is attaining my medication.  Then I was asked to wait AGAIN.  So you will understand that at this point my humour – and anything else – is beginning to fail me.  Finally I was allowed to see a GP (perhaps to check fantom baby’s progess since they aren’t in the habit of dispensing serious psych drugs?)  and they read my referral letter out loud (in a room with a patient sitting next to me at the same desk with another GP), with furrowing eyebrows with each disorder my previously private psychiatrist had outlined.  I was so “happy” about this group consultation, exploring how um, disordered I am.  Even the patient next to me looked at me with those eyes wide you have a serious mental illness look.

Thinking that this was the last leg, I almost collapsed when they said I needed to open a file and then come back.  Seeing my about to collapse-ness, the Doctor assured me that I just needed to come back to her, and we’d be off to get the meds, and to make an appointment with the psych ward for further, I dunno, waiting.  On way to open the file, she had noted on my triage form that I wasn’t acutely psychotic.  Now, if someone can explain that to me, I would be very happy.  Does this mean I was um, like ok psychotic?  In any event, I got the file, and went back to Doctor, convincing my chest that was caving that it was ok, and that we were at the end.  Oh how wrong I was.  The Doctor had disappeared and the tears started.  I couldn’t help it.  I just couldn’t bare waiting, for people to be telling the entire room how disordered I was,  for being turned away, for not being sure of whether I would get my medication.  So I cried.  I cried for all the patients that were treated like this – cattle in the care of casualty – where one would think the most pressing patients would be dealt with – with care, with kindness – as is required regardless of the pain the patient feels.

I believe that healthworkers who do not put the health of their patients first should be barred, that hospitals who turn patients away should be investigated, where the process of putting health first should always be prioritised – and that the patient’s experience of these processes should make them feel better not worse.  I am angry because it is ok for people to be treated terribly, for patients to be turned away, and for politicians to spend unbeknowsnst amounts of money on election campaigns that DO NOTHING to change people’s lives.  That gets more patients seen, more treatment regimes started, more health facilities functioning.  I am tired.  I do no want this to be the reality of South African people with any kind of illness anymore.  Stand with us.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Rural Mental Health 911

There I was, minding my own mental health business when someone I know (read my husband of the last 20 years who is growing on me) suggested I travel with him through rural South Africa.  He is doing a review on the state of rural health, whether there are sufficient doctors, nurses and other necessary stuff for health to be delivered in a context where everyone – let alone people with mental health challenges – are vulnerable.  At first I wondered why on earth he would want me, the multiple mental illness disordered someone to travel with him, as I’m not really the kind of gal you can take pretty much anywhere (and who has consistent unreasonable demands that cannot be met).  For example, I was completely outraged that they did not have a cappucino (extra shot of espresso with cream) at a petrol station in the very rural parts of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.  I mean honestly, rural health is a challenge, but no proper coffee?  This could lead to war and I am the most concerned for these coffee poor people. Anyone with mental illness within a 500 km radius is clearly suffering – if you can’t get over your pill hangover with proper coffee what can you do??

More seriously what struck me was a number of stark, non mental health friendly realities that exist in this environment.   Firstly (in no order of priority):  everything is FAR (like really far) and that means that healthcare (regardless of the reason) is difficult if not impossible to access.  If I think about the times that I needed to go to hospital, urgently (cryingly / psychotically etc) needed to see my psychiatrist / psychologist, the mind boggles at how you would access these kinds of services in rural areas in Africa when you are EXTREMELY vulnerable. Second:  I know for a fact (and it’s confirmed by research) that mental health / illness awareness is low if non-existent.  Coupled with this, as we all know, there are also many mental illnesses where insight into your own illness is low (and most likely to be some of the most severe illnesses).  Thirdly:  even when you know you’ve I dunno, felt sad and manic your whole life, and would like treatment, you are likely to be made to feel worse by way of reception from your local family / community / health workers (or all of the above) whom you may or may not be able to access after travelling loads of km’s with money or food that is in very, very short supply.

And then my personal favourite:  let’s assume you’ve been able to jump all these hurdles: if you need to be hospitalised, a “bed” is usually on a first come about to die basis, so if you’re not in the act of death and / or dying there usually isn’t a bed,  an actual psychiatrist on call, or available, approriate medication to treat you with what is often considered to be a rather minor, made-up ailment.   I have personally been told on admitting that I was suicidal and needed hospitalisation that I should come back later.  Insert witty comment here, as I have no words.  This was certainly my experience in urban areas, so I imagine that in rural areas, this must be very, very much worse.  Added to this, Emergency Medical Services in the Province has been known to go on STRIKE.  Yes.  All available ambulances were on a um, go slow.

If I lived here, I would participate in the strike and my own mental health by asking them to put me out to pasture with the cows, and hope that I be struck with lightening as a manner to reset my clearly broken brain and body.  Better than waking up without coffee, to have to walk / hike far to a facility that would be too full, or to be “turned away” by an ambulance that wasn’t working that day.  Am I making fun of this situation?  What would I suggest in this deplorable state of affairs?  I really don’t know.  I don’t know how many people with mental illness live here, what they need, and how we can help and make sure that things change.  After all – we live in the country with one of the most enabling constitutions in the whole world – and further rights that are enshrined in our bill of rights.  Unfortunately though – in the past couple of days, I have seen that this means very little if anything – to people who don’t even have their basic human rights respected, let alone access to health.  We need help, we need to make a noise, and not stop until it changes.  And YOU need to be part of it. African Mental Health Matters Too!  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Viagra for Mental Illness

My therapist and I once debated what would be the one thing that could change the human race.  Ok, not really but the seriousness of the conversation felt like that.  We asked what would really change the face of mental health and why the mental health industry is taking so LONG to come up with a proper solution.  I, and other people with mental illness, have paid our dues, and  we’re ready for a proper solution for our non-sexually transmitted brain infections.  And me, I want for the brain – a little blue pill – that will stop embarrassing responses to the need to be um, UP for living.  Yes please.  I would like to be performance ready.  I would even come up with a little dance to show the world how ready I was to penentrate this thing we call life.

In developing this pill, we would need to understand what the primary problem is.  And after more than a decade of falling around figuring out what Bipolar is, and the many other ailments of people with mental illnesses close to me, I have come to the conclusion that the primary cause of all mental illness is a terrible, flesh eating feeling called I hate myself.  It permeates our existence, and nothing makes you feel better about it. Medication dims it slightly, but when it overtakes you completely – lets just say you a lot become life impotent and can’t stand up for anything.  In my experience, you can start your day out well, have your coffee and cigarette like a good girl, and then well, life and mental illness.  And whilst you may have several outputs to complete, you will instead lie on the couch (and from personal experience) try to inhale your body weight in sugar, burn the couch while you are asleep – or be awake the whole night, either trying to do too much to feel better or nothing at all, and feel worse because of it as well.  Awesome.

I cannot speak for everyone else, and I don’t know what your experience is.  But what happens most with this emotional impotence, is a constant cycle of not liking myself very much, and well, other things just become less important.  So when I go to hospital, and they ask me do you have less pleasure in daily activities (yes daily), do you still wash (almost rarely) and then, just because these questions are stupid, the answers to rest, I fill out equally stupidlly.  For example: sex: (my pills knock me out so no) and race: (I prefer not to put myself through the additional trauma of exercise, so um, DUH, no).  Yes.  I am already emotionally impotent.  Do not make fun of it, or ask me stupid questions, when well, it is hard.  Excuse the pun.

Honestly though friends, I am tired.  Tired of something that makes you want to climb out of your body.  Out of your head.  And I have never found a successful way to do that.  Or a way that’s good for your health, and well let’s not do anything that decreases that.  Instead I issue a challenge to the world – to the mental health industry – to please, please come up with a solution that helps THIS. This vortex of hate myself that needs emotional viagra the most.  Until then, I will be living, loving and eating liquorice on the couch.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4M’s Bipolar Mom.

Developing a Diagnosis Dictionary

Last week I wrote about how SMD mad I was about being classified as something.  Ticked off by someone else who would doom me to no WOman’s mental illness land and I would cry uncontrollably, deteriorate significantly, and require care in a padded room for eternity as is the life of I dunno, severely sick anything.  And for a long time, I got cross about that.  I got to cross that my future, my life, my children’s lives, were determined by less than a 15-minute consultation where someone says oh, I dunno, your brain is going to die soon.  Because that’s how it feels.  Either it’s going to die, or you are going to need a brain transplant (don’t know or think this is recommended).  But as last week’s blog pointed out, after you’ve been ticked as loony, over the hill, whatever, well there aren’t really excellent places to go, other than the candy dispenser at the psych hospital or my personal favorite – the smoking balcony at 2 am in the morning – to keep the nurses on their toes.

So I’ve decided to do something different – and I hope that you will help me.  I want to re-write the dictionary that makes us people with mental illness what we are.  The list of symptoms and synonyms that are used to prescribe and prognosis – what is “wrong” with us.  Heck, I am even prepared to write a more politically correct set of stereotypes, so at least we can be nicknamed more appropriately.  Yes.  It’s like my own mother says I have multiple personality disorder when I don’t.  Gees.  Don’t get the stigma confused!   If you are going to insult me, please use the correctly developed, politically appropriate names people with mental illness allow.

No, I haven’t taken my meds for the longest time – but I want a different set of criteria, analysis and engagement to inform the meds I can and should take, different therapies that work, and the truth about the stuff that doesn’t work.  About the pretty things and the ugly things that families that people with mental illness don’t know about and need to be prepared for.  For example, I always tell my littlest daughter to have a bubble around her heart – and I say this because I’m known to be irritable and snap quickly, even when I really don’t mean to.  Especially not with her.  But it happens, and although I say sorry, perhaps by describing our dictionary more clearly,   by preparing them and us, through the heart-est won experience, we and ours can be ready to face the world with the reality we seek to bring about.   And while that littlest daughter and I love unicorns the most that is not the reality I’m talking about.

For example, I think my first listing would be Ashtma Inducing Anxiety.  This is the kind where you feel your chest close, and you hyperventilate, and you feel like your stomach is a washing machine twisting your guts clothing inside out,  and you may squidge out a nervous fart or two as you calm / a cough yourself down.  Yes, similar indeed.  I am serious, and I am dedicated to building a new future for people with mental illness. I am not a disorder, I am not a description, I am not the only diagnosis and getting it wrong could result really, in another kind of dead, neither you or I want to see.  Help me.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4M’s Bipolar Mom.

Photo Credit: Romain Vignes

Severely Mis-Diagnosed

Today I learnt for the first time in my entire life that I have a Severe Mental Disorder. SMD for short.  SMD for those in the know.  Because it usually isn’t the person with the mental illness that ticks the SMD box.  No.  It’s um, talk to you like a five year old, ascribed by someone else ticks the box.  You see, I found out that I had a SMD because I was looking at ways in which mental illness is assessed and or “discovered” (I personally prefer experience, since it is so, so, so much that.  Experience.   Bucket loads of emotional experience many of us would prefer to be without).

My conclusion is that people with mental illness are assessed to be: a) you can go home but we gonna send you a supportive text now and then, b) stay in the ward until your lithium kicks in (and you are less likely to harm yourself or others, or all of the above) and my personal favourite: c) do not pass begin, do not collect your money, go straight to and stay in psychiatric jail. And I the most get stuck on the somebody else classifies you as A, B or C and will / won’t wreck the rest of your entire life.  Someone else says SMD – and all of a sudden you feel like you have a non-sexually transmitted life-threatening infection and your mind herpes is sticking out for everyone to see.  Yes, they SMD’d me and initially, I needed to bake and cook the entire contents of my fridge, and not work, and feel stressed about that, and everything else I may have forgotten because well severe.   But I have something to say.  And I hope the SMD box tickers hear me loud and clear.

When you ask me to tick a list of questions about how well I am functioning when I’m actually not, it’s unsurprising that “washing” and “toothbrushing” are totally trumped (excuse the pun) by sloth like motion, chain smoking and living my best, depressed life.  During said life, I practice food network hopping, extended sleep therapy until one of my children reminds me that they haven’t eaten and well, severe and hungry should never be in the same sentence.  I also have to tell you that you have no diagnosis or symptomatic description of the bravery it takes to get up each day, the severe weight of your bones, blood and limbs it seems that you drag yourself through to make a living for your family.  For walking through oceans of anxiety, but still appearing to wear some slips off me swimsuit that doesn’t exist.  No.  Don’t you dare tick my SMD box.  Because I am Seriously Mad about this Disorder you’ve given me.

Because me like many others in our Continent live with their SMD’s.  They don’t want to, but know no alternative, no reach to care, no reach to medicine, no reach to counselling.  They’re – we are – often mis-treated in far flung communities where even the littlest bit of extra is seen as severe.  Chained even.  Because in my experience, when others decide who or what you are, how disabled or not you are – you either end up believing it yourself (worst) or they continue to SMD you – no matter what (not nice either).  Instead today my friends, I say stand up.  Stand up and be proud of who you are – and never allow a clinical assessment to define how good or bad your life is.  I’ll be SMD’d if I do.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Mental Illness Gods

I read on an informative source (read Facebook) that people with mental illness are in fact blessed, Gods actually, who have insight to the other world, and receipients / receivers of messages from that world etc.  This is believed by an awesome African Shaman and his people, who travelled from his village to America, and who found that people within psychiatric wards in hospitals there, mimicked a number of the symptoms his patients in the community where he lived had displayed.  The Shaman said that traditional healers worked in his community to dispel the bad spirits that frequented these mental illness Gods, to highlight the good ones and I don’t know, hear their messages.  Gods, mental illness, blessed.  Wow.  Afflicted and awesome?  Didn’t think those words went together in the same sentence.

Whilst I DO see myself as an all-seeing, all-knowing (with the aid of Google) Goddess, there are a few practical things that make mental illness and being mighty, um, sit at odds.  For example:

  1.  I lithium loose my train of thought REGULARLY.  There I would be, with my shimmering trident, glowing crown, and Godlike status, offering advice on how to hide cookies in the couch that you could eat later while asleep and then getting to the pinnacle of my lesson, I would forget what the heck I was saying, and would need to ask for guidance. Like what was I saying?  Substract God points, like 50.
  2. I hate crowds and talking publically.   So even before I got to my cookie couch talk, I would need anxiety tablets, for my husband to hug me longer than he usually likes to, and would talk myself out of it and leave.  God no show.
  3. Because mental illness.  And then even when I was being awesome, the proper mental illness Gods would intervene and I would be cut down to size.  Examples include (which I’ve done in my day to day non-God like status) tripping up the stage, forgetting what I’m saying again, staring blankly ahead, with crazy eyes instead.

No Mr. Shamen. I COULD be the demi God of depression, and a Shamenness of sadness, providing instructive life changing lessons on how to inhale anything sugary, whilst smoking, whilst asleep.  I can be a drama Queen extradinaire, but because mental illness, I would not be able to pull off Godlike status for longer than I dunno, 3 mins.  My crown would fall, I would forget what instructive lesson I’d come to convey to the people, and if I was in conversation with a spirit or two, I would become so wrapped up in said conversation, and all my audience would see, is me talking to myself loudly.  Wow.  God like mind blowing NESS.

However, if I tone down the God like expectation a notch, what I can and would suggest is that the rest of the world can learn how to be human beings from people with mental illness.  How to be present, how to feel, how to emphathise, how to cry, how to answer the question: “and how does that make you feel” when you are feeling the most exasperated.  I can teach you how to build a bond of friendship with someone you’ve just met.  I can teach you how to hold someone’s hand and how to help them – or you – cry.  Importantly, I can also teach how to walk through people being nasty to you for any reason whatsoever, and either to hit them where it hurts, or to cry and move on.  Ok, no not the last part, I never move on.  I dwell.  But after THAT list, I’m beginning to think that Shamen isn’t so wrong.  Perhaps people with mental illness are Gods.  Please treat us like ones.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4M’s Bipolar Mom.

Tweenager Teachers

For a while, I have not been able to write.  I was consumed by working to save lives (through amazing organizations), buying beads to make awesome jewelry in the future, discovering double chocolate coffee and awesome stuff like that.  And then as to be expected in a comical existence such as mine, life took over me.  It started by my kids being held at gunpoint for their phones, an immediate emergency extraction of teeth (x3), a dose of severe gastro which meant I couldn’t take my medication, followed by being robbed at home, of three of MY most prized possessions:  kettle to make coffee, my NEW phone (that took amazing pictures of my children), and my speakers that lifted me with mom cooking tunes, which usually brought about (never show anyone) mom cooking showstopping dance moves, whilst making supper before my family would usually get home.

At first, I was overcome.  Disabled even.  Angry, sad, a lot of things.  I put my development hat on and argued that crime was a result of so many years of pain, impoverishment and racial segregation and that it would be addressed if we worked harder to address poverty and inequality.  That argument lasted a good three minutes until I profoundly missed my so carefully compiled biscuit baking board on Pinterest, and the opportunity to take a selfie where my ex-phone automatically added lipstick and eyelashes.  Which self-respecting girl with mental illness doesn’t want a phone that makes her look like she has made up on (which she never wears) and makes her look awesome even better than other filter adding apps we’ve come to know and love.  NONE.  No.  We all want to look like we’ve spent hours applying our faces, when in fact, I usually prefer to get up after nine, stay in pj’s ’til five minutes before my family gets home, and then I run and shower and pretend like I’ve been um, clean, the whole day.

If you thought this was enough – the mental illness gods thought they’d add another dose of  “humor” into my life by bringing about an impromptu sleepover of nonstop eating/ talking/walking/playing / loud 12-year-old girls.  x 4.  And I will say that I loved my coordinator of the sleepover – my own 12 years old – less.   But what unfolded, was a number of tweens teaching me what was really important and what I needed to remember.  Being multi-racial, different aged, different voiced, different body shaped, they told me about being bullied for being fat, for having a skirt too short, basically anything that set them apart from others.  Well, these others were pretty unscrupulous – they could even tease you for being thin. They talked about the popular girls who set the rules in the school, who issued nicknames that were scrawled inside the toilet doors of the school.  That was heavily branded on the very vulnerable hearts and minds on whom they were issued.

A lot sounded similar.  A lot sounded like the playground we found ourselves in as people with mental illness.  The loud and silent taunting of ourselves because we are other, too extra, and in my case, much fat, chocolate inhaling someone, who is the most socially awkward person around.  And I realized something as I was talking to them, attempting to offer advice:  the bullies are usually less than those being bullied because let’s just been honest, most of us are in some way socially awkward whether we admit it or not.  And that if we all stood up, mental illness or not, that if we all shouted stop at the same time, maybe just maybe, we’d be able to call out the bullies, and cut what could be and is the most emotionally damaging in its tracks.  Because no-one should ever, ever keep quiet when someone else is made to cry.

For any reason whatsoever.  So instead of being sad, instead of being silenced, or taken out by what life’s dished my way, I am reminded that friends and family are the most important, that material possessions don’t matter, and that being extra is ok.  It’s more than ok.  It makes us better than anyone else. ’cause alongside that extraness is a whole lot of empathy that my tweenager taught me today.  I am reminded of what matters.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.

I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoThought Catalog