The first time anyone asked me if I was out of my mind, I was six years old. With an old towel tied around my neck, I had climbed up to the garage roof and jumped off. If Superman could do it, then so could I, right? At that tender age, I’d wanted to fly away from my life and never come back. Clearly, there was a bit more going on than a normal six year old girl should have to handle. At eleven, during an out-of-body astral-travel experience, I hovered just under the ceiling of my bedroom, deciding whether or not to re-enter my body and continue living the nightmare that encompassed my childhood. Suicidal, and completely out of my mind with rage and resentment, I came back. A few years later, I ended up out of my head in a hospital psych-ward after a thwarted suicide attempt. After that, an insane death-wish ruled my life for decades but, by some miracle, I managed to survive all the craziness. Now, I can admit that, yes, I am still out of my mind, and I don’t have any intention of going back in there any time soon.
Believe me, if you saw what was going on in there, you would give it a wide berth too. My mind is a labyrinthine combat zone filled with salivating demons and shrieking monsters armed with weapons of mass self-destruction. The scariest Ghost Train in the world is a walk in the park compared to this gallery of unspeakable abominations. Guys like Tim Burton would have a field day in there, creeping around to discover horrors even he has never imagined lurking around every corner. My damaged mind is an emotional minefield, dark and messy, hazardous and harrowing, a dangerous place to venture, even on a good day. It’s not just the bipolarity. Once you get your head around that monster, there are the goblins of childhood trauma, PTSD and OCD to contend with as well. All of them with sharpened fangs, leaping around armed with razor-tipped spears and howling so loudly that you can’t hear yourself scream. You’d be lucky to come out alive. In fact, that I am still here to tell the story is somewhat mystifying to me. I don’t really know how to explain that. Destiny?
I don’t ever remember a time between my failed Superman stunt and now when I didn’t have Bipolar Disorder: depression and mood swings, crazy thoughts and suicidal tendencies, as well as repetitive rewind-playback thoughts, absurd obsessions that never made sense, and that erratic feeling of being like a living emotional explosion just waiting for the right set of circumstances to set off my hair-trigger time bomb. My mental illness went undiagnosed for three decades as I roller-coastered along, believing the insanity was just part of the wild and uncontrollable woman I eventually became, even though I didn’t actually like her very much at all – even I thought she was nuts! Once I finally knew what I was facing, I could recognize the distinctive signs of bipolarity in every aspect of my tumultuous journey through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Actually, it was the diagnosis itself that stopped a lot of the random craziness, like that “Oh!” moment, when you finally understand: “I’m not crazy. I have Bipolar Disorder. I have PTSD. And I’m obsessive-compulsive. Those are diseases, not personality types! I’m sick! There is treatment! Yay!”
Even so, people who don’t understand the tangled wirings of a messed up mind have a tendency to be cruel. The stigma attached to having a mental illness, however diagnosable and treatable, sticks like fresh doggy doodoo to a shoe, even though none of it is my own doing.
People that eager to stigmatize aren’t usually interested in learning about the inner-workings of a mental illness. They don’t seem to have great reserves of compassion or understanding stored in their rock-hard little hearts and small withered minds. However, they are not my problem. What they think, say and do is of no interest to me. Over the years, I have learned to ignore ignorants. Bipolar Disorder doesn’t define me. Mental illness is not who I am. Staying on top of it all is a bit like training alligators, snapping at their noses with a whip until they back down into the murky waters of my mind and leave me alone to pursue happiness and enjoy other pleasurable activities. The tricky part is knowing when to crack the whip, and being skillful with it, without accidentally slicing off your own toes.
And yet, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, I’m here, a living breathing bipolaroid that sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn’t, that is sometimes friendly and sometimes anti-social, that is sometimes creative and sometimes feels dead. And sometimes feels absolutely sensational – as long as I’m out of my mind. Getting out of my mind has been a life-long project resulting in both histrionics and hilarity and a modicum of success; picture a Monty Pythonesque scene with hooting trolls wielding meat cleavers at a garden gnome wedding where it eventually ends well. I’m Bipolar And I Know It is part of the success; a non-fiction book documenting the winding path I have taken to find a way to live with my illness without resorting to prescribed medications, and the challenges I encountered along the way. Written neither in the bleak pit of depression nor on the dizzy peak of mania, but from the delicate balance of an emotional stability that comes from the kind of hard work and perseverance for which champions are lauded. Too bad one can’t become famous solely on the basis of battling mental illness with epic heroism and eternal optimism. Many people already renowned for their other achievements have in recent years made the previously über-private battle for sanity more publicly acceptable: Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Carrie Fisher and Emilie Autumn just to namedrop a few who have shone spotlights on their own depression and come out from behind the stigma, and I applaud all of them for making the rocky path just a little easier for the rest of us non-celeb bipolar plebes.
Making the transformation from suicidal to sensational has taken a lifetime of training, practice, freak-outs and failures, all of which have gradually paved the way to success in living with emotional balance, inner peace and happiness. Getting out of my mind was one of the most important factors. Things haven’t changed that much in there over the years; it could still give a Ghost Train a decent run for its money. However, my attitude to what is in there has changed drastically. My actions and reactions to the environment both inside and outside of my own head make an enormous difference to my mental health. The way I perceive myself from within and without can make or break my day. Allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgment, criticism or fear of reprisals helps to achieve an emotional balance I once thought beyond the realm of reality. Not allowing anyone to judge me based on their own superficiality helps me to hold my head high and reject the “shame” of stigma. And what I feed my mind, body and soul is an integral part of the whole healing process. These are the true secrets to becoming bipolarly sensational.