Mental Illness, Shame, and the Art of Asking – 2016 Edition

#LisMentalHealth week is an initiative started by my good friend Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy. You can follow along on Twitter, add resources to the Google doc, or check out the Storify of Monday’s chat.

Dear Internet,

If you’ve been reading (or following me on social media), it’s no surprise I’m open about my mental health. I talk pretty extensively on being bipolar (especially since I’m bipolar one which means I creep towards mania than depression), mental health in general, borderline personality disorder, adhd, depression when I get it, anxiety, and about my drugs, shrink, and fuck, probably a lot more I’m forgetting.

While I try not let me be these diseases, so much of what they do is an integral part of my life, it’s very hard to talk about them in some sort of context, “I’m being cray today. Ugh!”

So here is a week where I can talk freely and abundantly about my brain with professionals in my chosen career only to find as I opened up this editor to write — I am stumped on what exactly to say.

Three years ago (!), spurned by a TED Talk by Amanda Fucking Palmer, I wrote this piece: “Mental Illness, Shame, and The Art of Asking.”

In case you missed it, here is Amanda’s talk:

What I said three years ago

Yesterday, I was part of a panel at MSU Comics Forum where we gave a presentation on Golden Age: Comics and Graphic Novel Resources in Libraries. Our schtick is to present on this topic at non-library conferences because we knew it was important for artists, writers, creators, educators, and comic book lovers to be aware of what/how libraries are doing with comics and graphic novels. Within the library world, it is a given. Outside the library world, not so much.

 

While prepping for my talk, I was debating on whether or not to mention I was bipolar and relate that to graphic novels available on the topic. If part of my argument is graphic novels should be in libraries is because they help broach difficult topics, is this not a difficult topic and ergo a perfect example? The other question that would be asked is what kind of obligation do I have in mentioning I am bipolar to anyone about anything? Why does the onus fall on me?

 

This debate went on in my head up until I took the podium.

 

When the slide came up I had earmarked to mention being bipolar, I found myself just saying it as naturally if you please:

 

“I’m bipolar. I’ve had several friends who’ve read Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me and say to me, ‘Okay. I understand what you’re going through. It was eye opening.’ And this is perfectly illustrates how graphic novels and comics can help broach difficult topics.”

 

Several heads in the audience nodded with agreement.

 

In the space of a few minutes, I had negotiated in my head the trust relationship between myself and the audience. I gave myself permission to be candid. The floor did not open up and swallow me nor did fire come reigning down the heavens.

 

While I was feeling manic up until that moment, and then the world shifted into focus. When my 15 minutes was done, I felt my body relax for the first time in weeks.

 

Before watching AFP’s talk last night, I had not realized the mental negotiations taking place in my head about having a mental illness were about exchanges in trust with whomever. Oh, not you Internet, but with those in contact of my daily life, who don’t follow me across the social sphere or read this blog. There is a price tag on honesty, and on revealing, one that was too high in the past to contemplate, and one that is constantly always under scrutinizing but is becoming easier to negotiate.

 

AFP rationalized it is not about taking a risk, rather it is trust. Shame comes in when those not part of the negotiation attempt to criticize it. I am currying trust with my readership by telling them about my crazy, but someone who doesn’t read my blog, or know me, starts to make judgements on the already established link between me and my readership, they are installing shame on the affair. Anything different is open to criticism and this needs to change.

 

My name is Lisa and I am bipolar.
It needs to be said, it has to be said, I will continue to say it.

That piece still sums up what I feel today, except when it’s not.

Bipolar can be controlled with drugs and therapy. I’ve been on the same cocktail for over a year now and 9 times out of 10, life is pretty even keel. Now Borderline Personality Disorder is taking center stage, rearing its ugly head and that has been running my life for the last year+.

BPD has ruined a lot of things with the most current such as TheBassist1 breaking up with me not because he didn’t love and want me, but because I was a flight risk2 and will always be a flight risk until I got my shit together.

BPD has ruined not only romantic relationships, but platonic relationships; it’s distorted my world view; it’s fucked a lot of things for me and sometimes I feel utterly and completely out of control. “I hate you, don’t leave me!” “Everyone hates me; I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.” “I have made a mistake somewhere and now I will be shunned/fired/etc.”

Coupled with being bipolar, I’m often surprised I’ve made it past 40. Hell, past 30.

I talk a lot about the domino effect which has plagued me these last few years. But what I haven’t discussed is exactly how that affected me on a much more personal level:

  • The #teamharpy case has made me a leper in the library world
  • nina and I racked up $15K in legal fees
  • I ran myself into $40K credit card debt between September 2014 and June 2015
  • On paper I’ve been homeless, on and off, since October 2014
  • I’ve had several breakdowns, starting with a long period of mania that lasted for about six months, then a bout of depression, back to mania, which finally came to a head in October when TheBassist broke it off with me.
  • From October to mid-December I rarely left TheExHusband’s condo or got out of my jimjams or did any kind of self-care. I ugly cried nearly every day
  • I’ve rarely smoked more than a couple of cigarettes a month until this past summer where I’m coming up to half a pack a day
  • While not suicidal, I’ve been in crisis at least twice in the last year

I’m probably missing a few things but this is the laundry list of ills that have been the albatross in my life for the last 18 months. A lot of these are my own choices, “If only I had…”

  • …used the word ‘alleged’ in that fucking tweet
  • …stop spending money on useless shit since I don’t have a job
  • …stopped denying everything was great and I was sick
  • …listened to what my loved ones said instead of thinking I could go at this alone

There are a lot of “If onlys.” Aren’t there always?

Being mentally ill is a goddamned highway with lots of on and off ramps. You make decisions based on your illness, it backfires, and you lose something important. You make a decision based on your illness, it comes up smelling of roses. You just never know how the die is going to roll and we keep taking the chance that what we decided was right.

We’re gamblers, we are. We worry by not telling anyone, we’ll not be able to get help when we need it. We worry if we do tell someone, we’ll lose out on life/partners/jobs. We worry how drugs will affect us or if self-care will actually work. We worry about the stigma, the pain, the anguish, the shame. We make ourselves sicker because we cannot disclose our sickness without fear something terrible is going to happen.

And the most painful thing? No one trusts you. TheBassist doesn’t trust me. TheExHusband doesn’t trust me. I’ve lost a lot of friends who can no longer trust me. What comes out of my mouth today can and has been either half-way true or another variation tomorrow3. It’s hard to ask for help when no one trusts you, even if they love you.

A lot of hard questions are coming up in the #lismentalhealth chat. Questions I want to be the queen of all that is mentally ill and bestow my wisdom to everyone as I have all the answers (“I am the greatest thing since sliced bread.”). I’m afraid to post because I don’t want to be seen as a scene stealer (“Everyone hates me.”). I don’t want to seem “weak” (“I can control this thing no matter what you say”), whatever that means, and I don’t want people to take pity on me even though I crave their adoration (“Don’t leave me.”). I’m a raging, sarcastic asshole towards people (“I hate you.”)

Being mentally ill is goddamned exhausting. I think this is one thing we can all agree upon.

One of the questions that did come up I can, somewhat, safely answer is about disclosing your illness to current and future employers. Right now I’m of the mindset of “No.” In my last position, because I was hell bent on being open and honest, I told my immediate boss. Within a few months, they used my illnesses against me. See the revised job description they put up when they did a call after my contact was about to expire. Look particularly at 12. They also would use verbiage such as, “Go take more drugs,” and “have you seen your therapist lately” out of spite. (Yes, I did try to get them reprimanded for such impertinence but since no one heard them, I had no physical proof…you get the idea where this going, right?) Despite the disability act/equal opportunity form you can volunteer to answer when you apply for a job, I choose “no response” to the question or I don’t fill out the damned thing at all. I cannot take the chance if someone sees I’m bipolar they will automatically disqualify me from getting a job. While this is illegal, I’ll never know since I will just get your standard rejection.

I have nothing to say. I have everything to say. I have a zillion answers. I have no answers.

I wish I did.

xoxo,
Lisa


1. One day there will be a day when I don’t mention him in a piece but today is not that day.
2. I can’t blame him for this part of why our relationship failed this time around. When the love of you life is leaving you every couple of months and then calls you ugly crying, you’d probably cut ties off too. But that’s a post for another time.
3. Pinky swear, on my grandmother’s grave, everything I’ve written in here, my world, has been true. It may have been fucked up, crazy sounding, or depressing as fuck, but this is the only place I have always felt like my safe space and thus can be completely honest.

This Day in Lisa-Universe: 2013, 2011, 2011, 1997

  • “We’re gamblers, we are. We worry by not telling anyone, we’ll not be able to get help when we need it. We worry if we do tell someone, we’ll lose out on life/partners/jobs. We worry how drugs will affect us or if self-care will actually work. We worry about the stigma, the pain, the anguish, the shame. We make ourselves sicker because we cannot disclose our sickness without fear something terrible is going to happen.”

    Yes! This is the tightrope so many of us walk. And it often feels like no decision is really a good one. Thanks for articulating it so well and I wish you the best in getting to a better place in both your life and your head.

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