I have never been ashamed of being bipolar, of having a mental health condition of any kind. I’m not responsible for my genes, my childhood, it’s nothing anyone would choose. I am so unashamed that the recent hashtag #imnotashamed caught me be surprised. Why would I need to assert that? How sad it is that anyone would have to assert that.
Yet here I am consumed with so much guilt, so much shame.
I should’ve noticed I was sliding downwards when I sat on a plane bound for Germany, looking out at the clouds below. Rather than excitement or joy, I felt guilt. I was remembering a time when I was 13 and my family took me to southern Spain to experience a very different sort of Christmas. It was fab, as I remember; seafood stew for our festive dinner, the buzz of the Christmas Eve markets under intricate designs of pure white lights. At the exact same point on that flight a girl in the next row, perhaps a couple of years older than me, was clutching breathlessly at her mother’s arm. “Oh, Mum!” she kept saying. “Oh, Mum!”
Blasé having been on an aeroplane all of six times (two of which I was too young to even remember), I felt a lofty superiority towards this air travel novice. Later I shared my patronising scorn with my mother, who quite rightly told me not to be mean.
It’s almost thirty years since this incident occurred. An incident that wasn’t even an incident, a bitchy thought that I never even shared with its object. No harm was ever done to that sweet, naive girl looking down at the clouds. And yet I dwelt on it during the flight. I felt shame.
Since coming out of hospital I have been in (for me) super femme mode, wearing more makeup than usual, taking more care with my outfits, my hair, my nails. It was a reaction to how I knew I’d looked on the ward. It was a source of embarrassment that I’d had close friends who had never seen me without a two-inch band of silver roots, never seen me out of jeans or pyjamas, never seen me with makeup on, never seen me with shaped eyebrows or painted nails. I felt proud that whenever I bumped into a ward buddy on my way to Home Treatment Team they would exclaim over my appearance. Even the receptionists kept saying how well I looked.
During our brief, beautiful break in the Alps this month it became clear to me that the driver behind this concern for my appearance was shame and that a month in the community and a two hour flight across Europe had not been enough to outrun it. Over the five days we were away my sense of disgust about myself swelled. I felt fat. I felt old. I felt unattractive. I felt that the nail polish and the foundation were literally painting over the cracks. We were away for Tom’s Big Birthday treat and I felt that I was a letdown as a companion.
This was compounded by the fact that I had no money. I haven’t worked since January. I claimed ESA (Employment and Support Allowance, the UK’s sickness benefit) in early February but the money didn’t come and it didn’t come as evidence apparently got lost and had to be resent. The money didn’t come through until yesterday, two weeks too late to buy Tom a present. In the the end I made one. I put so much care and love and attention into it but I remained deeply ashamed that this was all I could offer and no matter how much Tom says he loves it, I cringe when I think about it.
By the last couple of the days of the holiday we had been joined by two of Tom’s family members. I find it really, really hard to be away with other people; in fact after a horrendous time in 2012, we’d tried to go away just to the two of us, but it was Tom’s Big Birthday and of course he wanted close family there. I felt guilty that I was afraid of that. On our last night I started to go into meltdown. In the morning we were supposed to be sightseeing, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t be around people, not even close family, and I felt tremendously ashamed of this. I couldn’t even hide as we had to check out, so I had to hang about in the lounge wearing dark glasses and clutching tissues. I was ashamed to be crying on and off on the two hour journey back to the airport and most of the way home on the plane, despite the camp steward’s very best attempts to make me smile (I even feel guilty about my failure to respond).
Since we got back there is is so much more I am ashamed of. I can’t maintain the femme veneer. I’m lucky if I can wash my hair. I am ashamed of my recent detailed suicide plan, of its cold meticulousness. In addition – and I haven’t written about this anywhere else – I recently took a very small, non-accidental overdose. I suppose I didn’t need even to go to A&E but we went anyway just to be safe. I am probably more ashamed of this than anything I have done in years. I actually feel sick writing about it. I put Tom through needless shock and worry, abused just a few few minutes that he left me alone, left him wondering he could cope with me the community and wasted about 6 hours of our time in the ER. Hospital became a very real possibility again. I all but packed my bag.
I hate myself for it. I don’t even know why I did it. I am terrified that it must have looked like attention-seeking behaviour (although thankfully no one at A&E said so) or an attempt to manipulate my husband. It wasn’t. I don’t know what it was. I know I was dissociated; part of me was watching myself from a corner of the ceiling, wondering why I didn’t just… stop. My skin crawls with the shame of it. I am particularly ashamed because we had a tight management plan in place involving Home Treatment nurses and doctors, my own consultant and my new psychologist. There was absolutely no need. Tom didn’t want me to tweet about it but the shame and the self-hatred has been eating away at me every day and I can’t contain it and I need to let it out.
One of the HTT nurses who knows me very well has noticed how much I am self-blaming. “It’s us,” she said, “not you. It’s us that have left you under-medicated without enough support, and here you are on less than half your normal meds, so it’s not surprising at all than you’ve become unwell again.”
Despite her kind words I once again loathe myself for being incapable of adulting. I stopped ESA three weeks ago but in the past seven days I have been too sick to undertake the only work I’ve had in months, several things I’d been particularly looking forward to. And they would have paid, so of course I’m back to zero income and will have to go through the rigmarole of claiming again. I didn’t see my daughter last weekend as planned because I was too ill which pushed all my Bad Mummy buttons. I am ashamed that I have basically stopped going to yoga, usually my lifeline, or indeed doing any exercise.
Yesterday was my birthday. I felt that I really should at least try and do something other than see Home Treatment Team, so I made a plan that I would go to a nice art house cinema and watch a well-reviewd Japanese film (because, yes, I am THAT middle class) then Tom and I would go for cocktails and be joined in a meal by close friend Miss J. I left HTT and stood outside the hospital gates, looking up and down the road. Catch the bus going left and I’d get to the overground and the cinema. Right, and I’d catch the bus to the tube home. I went right.
In the evening I couldn’t go out. I didn’t have it in me. Tom went to the Co-op and bought a ready meal and garlic bread and tiramisu. Miss J had already, very thoughtfully, placed a bottle of prosecco in the fridge. Did I enjoy myself? Not really (although the tiramisu was very good and we mixed the fizz with some elderflower gin my mum gave us and that was actually pretty awesome). And so I felt ashamed, like I had squandered what was supposed to be special day.
I wanted to hide forever.
Tomorrow I see Dr HTT. I hope. I really fucking sincerely hope because sometimes he gets called away on emergencies. And I also really fucking sincerely hope that I will start the new med like, tomorrow. Neither Tom nor I feel that it can wait. Neither of us can cope with me as I’ve been and frankly if it doesn’t happen I’m probably going to end up back in hospital. Something needs to stop these spirals of shame and guilt and suicidality, because I am taking more and more of it on myself in a kind of horrible feedback loop, blaming myself for every single thing that’s happened since 1987.
Why wouldn’t I start it? Well, because I have been down this road before. Every time someone in my Trust switches team, they come under the consultant for that team. So if you have a community consultant, they relinquish responsibility for you to the consultant of the Home Treatment Team while you under their care. Move to a ward, and you come under the ward consultant.
And so I have a plan devised by a ward consultant which was not recorded or communicated to Home Treatment Team. The HTT then felt that I was well enough to be discharged back to my own consultant who reviewed the plan with me (and Tom, and a HTT nurse) on Monday. He seems to be saying that the plan is sound but he will, of course, have to defer to Dr HTT’s view in the matter because he’s handed me back to them. It’s a system of flaws and cracks and holes and I don’t want to fall through them any more. I’m so scared that there will be a delay. In which case I might as well pack my hospital bag again.
I am so sorry that you are going through such a terrible time right now. I understand the shame and blame because as someone with Major Depressive Disorder I am prone to doing that myself. I have never been hospitalized nor attempted suicide, but I can understand how those things take it to a whole new level. I admire you so much for being honest about your bipolar disorder and, particularly, in the account you give here. It will help many, many people, including myself, to realize they are not alone in their struggles and, hopefully, reduce the shame we feel. I will be thinking of you and hope very much that the new med will help you. You are a good person.
Hi I get the who feeling shame I am always seeing myself in a very negative light My son is about to join the army and I am dreading this as I will be alone after that. I read you blog every time I get it and relate alot to what you are saying I don’t know what is wrong with me because I am too scared to go and talk to anyone about how I feel I often wish I was not here and that it would all just end until now the one thing that has kept me going is my son but I am scared what life will be like when he goes. You are a descent kind person who strikes me that you don’t need to feel ashamed all you go through is not your fault but I do understand why you do feel this way there is no logic to it the human brain is a funny thing. Stay Well James
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2016 19:55:01 +0000 To: firstname.lastname@example.org
You are right James, our brains are wonky, but it’s so hard to remember that and not blame ourselves xx
What a Hell you’ve been going through. We’re all still here, in support of you, offering you our love. Rest well tonight.
You are a very brave and insightful individual. I admire your openess and honesty, it is extremely difficult for someone with BP and similar disorders to come out and be as open as you are. I have schitzo affective disorder coupled with a musculoskeletal and heart condition….and I exhaust myself trying to hide it…ashamed really – which probably makes me even more unwell!
The fact that you are able to be so I touch with your dips and valleys is 50% of your recovery sorted. Many don’t have that insight. Again, respect to you. You are stronger than you believe…. You mentioned ‘attention-seeking’ as if it was a bad thing?! Your are unwell and your body and mind are letting you know that it needs your attention – for me that’s a good thing? Suicide feelings and actions – my thoughts: we have been wired to believe that that is our way out, after many years of negative mental unrelenting self battering … what else is our ‘survival prone brain’ supposed to think? Out is up? Although not a pleasant experience and one I obviously do not advocate, you need to go back into the time that you felt vulnerable and share with your husband what it is you felt in that moment… It was probably fear, ‘….oh shit, I’m alone!’ Well you aren’t. You are challenged by a disorderly that will push you when it can…however, you own the disorders, it doesn’t own you. Parasites cannot live without a host….
I speak so freely yet I am challenged everyday with the same thoughts, feelings, medication stuff-ups, suicidal thoughts, scared of life and living. And then some days not….which shows we can win, with self compassion and time. Love yourself. Do your hair, do your nails, dress to kill….hell darling, you deserve it!!
That being said…. I’m off to have a shave! Haven’t had one for awhile and also need that love-me feeling.
Chin up. Breathe.
*apologies for the few grammatical and spelling errors…. Only spotted them once posted. ….. oh, and I left out the ‘tiny-bit-OCD’ part. 😉
Dear Charlotte, I have bipolar and I have been on holidays and struggled whilst on holiday and coming back again. I think holidays are harder to do than people think. As for in laws, I have really struggled with being with them when I am not well and also felt paranoid that they thought I was not good enough for their son/brother. Even though I am a lot better now that I am on paliperidone injections, I still wonder if they like me or not, but that is a paranoia I live with generally. The mental illness really robs ones confidence. You’re only recently out of hospital, so really you should be nurturing yourself and taking it easy. I know how hard that is to do when the fighter in you wants to get back to work, and do normal things. I say that from experience. Learn to rest, I have recently got a cat and he is great for helping me to slow down. Well done you for making Tom s present, and don’t put yourself down about that. There’s much more love gone into that than anything in the shops that costs a lot. I think it’s great that you are looking after your appearance, and I know about being in hospital and looking a state, I sympathise. You’re doing a lot better than you think, you know. Keep up your blog, you’re amazing.
Agree with all the responses given here, they’re really valuable. Your honesty and your ability to describe your feelings is amazing. Thank you for this from the bottom ot my heart
I travel on public transport for free as I am so significantly disabled as to be unable to drive. So funnily I don’t routinely carry £20 cash on me which would be required for a London taxi. Would’ve been nice if you felt that I made a slightly curt response *through the tears and panic* I was making it clear on Twitter that I was experiencing you had “rather politely” raised it there instead of deliberately coming here later instead to increase my sense of shame on what you could see was an absolutely awful day for me. Hope you feel great about yourself right about now, probably rubbing your hands with glee? Top marks. Shame I don’t know your Twitter handle as it would be my absolute pleasure to block you.
I hate when people don’t understand mental illness. I had worked for the State of Nevada Department of Taxation Information Technologies. I worked at this job for almost ten years before my Bipolar Disorder was leaked out by someone at work. I started getting bad reports about my behavior towards people at work when I would have mood swings. I ended up having to leave my career in Information Technology. I was able to use my long term disability insurance so I still get 85% of my salary. It just bugs the shit out of me that I was forced out of my career because of ignorance.
I’m really sorry to hear this. Stigma remains so rife in so many workplaces. You’re right, it’s not just about the money, it’s about the principle of such shoddy treament 😦
Yes it sucks but I couldn’t really fight back because I wasn’t a model employee. My human resources director helped me get my medical retirement setup because she really liked my service for her team members. I spend most of my time in front of the Television or online playing World of Warcraft with people from around the world. Thanks for your reply to my last post.🤘😀🇺🇸
I do the same with Twitter 🌍
All the comments on your blog are so very important and insightful. We all love you Charlotte and we are all in agreement how valuable your blog is. I personally wouldn’t get by without it. I read your blog every time you put up anything as all of it is so relevant to a bipolar sufferer. You are an amazing person who has the greatest knowledge of anyone I have found about what it is like to suffer from bipolar. I can relate to every comment on this page and it helps me so much to read how others manage. Please value yourself and keep going. There would be so many very sad and unhappy people if you were not around. Sending you a huge hug and lots of love x
I CAN SEE YOU! 😀 😀 😀