Things I want to tell you about living with complex mental illness.

This past year has been tough for me. I’ve been ping-ponging between hypomania and depression while living with social anxiety that sees me unable to leave my house for weeks at a time. Navigating life as a mentally ill person in Australia is confusing and opaque.

This post discusses mental illness and self harm. It’s not particularly well-written I’m afraid. Brain stuff… yannow.

Every week is a mystery when you have bipolar 2.

Cycling between elevated and low moods is exhausting, thrilling, and unpredictable. I’ve had periods of intense creativity, where I come up with the best ideas I’ve ever thought of; and I’ve had periods of crushing and disabling depression, where I can’t even look after myself.

I rely on my partner a lot.

Our relationship is often one of carer/ patient and it’s probably not healthy. There’s just not a lot of people who could stick around and care for me the way that he does. My husband gets my meds for me, the pharmacy rarely ever see me at all and they must wonder who the strange recluse is! He does the shopping and cooks our meals. He does a lot of household tasks that women are most expected to do, and he does it without complaining.

As someone who also lives with mental illness, my partner cares for me selflessly and probably to his detriment. I feel a lot of guilt and burden for my executive dysfunction. I’m very thankful and lucky to have him in my life.

I can’t return the acts of care like other partners are able to. Right now, he has the flu and asked if I feel up to going to the shops to get soup, lemon juice and bread. The thought of being in a supermarket makes me choke up and cry immediately, I’m ashamed to say that I can’t help and it feels bad, man.

Shame makes me secretive.

I don’t know what the current price of tomatoes is. I have no idea what’s new in the supermarket or what the specials are. This is a really common topic for women apparently, but in these conversations I’m likely just to nod and murmur. I don’t leave my house to window shop, I don’t even leave my house to grocery shop. I pretend that I’m just a regular lady who does regular lady things.

When I’m in a low mood I’m less likely to talk to anyone, and when in distress I certainly never want to burden friends and family. The common advice is that you should never feel alone or ashamed for being mentally ill, but the truth is that if I contacted anyone the second I felt low… I’d firstly have to get over my fear of being too needy, and secondly it makes me feel like a whinger. In Australia no one likes a whinger.

Elevated moods are generally more productive and enlightening for me. I get shit done and it’s a breath of fresh air after being depressed and unable to do things. People ask me “are you high?” and I lie because I don’t want to have my helpful mood taken away from me.

Friendship looks different when you are isolated from the world.

Most of my interaction with the world is through the internet, and with friends I’ve made online. These are some of my most enduring friendships to be honest. Gossip that friends usually share over brunch is shared over long and short distances between myself and my friends.

The quality of my in-person friendships is not great. I haven’t seen most of them face to face in years and it’s difficult not to imagine that some aren’t resentful. I often simply don’t know what to say or do to maintain friendships that were historically based on getting together in person and doing things I no longer can do without great difficulty.

Many of my friends are neurodiverse too though, and it’s wonderful having that baseline understanding. We come together on facebook or twitter and provide support in the ways we are capable of.

My cognition is not what it used to be.

This blog used to be full of my writing and images, and as you can see it has been tumbleweeds around here. The simple fact is that after years of going undiagnosed and treated, my brain has changed. Further more, the meds I’m on have caused me to lose cognitive ability and it’s very frustrating.

Recovery is not linear.

People think that by going to therapy (for me, that involves seeing both a psychiatrist and psychologist very regularly) I’ll be fixed within a short period of time. Bipolar is for life, not just for Christmas my friend. Some months I make gains, other months I fall very far behind. It’s frustrating, it makes me want to give everything up, it makes me wonder if there is a life where my mood will ever be boring and consistent.

All this help is very expensive and with the government only offering 10 subsidised psychologist appointments a year, there’s a lot of pressure to get better. I feel like I need to be performing at max capacity at every appointment; any sign of a mood feels like a failure.

Recovery feels pretty unobtainable if it’s viewed as a trek to the top of a mountain peak. I guess how I need to see it is as if it’s conditioning my brain to perform comfortably as I walk up and down the streets of a city built on hills.

Support services and care are hard to find.

I had a mental health support worker for a couple of months, they were to help me stay in touch with the outside world. Then the organisation was dissolved (due to funding? mismanagement?) and I was deserted. It was pretty devastating. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of helping. About that time my long term GP went on a break and felt as if I was really alone. Doctors do not make me feel comfortable at all so finding one that understood mental illness as well as my other conditions was huge for me. Alas, she left too.

I was put on to the NDIS but they kept calling me. I don’t do phones. I’d also heard horrible stories about the awful process the NDIS puts disabled people through, so I just didn’t bother to pursue it. Yes, probably a silly thing on my part but I didn’t want to feel deserted or scrutinised.

This year my depression and self harm have been quite bad. One of the only ways I could get non-emergency care was to voluntarily admit myself to hospital as a day patient in a course with a view to perhaps doing ECT or TMG. For this, I would need private health insurance… something not everyone can afford.

I don’t know what my future holds.

The public system rightfully prioritises urgent cases, but if you aren’t urgent then you sort of languish and bob around. My psychiatrist doesn’t work in public and would not recommend it to me unless it was crucial. Maybe I’m impatient but it’s frustrating me that I can’t go forward.

I’m waiting to serve my insurance waiting period before I can go to hospital. It feels like my life is on hold and I’m not even sure if it will help. I do my psychology homework, I take my meds, and I try to practice the things I’ve been taught about maintaining balance in my life. Most days it feels like being mentally ill is my full time job on top of my work in my own business.