My Ordeal to Get Back on the Disability Pension

This was originally going to be a letter I would send Centrelink about my severe and almost constant suicidal thoughts, but it ended up being too long so I decided to keep a 2 week long journal about my ordeal, writing down my thoughts every few days about the events that happened and my mental state at the time. I will have to issue a trigger warning as this is a completely uncensored insight into the thoughts of a person who was seriously thinking of taking their life. I understand if that’s too much for some people to read, for others I hope it makes you understand just how severe anxiety can get and not all people want kill themselves because they’re depressed.

Let’s begin.

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Five w
eeks ago I had planned to commit suicide if I wasn’t able to be transferred from Max Employment to another disability job employment agency. For two years I had either gone into that place feeling suicidal or leaving it feeling suicidal. I always flirted with the idea of stepping out onto busy Marrickville Rd and instantly ending my pain. The day I tried to transfer my consultant (the most coldest and uncaring man I’ve ever met) said he would do the transfer but while I waited for the transfer to go through I had to keep doing what he said. That meant going to information sessions to jobs I was unfit and unskilled for, while doing my own job search. I still had to see a man that thought someone with chronic fatigue could work at an airport doing a physically demanding job. He never listened to my concerns and as much as I wanted to say being in your presence made me want to slit my wrists I couldn’t. I went straight into Mission Employment who couldn’t take me in because they didn’t work with people with disabilities but they gave me a number to call. I pleaded my case to the person on the line and when they told me coldly that I had to go for jobs that the consultant says I cried silent tears. It just seemed like no one would listen to me. But they did transfer me immediately to WISE Employment.  Those last couple days I was on my feet constantly. I had to go to an information session about a job at the airport and the same day I had to go to Wollongong to photograph Against Me and I was experiencing foot pains from a fully developed Morton’s Neuroma too. The next day I had to job search at Max Employment so I decided early to transfer that day. There was also a book signing for Laura Jane Grace, singer of Against Me to attend and a second Against Me show to photograph. That night I became seriously ill from exhaustion. My only memories that night of watching Against Me were of stomach pains, breaking down into a fit of crying in the toilets and having a seizure throughout their whole set.
WISE replaced old worries with new ones. Now I was anxious about being unable to apply for 20 jobs a month and in my mind that meant having my pension cut off. The suicidal thoughts started flooding right back.
In both cases I was unable to tell the consultants face to face. Autism. Go figure.
After writing an e-mail to my consultant, Marie, she asked me to see her right away and contacted the mental health team. She said I didn’t have to worry about applying for 20 jobs a month, changed it to 12 and became even more lenient with me. I finally felt like someone was actually listening to me. Not just mental health wise but it sounded like she was putting me on a path to start my career, to work doing something I enjoy and am skilled at (photography). Hope was restored.  But when she tried to change my job plan she saw I had been suspended – still getting my disability support pension but didn’t have to do job search until I was reassessed.  Marie had reassured me that because I have been looking for work though I’m on the pension I would probably not get cut off. But it wasn’t enough. My anxiety sky rocketed and my suicidal thoughts returned more vivid than ever.
Still, I gathered up medical documents like Marie instructed but when I felt it wasn’t enough I organised to see my GP.

This is when everything started to go wrong.

I asked him to do another mental health check form with me – we do these every four weeks. When I did he said I sounded like I was exaggerating. I looked over the test – I was interpreting the questions in my own way, not the way the writer of the questionnaire intended. It’s something I often struggle with.  I started to panic. They won’t believe me. Then when I asked him if he would reassess me for chronic fatigue (I was diagnosed 15 years ago on the South Coast – it’s not on my record) he lectured me and made it sound like to get over my mental health issues I needed to get busy; socialise, study and get a job. He seemed happy for me to lose my pension even though it meant poverty and forced to work full time when I only have enough energy for 8 hours per week. I would also lose my support from WISE Employment who were the only people guaranteeing me a future. I don’t think he understood I am already looking for work – it’s only a part pension.
I felt dejected. I put on my most depressive mix music playlist and walked home feeling empty inside.

The next day mental health workers from Crisis Team, Camperdown came to my place. ‘Finally!’ I thought, ‘they will help me and give me a report to give to Centrelink.’ I told them I have high anxiety. They didn’t flinch. They didn’t empathise. They outright denied I could have bipolar because I failed to describe my manic episodes. They made it sound like getting a hobby would take away my anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. They looked at my symptoms as less a part of a disorder and more emotions.
When they left I burst into tears. There was no help for me. They refused to provide documentation I could give to Centrelink during my reassessment.
They told me to go to Headspace. My sister said it was a good idea. She said I should see a different GP at the medical practice. I made an appointment.
During all of this I had four days of severe period pain – another medical condition I would have to get treated for after all of this was over. Also, I need foot injections for my Morton’s Neuroma. Living was too painful. If it wasn’t my emotional pain that made me want to kill myself it was my physical pain.
That night I had such severe anxiety over staining the carpet I couldn’t sleep and I felt like my heart would explode. I was either having extreme anxiety over that or the reassessment.
Then, I became hypomanic. Hyperactive. Overconfident. Impulsive – I wasn’t taking the usual care I would, particularly to avoid a hypoglycemic crash. My high anxiety and suicidal thoughts that I felt daily for hours before we’re gone, felt like foreign concepts to me. I no longer cared about the reassessment or losing my pension. I had to force myself to care, if I didn’t I would not have enough medical evidence to be allowed to stay on my pension. But I was so happy and carefree that nothing could touch me. I couldn’t walk – I ran. I didn’t have my own personality. I was mimicking someone. Someone in control. Someone who made their own decisions. Someone that never showed their weaknesses. I could have lost everything if I didn’t snap out of this mood soon.

FRIDAY

During all of this anxiety and suicidal ideation I had a Paul Dempsey gig to go to and photograph. Somehow I had to put all my worries to the side and do one more job for my editor. I didn’t actually care. I was just going to go to get it done. It was the first gig I would officially shoot for a music website I had tried desperately hard to get a photo pass through. Before that I had to go see a new GP to see if they could give me a medical certificate. I had an anxiety attack in the waiting room. I was told the doctor would see me a bit late, it felt like hours. Every time her door opened and someone was let out I thought it was my turn. I was either hopeful and confident of what I was going to say or I had a huge blind blank. But every time the door opened someone new went in and my dread grew even worse. Most people who walked out walked out with smiles on their faces. I didn’t think that would have been me. I drew my attention to the TV on the opposite wall above and zoned out. I felt no anxiety, depression, happiness. Nothing. I was a hollow emotionless shell of nothing.  Barry Manilow was singing with some people I didn’t know. Was that even Barry Manilow? I was so far gone I didn’t even know what Barry Manilow looked like anymore. I checked the time. Only half an hour had passed yet I had seen at least three different TV shows.
When it was finally my turn I was sure to mention I was feeling anxious, then all my thoughts about all the stuff I had been preparing to say gushed out like a waterfall. At first the GP didn’t want to write me the medical certificate so I told her how bad the previous GP had been, that it didn’t sound like understood me at all – weeks or months all wasted. I didn’t stop talking even as she was typing out the medical certificate. I made it clear that I was on a part pension, meaning I could work a little bit but not full or even part time. I wanted that to continue. I wanted to see WISE again and have them give businesses a subsidy to hire me, because there was no other way for me to get employed.
After she wrote me the medical certificate my mood was immediately lifted. I was able to put all my attention on going to the show that night. In the pit – the part where press photographers go – I smiled internally as people in the crowd would marvel at the size of my 200mm lens and comment about how many lenses I had in my bag. They thought I was a pro, not the shivering mess of anxiety with no hopes or plans about the future that I was lately. Later when I was deep in the crowd watching the band from behind the sound desk I made a point to look around. If I had taken my life a month ago I wouldn’t have been there. The two members of the band onstage that I knew would have no idea and still had no idea of what I went through. I also looked around to take one last look around at a room I may not see for a long time. If I did get a job I wouldn’t have energy to do my band photography, but I would have a burden off my shoulder. I wouldn’t have anxiety about financial trouble and I’d stop feeling useless. I would always have anxiety, depression and mania especially seeing how no doctor believes me about having bipolar and I’ve stopped believing it myself. There would be no treatment of my symptoms, no alleviation of them. I would have to learn to live with them and manage my chronic fatigue so I didn’t end up bedridden. Working a job and doing my photography on the weekend would guarantee my fatigue would get worse. I had a few near collapses when I did that before, though an idiot like me would always push myself too much if I got obsessed about something, like photographing two Against Me gigs and going to the instore and lately my plans to cover Sydney Supernova over two days. I never learn my lesson.

MONDAY

My depression returned. I had spent the whole weekend editing Paul Demspey photos and lamenting the loss of a friendship that never happened, that never built into more even though I wanted it to. It wasn’t enough to make me feel suicidal. I had been through so much that made sure I wouldn’t go down that path again. I was nervous about going to the Marrickville Health Centre and telling them everything I forgot to tell the previous mental health workers and my GPs. Crisis Team called me on the weekend, a woman this time. We had a long talk as my mood was a lot lighter and she recommended I go to the health centre. I went along and prepared for the same disappointment. It didn’t happen. Lorne just listened as I spurted everything out. Everything I said to my GPs, the four mental health workers, my consultant at WISE and everything I didn’t get to say to them. I had done this so much it was getting tedious but I was getting better at it. He told me to explain exactly what my thoughts were like when I thought of suicide. I was taken aback by it. I told him I visualized it like a movie, from the moment I do it to the reaction of people who know me; family, friends and most importantly the musicians I know. He convinced me to go back to my GP and ask for a mental health care plan and to see a psychiatrist. He said he will find someone for me who specialized it PTSD and CBT. I never got help for my PTSD so I was filled with both hope and dread. Then I brought up that I was transgender but felt stuck because being on welfare I could never completely transition. He told me it wasn’t true and then gave me a name of a transgender therapist to call. I held the note with the words scrawled on it like it was a golden ticket to my new life, the life I was always meant to live. I was full of hope again. I liked talking to him. When I left my doubts came back. My anxieties over the reassessment came back to me. I knew I had to get control of it.

I decided to play the video game Destiny that night. For the entire time I played the game my thoughts didn’t worry about the reassessment. I planned to play more, get deeper into the game like the hardcore player I was before, but I wouldn’t play it during the day because although videogames help me through tough situations I can get so obsessed with them I don’t want to do anything else.

TUESDAY

Last night I got a message on my phone reminding me to attend an appointment with WISE Employment tomorrow. Early in the morning I contacted Marie about it. It didn’t feel right because I was on suspension. She told me yes I was on suspension…until 2019. I was confused. I thought after my reassessment that if I was successfully still able to continue disability I could go back to WISE either on the Tuesday after my Centrelink appointment or a few weeks after they approved me to continue the DSP.  Now all my confidence and calmness about the issue turned back to anxiety and more suicidal thoughts. This was exhausting me. I needed to play more Destiny. I needed to keep myself busy. I need to do something, anything, right now and always. I couldn’t allow my thoughts to wander. I needed to clear this all up with Centrelink on Friday, for now I would have to live with my confusion, doubts, anxiety and the occasional suicidal thought.

FRIDAY

I HATE MY LIFE.

I’ve been playing Destiny more. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane. The amount of thinking and focus I need to make to play the game silences all of my doubts, at least temporarily. My sister makes it sound like I’m playing it too much. She doesn’t understand that I have to. I only play it at night though. The days are the worst. I have to preoccupy myself enough that I don’t start feeling anxious again.

I’ve started to get stomach pains and let me tell you my time on the toilet is not nice, all because of anxiety. No matter how well I eat or how much fibre is in my diet.

My appointment was rescheduled today. That means I have 11 more days of this uncertainty, of high anxiety and depression and the occasional graphic suicidal thought entering my mind. If I just stepped out early onto Parramatta Rd it would have all been over.

At least I know I’m not really suspended from seeing a job employment agency until 2019. Centrelink checked for me. I’m going to have to discuss it with Marie after my assessment.

My doctor makes me wait too long for appointments so I haven’t started the mental health care plan nor have a got a psychologist to see.

THURSDAY

I’m experiencing a lot of mood shifts from extreme highs into extreme lows. I’ve been told by countless doctors this is normal. I spent $1000 in two days – is that normal? It doesn’t feel normal. My hyper moods make me feel like I’m on stimulant drugs and my low moods make me want to commit suicide. My focus is completely on video games especially what with E3 being on, so I’ve been watching a lot of trailers for games coming soon and a lot of gameplay. I got Horizon Zero Dawn for free which is pretty fantastic because it retails at $99, so I’m going to play that. My sister made me feel like shit because I bought the game monitor and PS4 Pro. I know I should control myself but it’s not always that easy. I won’t spend my money like that for a longtime too. I just wish she’d realise how much video games have helped distract me from my high anxiety and having a mind that says suicide is inevitable over this rescheduled disability assessment appointment.

I’m back into my art…well it’s Destiny fan fiction though but it’s helping me express myself creatively and it’s helping me explain how I’ve been feeling over trans things. I’m calling the project Translight and it will be broken up into chunks of small paragraphs and poetry. It’s the only way my ADHD brain can get this stuff out.

I’m done with social media for a while. I’ll still share photos, statuses etc but I’m not engaging with the braindead populace any longer.

MONDAY

This is what it feels like to want to die…

Despite my sometimes good days things really start to go to shit for me. As I made my way to Sydney Supernova I started having doubts, those doubts turned into too much anxiety to go further. I was stuck at Lidcombe station with no idea how to get anywhere. I recovered in the pub where I decided to not go at all despite my sister trying to convince me to go and even sending me train timetables.
I had also decided to go to a show with her and take photos that night. That was also a mistake. I was depressed so didn’t talk much to people and didn’t want to. I was aware of how quiet I was, of how much I didn’t care and I just wanted to disappear. Actually, I couldn’t stop thinking of self-harming and not the kind of self-harm you survive.
I decided to take photos of the bands to get away from the group I was with. It’s not like I was going to ever say anything to them so why not? I felt anxious taking photos down the front. The bands were not really that great and I gave up during the first one. Every time I held my camera I just thought about all the celebrities who I missed out on photographing and it still kills me inside. I feel like a failure. No matter what people say nothing takes away from the fact that I still haven’t entered into the type of event photography – movie stars. Since I was a kid I’ve loved films and now I want to somehow make it into that industry. I don’t want to act but I want to tell those stories acted on screen. If I can’t then I’ll photograph the actors and crew. But right now I can’t see that ever happening.

Tomorrow is my Centrelink assessment. I’m less nervous over it because I’ve been playing video games but when I’m not I still think I’m going to lose my pension. But now I know my brother is at least there to help me out but I hate the feeling of having to rely on others. I want to only be able to rely on myself.

I still feel like I don’t have the energy to work. I might be ok for a couple of hours, as in 2, but I’m still worried about getting exhausted and let’s face it I’m not very good at communicating with people. And then I’ll have to deal with the stress of not being successful at getting the job which makes me even more depressed.

I don’t think I want to kill myself anymore (though those thoughts come usually when I have another depressive episode) but I just don’t feel a lot of confidence. I don’t like my life or myself or even the way I talk and I don’t feel like I have much of a future. Even when I’m about to make friends I don’t think I want to put them through dealing with all my messes. I certainly don’t want to have a relationship with anyone. That’s more the transgender stuff. I have no idea how I’m going to handle intimacy. Maybe I’ll just remain the same single loveless person I am.

Hopefully after tomorrow I’ll be more at ease and have a better idea of what I want to do with my life.

My appointment actually went as smoothly as it ever could. I feel bloody ridiculous over my behaviour but a part of me thinks if I didn’t the result would have been the opposite. Despite stomach pains from anxiety that I thought was my period coming. My anxiety made it easier for me to talk about what I needed to. It wasn’t even a reassessment, it was just a check-up. The lady was sweet to me and I felt reassured I was still on disability. She seemed fine with me to go back to WISE Employment which is being incredibly lenient on me ever since I told them I felt suicidal. This will help quite a lot. I’m looking forward to applying for photography jobs though I still don’t have much confidence that I can get the jobs or have enough energy to work them.

I still haven’t set up a Mental Health Care Plan. I’ll have to organise that with my doctor. I’m cringing over seeing him again but I need that number for a psychologist. I doubt they will be able to help much but they are someone to talk to. I just hope they’re not as ableist as the last four doctors and mental health workers I’ve seen.

I’ve got a good long term goal though. To continue as a photographer I need a much more powerful PC with a lot of storage space so I’m going to give my computer a full upgrade. I might even build it into a gamer PC. But it will predominately be for photo and video editing – I might become a streamer. I still need to get a new lens for my camera: a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS but that costs triple what a PC upgrade would. Even my PS4 Pro and 4k monitor together comes in cheaper. It’s a really high quality lens. It’s worth it. My concert photography won’t survive without it. I’m so sick of shaky photos that could have been perfectly crisp.

I’ve got a few more blog posts on my mind that I’ll try to post within the next few weeks too. I might even post some excerpts from Translight too. I’m actually going to write about all three of my new Guardians on PS4 (one from my Xbox years) and maybe one of my main from the last 2 years of playing Destiny on Xbox One. I write backstories for the characters I play with on Destiny – what? I did say I wanted to be a screen writer.

Oh, and yes I did just reveal I’m transgender in my journals. You’ll get a big long post about what it was like to grow up in a society that never accepted that.


 

 

 

What is and What is not a Choice in Depression

Robin Williams’s suicide has sparked many fascinating debates, from the need to break the stigma behind depression to just treating others with kindness. The debate I was surprised by and even a little cynical about was the debate regarding whether the act of suicide is a choice or not.

I feel for Robin’s family; they have lost a father, a husband and here are complete strangers arguing whether or not his suicide was a choice. I wish I didn’t have to take part but I have this compulsion to set people right, and I hope I can delicately put forward my argument and share some facts about my ongoing struggle with depression.

I’m grateful that people are being more open minded about depression but in doing so I think some people have confused the hopelessness in depression with a lack of willpower. I’ve actually been able to achieve many impossible feats while under severe mental illness or neurological disorder symptoms when exercising the muscle of willpower. I’ve managed to delay meltdowns, seizures and push myself through blood sugar crashes. I’ve stood up to crippling anxiety – although, I usually do fall victim to it – and I’ve avoided giving into impulses. My willpower has never been more needed than during intense and continuous suicidal thoughts.

A few years ago I discovered a book about cognitive behavioural therapy which is basically replacing negative and irrational thoughts with more positive ones. I took the information to heart and began to change the way I thought. Now it is a much needed defense in my fight against my mental illnesses. However, there are times when I’m more focused on the negative and am incapable of thinking more positive thoughts. The longer I’m in my depressed or anxious thoughts the more likely I will become aware that I need to utilize some CBT thoughts to help deal with my feelings. Now when I am starting to doubt myself or even when I am angry at someone and I think I hate them, I can backtrack and decide, no, I’m just angry at them.’ That is all CBT is.

I have felt some deeply intense suicidal thoughts since 2008 and even though I’m on anti-depressants they won’t go away. During the day I may be ok but when the medication wears off the thoughts seep through. The medication does nothing to control my mania and if I give completely into it and allow it to overtake me and make me spend impulsively and do all those other self-destructive habits one does in the middle of a manic episode then I will become deeply depressed again, and often suicidal. Even when I’m in a good mood I know that I have a suicidal plan. When into the middle of a depressive episode it just feels like the plan will go into effect any day now.

But time and time again I have decided to not go forward with that plan. This isn’t moderate depression, this is severe hate and loathing and misery and no one loves me and my life is hopeless and it’s just easier if…It’s serious stuff. But I go through the pain and I come out better on the other side. Sometimes after my mood lightens I’ll still be thinking mild to moderate suicidal thoughts, unless I blank those thoughts out of my mind.

So, how can suicide not be a choice when I’ve made the choice to keep living? Do you want to know what I’m still living for? Most times it’s so I can see and photograph a band. Seems silly but many times when I’ve seriously considered suicide I will then think ‘but I’ll never get to see so and so again.’ Other times it’s been my nephews. I’ve actually written out notes apologizing to them why I did it. Sometimes the physical pain is too much for me to go through. But there’s always been something else, a need to keep pushing on. I’m not in best situation. I’m unemployed and I’m unsure how much longer I’ll be eligible for the disability pension. Obviously, I need to stay on it but I’m not sure if my government will agree. I struggle with social skills and feel doubtful about getting into a romantic relationship which is what I focus on a lot when I’m depressed. And I’m living with family members and don’t know if I’ll ever be completely independent to live on my own. I’ve also got physical health problems as well as mental, and without my ADHD medication I feel stupid and that I can’t reach my potential. So, when I become severely depressed I’m focused on all those issues and I just feel it’s too much – and tell myself ‘I have a good reason to kill myself.’ Then I come down from depression and just keep going on with life.

Now I am in the ‘suicide is a choice’ camp but I feel there are certain moments in depression where one has less of a choice. There’s the extreme tiredness and lethargy, not to mention apathy you get where you can’t even get out of bed. You lose your appetite and so can barely eat. Positive thoughts become harder if not impossible to achieve. When you can eat it’s hard to make a big healthy meal for yourself so you stick with what takes the shortest time to prepare. Around people you give short terse replies and may even snap at them. And then when you feel overwhelmed you can’t stop the meltdown. You might have planned going out weeks ago with friends but now you just don’t care and can’t psyche yourself up to go or even want to go.

I’ve dragged myself out to live music gigs when depressed. On the bright side I wasn’t terribly anxious as usual, but was angry, impatient and was so absorbed in my own ruminating thoughts that I almost got hit by a car. I would look at the crowds of people especially those in groups and just be annoyed. I would drink alcohol and get even more depressed. I’d become paranoid and feel abandoned and yet I would still drink more. I may come out of it if my photos were turning out the way I was expecting, or I’d remain depressed and leave the gig early.

Even then I would have a choice to not drink, to distract myself and turn my thoughts to something more positive. It’s difficult but not impossible. I was actually at a gig where I chose the foolish decision to drink but it did cheer me up, but my friend stayed depressed, and so only one of us enjoyed ourselves.

The only time depression has seemed impossible to control was depression brought on by a hormone imbalance. I had one of the worst weeks with getting up every morning to make sure my cat didn’t defecate in the shower, and then I had to put up with people arguing while trying to fight my own chronic feelings of depression. I actually came very close to committing suicide because I just wanted it to stop. I have been through worst periods of depression though. Having to deal with a mood disorder and a hormone disorder is like a double threat though.

I deal with other symptoms that seem uncontrollable. I have bipolar mania which makes me terribly impulsive. During the last episode I spent too much money and gave into the mania too much so when I did crash into depression it was brutal, but it passed. I actually wasn’t sure when it would end. I even considered suicide too. It was strange to me because I was taking anti-depressants. This time I’m controlling my mania by not instantly giving into impulses, even something as simple as craving food. That’s where it all starts. I be very careful when deciding my next purchases. Yes, there have still been times where it feels my brain is into control of me but I’m still able to fight against this. When I do slip though I try not to be angry at myself. I tell myself, ‘Yes, you got a bit out of control there, said some things you’d probably regret, but just stop here before it gets any worse.’

I used to lose a lot of control of my emotions too but now I take my time to respond to someone or not before I lose them for life. I used to cut ties with friends to save them from my manic rants. I’ve got better control of my anger now, or rather, I can avoid exploding at them and keep those thoughts in my head, then the little CBT officer in my head will try to soothe the angry irrational side of me.

While I do think suicide is a choice it’s more a choice people make when they feel they have no other choice left. Right now I’m choosing to keep my depression at bay while slowly releasing my mania or hypomania and not letting it out all at once or letting it do whatever it wants, so I don’t crash so hard again. And even if I do crash hard again I probably won’t end up killing myself, even when it’s the only thing on my mind.

I think I understand where people are coming from though. Suicide is a very emotional topic especially if you have experienced it. What I’ve seen a lot of lately is people reading into the statement ‘suicide is a choice’ in their own way, and it probably brings up memories of people once telling them or others it’s a selfish act which then makes them think of what most of us think of when we say someone is selfish – narcissistic really – but the selfishness in suicide is far from that. It’s like saying an autistic person is selfish. I’m autistic and I sometimes feel like I’m selfish because I don’t consider peoples emotions at first. But that is the way I’m wired. I work hard to gain more empathy but even when deeply depressed and thinking of suicide that empathy is hard to reach. What I really think people do is focus on those words and only interpret them in the way they’ve always been told them.

So, I hope now people understand by what we mean when we say suicide is a choice. Just being factual really. I’m more of a logical person than an emotional one. Like a Vulcan really. You have to make an act to kill yourself, usually when you just want to end your pain, but it’s still involves making the decision to take those pills, hang that rope or cut with that knife. When deeply depressed my choice has always been: watch a comedy until you start feeling better.

The Elephant in the Room is Bipolar

robin_williams_cnn

In the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide something surprising has happened; sufferers of depression have come out of the shadows to share their struggles with this terrible illness. Even before this the stigma that has surrounded depression for many decades has begun to slowly be erased with sport athletes opening up about their struggles with depression. And now acceptance for depression as a real mental disorder is higher than ever and it coincides with ABC TV Australia’s announcement about a new initiative to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental illness, which will happen in October. People have not only started to share their stories about living with depression but those who have been untreated for so long have finally gone out to seek help. Lifeline has been inundated with calls of people who may have been on the very brink of suicide. Real lives have been saved.

This is fantastic and I’m very happy to see the stigma of depression disappearing but I only wish the same would happen for sufferers of bipolar disorder. It’s well known that Robin Williams fits the description of someone with bipolar disorder. You just have to watch him in interviews. He himself has also called himself manic a number of times. Few who have that much hyperactivity rarely have bipolar disorder, unless they have ADHD but it begins in childhood and Robin was shy as a child, as was I – I’m actually glad we have that in common. One other I can think of on the bipolar spectrum who was shy as a child was 60s folk singer Phil Ochs who took his own life at 35.

Out of all my reading up of news articles about Robin Williams’s death only one says he was suspected to have bipolar. Now I’m not saying I know for sure what the cause of his depression was – we now know he had depression from having heart surgery and Parkinson’s disease – but I still think bipolar needs to be properly explained. There are still people out there who can’t understand how someone so funny could end his own life. And from some programs I’ve watched they have tried to find a link between comedians and depression. I used to think such things myself but it’s more likely the depression is manic depression.

I can understand why people would rather leave the bipolar issue out, because they want to remember the man as a man, not as a diagnosis or label. We can still say he struggled with bipolar as much as we are saying he suffered from depression. I just think it will help those confused by his suicide understand his choice a lot better. Soon I will talk in detail about bipolar, especially the depression as it manifests as a comedown from mania. First I want to talk about who Robin Williams was to me and how I will remember him.

The first memory I had of becoming familiar with the name ‘Robin Williams’ was from watching Aladdin. It was my favourite Disney film at the time. I love him as Genie and soon began to quote him every chance I got. Kids like me just loved the energy he gave to the role, the switching between personalities and I even got a bit choked up around his emotional moments. To adults on the outside I looked like an emotionless kid who didn’t have a clue what was going on around me. Later I would be diagnosed with autism. But when I could really connect with a character I began to empathise more, even if on the outside I was as solid and as expressionless as a rock.

I watched a lot of Robin’s family films in the 90s. His soft gentle voice made me think of him as either that favourite teacher or a father figure. Father figures would come in many forms for me as I didn’t see a lot of my father. I’m glad I didn’t see any of his stand up or his more adult movies because given my Christian upbringing I may have been turned off of him by it, but now that I’m an adult and have a pretty dirty mind myself and I had to push those thoughts deep down inside me while I attended church, I enjoy all that stuff now. I think his best film for me was Dead Poets Society even if my young eyes were focused more on the shy character Ethan Hawke played. I have not seen the film in years so I may have to revisit it. I just remember watching that movie over and over again and loving it. I loved Jack too because I loved how believable he was as a 10 year old. I was probably around that age myself when I saw the film. An adult that had the personality of a child was something I aspired to be, although I really didn’t have to put much work into it.

Like I mentioned before I was a shy child and I’m still surprised by how much I’ve changed. I used to tag along behind my friends and now I’m like the class clown. Sometimes I think my humor is a little bit too weird, too crude and about things no one can relate with, but people seem to like me. Now, I suspect I may have bipolar and the reason why I talk like I’m sure I have it is I don’t think I’ll ever be diagnosed or medicated for it properly. Doctors are either too biased so shut down my suggestions for an assessment just to rule it out, or unqualified, or their fees are too steep. It makes it hard for me to get help. And lately I’ve been wrestling with the thought that mania could actually be a bad thing. Last time I was constantly on the move for two days, I spent over $300 and I crashed so hard and it was my first depressive episode since being on anti-depressants but I’m always so energetic, the creative ideas come so fast they are spilling out of my brain, I’m more social, more willing to take risks and I just know people think I’m a lot of fun.

I also know I come up with questions people never want to answer, like would Robin Williams be the same without his mania? People who have received treatment for bipolar always seem to avoid talking about the good parts of mania and I tried my best to name it as a negative force, just a part of the mental illness, but I fell behind in my productivity. I’m a very logical person. I can put things together. It’s still a question I don’t want to answer. One could say if Robin Williams didn’t have mania he wouldn’t have killed himself, but maybe even without there would still be depression. I just remember when I was coming off Ritalin because it was basically speed to me and I knew it would take a whole lot away from me. I even warned people I might not be as social as I was on the meds. That didn’t exactly happen. The change was permanent. The only difference was I didn’t speed through my sentences. Now I’m not saying everyone’s experience with Ritalin will be like this but it’s more likely to be if you have bipolar or a family history of it.

The most important part I want to touch on is the depression that follows mania. There are the usual symptoms of depression; they sort of bleed through while still manic. You can start to doubt yourself after having so much confidence about yourself, or something in the environment can trigger you; someone giving you negative feedback or hearing some sad news, or simply being unable to sweep your disappointed about something under the rug. I usually choose to ignore the trigger but once it happens depression is going to rear its ugly head and may stick around for some days, or for the most common types of bipolar, many weeks and months. For me, the positive kind of mania begins to disappear and is replaced with this monstrous angry monster, sometimes known as dark mania or agitated depression. I would get in some very ferocious fights with friends that when my mood returned to normal I would decide it was best if I got those people out of my life to save myself from them. I did this once a month and almost decided to end it with my best friend, but she wasn’t having it, so I had to learn to really empathise with her a bit more and things have been fine ever since. Once the mania is over you are left with exhaustion. Both cognitive and motor functions slow down. You barely get to complete a thought, your memory worsens, and it’s a lot harder to get a coherent sentence out of your mouth. You can barely get out of bed or make your own meals. You’re either full of intense and painful melancholy or extreme anger.

You don’t want to be around people. They anger you for just being there, particularly if they’re in a cheerful mood. You begin to feel guilty for the way you acted during the manic episode, especially the money you spent. There’s a lot of memory loss about what you got up to. Sometimes you want that memory so you can remember how happy you were because happiness seems the hardest emotion to achieve right now. You’re full of self-doubt, hate and may become cynical. Eventually, the lingering thoughts turn to how difficult everything is suddenly for you and it’s just too hard to go on. Then the suicidal thoughts start. For me and my highly vivid imagination they always end up being graphic scenes involving the moments before the attempt and the reaction of people after it. Blame my imagination and lifelong obsession with film and desire to be a screenwriter, but I can always turn these thoughts and images around to lead to a positive conclusion and the whole depressive episode ends.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that the depression in bipolar is different than just stand alone depression. All depression is really serious but that added exhaustion and guilt has really made an impact on my own plans for suicide. There is more hope for those of us who cycle from one mood into the other: the depression will end, but when?

Robin Williams’s death is a real tragedy and for a few of us with bipolar disorder who have more of a handle on our depression we’re now unsure of our own future. Not only was Robin Williams more successful than us (some of us don’t even have jobs or have any hope to get into another romantic relationship) but he was older than us and I was led to believe the more experience you have with depression the more you have a handle on those thoughts, but that’s not always the case. Maybe it was simple matter of having depression x3 including a chronic illness that just made him give up, but we’re all just so shaken by it.

Whatever the reason he is gone now and that hurts a whole lot of people. From the 90s kids who enjoyed his family movies, to the older generation who loved his stand-up, even got so influenced by it it shows up in their own comedy routine (Jimmy Fallon), to those who enjoyed his later more mature films.

But he’ll always be my Captain.