There's a certain inescapable madness to black eyeliner and pearls.
If I haven't already made it clear - my Vincent and the Doctor post certainly hinted at it - I have a problem. No, not a problem - not an issue, not a peculiarity, not a even just a diagnosis; not the eccentricity of tonics and potions at bedtime, of regulated eating patterns, of social avoidance; not a thing which makes me brilliant or a thing which makes me laugh wildly like the edge of a broken mirror.
I have a mental illness.
I am mentally ill.
You might wonder how the hell I think it's a good idea to put this out on the Internet, especially following my previous post, in which I described how a life lived publicly is a life judged. You might wonder if some future employer will stumble across this blog, or if some grandma or great-aunt somewhere will wish I had kept my mouth shut, or even if I, tomorrow morning, will delete this post. All of those worst case scenarios could come true.
But I think it's time to speak honestly about mental illness - don't you?
I'm a real person. Some of you know me only through this blog, though most others I think are friends and family members. And being a real person, disregarding any online persona, I have to face the every day life of being a young woman with a chemical imbalance which makes me cry like Van Gogh and smile like the Mona Lisa. It makes me play the piano with the wet cough of Chopin; it makes me immobile, sometimes, with perfectionism and fear. These are my mornings and evenings, my afternoon teas, the way I fall asleep and the way I wake up at 7:23 craving a cup of coffee.
And I'm not alone.
Bipolar disorder is the most commonly misdiagnosed. I first entered therapy with a diagnosis of depression - a diagnosis far too common for young people who present as depressed but who have magical periods of wellness and happiness and achievement, mania. I was lucky - two bad semesters at university and I was able to meet with a wonderful psychiatrist, who took one look at the shaky, too thin, glittering me and said, "Yeah, you have bipolar disorder." But let me make it clear that I was nineteen at that time - almost six years after my doctor started to tell me about depression. Six years of anorexia, of bingeing, of not knowing what the hell was wrong with me. Of theatrical debuts in which I skipped pills so I could feel something, anything. Of self medication, so easily dismissed as a part of the teenage experience.
It took six years. And I was lucky.
I recently was admitted to and then exited a group therapy program. It was a wonderful experience for me, because I was able to meet and speak freely with others who had mental illnesses. The age range was wide, and the economic backgrounds varied, and race and religion and other particulars completely unimportant. These were brave, strong, admirable men and women, and I was there amongst them, myself, not lying. When we talked about how to discuss our mental illnesses with others, most said, "I'm not ashamed."
I was the voice of shame in the group. I, who had been diagnosed at a fairly early age and had been living a "normal" life for six years. I, who had never taken the final step of admitting to myself that I needed and deserved care.
I, who was still so angry.
Maybe if we could stop words from having so much power - maybe if we could put an end to labels and definitions and judgements - maybe then I would have felt that being bipolar was something that I could talk to people about. Here I am, now, discussing it openly, and whatever the consequences may be, at least I can say that I am honest with myself.
I remember being at work, and a coworker described a friend as being bipolar, a pejorative term for unreliable and unappealing. I remember going home, restless, and crying in the bathtub.
And I'm not alone.
How much longer do we have to live in a society when mental healthcare is only relevant in response to horrible crimes, mass shootings, murders? How much longer will I have to hear people use my diagnosis as an insult, when the reality is that you might as well be saying, that Alice, she's so blue-eyed? When will my genes stop being a topic of joking and insulting conversation?
When will we address the real healthcare issues in this country, when we know that as mental health facilities have closed, prison populations have increased? When will we accept that it isn't mental illness which makes people truly ill, but a lack of care, and a lack of love?
When will people see the world as I see it as valuable? All through history, in your art textbooks, in the annals of the American presidency, in your sheet music, in your literature class - in those places we are willing to accept the vague idea that people with mental illnesses can affect great change. But here I am, and here are so many others, in that place between your world and the fairy world, in that place of wine bottles and bitter laughter, in that place of medications and therapy, in the moments of makeup and glitter and pearls, in those moments when you can barely breathe with some thickness in your belly between the end of the world and birth -
Here I am, living.
My name is Alice, and I'm a writer. I'm twenty-six. I have four parents, three grandparents, a sister, and a husband. I spend most of my time cleaning, writing genre fiction, and baking cakes without key ingredients. When I do my makeup I use glitter; when I wear jewelry, I wear pearls.
I have bipolar disorder.
I'm not ashamed.