What follows was written by me, but originally published by D.J. PARIS, on June 1, 2013, for the Band Back Together 24 posts in 24 hours blogathon, to spread awareness about mental health issues. I wanted to reclaim it and repost it because of the personal nature of its content. So I did! 🙂
* If you didn’t know already, I have bipolar disorder; an illness which took my brother from me, in 2004.
Mental Health: Keeping it in the family.
So, Delfin asked for posts about our mental health experiences, preferably with a humorous slant. Not an easy feat for anyone who has genuinely suffered, but I appreciate any efforts to spread awareness, so here I am I sat at my computer and silently wondered. I look at my mental health experience, searching for the giggle in the groan, if you like.
I’ve had bipolar disorder since I can remember; the depressive despair, the destructive and exhilarating mania, both stifling and liberating me from within. You know how it is (if not, click the link). But it took until 2005 to find out why I was this way, and to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment. I was 33 years old at that time, and I’d been in and out of hospitals my whole life.
My brother died in 2004, and by his own hand.
He also took my tethered grip on sanity with him. At least for while. He’d suffered years of the same service negligence as I had, by then. In fact, we’d suffered it together, but never knew, because we couldn’t speak of it to anyone. The fear of criticism, of rejection, of a padded cell, always stifled dialogue and disclosure you see. Our bipolar disorder (and it’s many personalities) terrified us. Of course, we didn’t know what it was, we only knew what it did to our emotions, our thoughts. We were hopeless and crazy. Doctors couldn’t help, either; they just locked us up or made it worse with their pills. Of course, this all happened twenty or so years ago.
Things have improved since then. Times have changed.
Back then, our friends and family wouldn’t understand, and we couldn’t bear their pity (or fear), even if they did. So, we pushed it down, tried to cope alone.
My older brother’s illness (bipolar disorder 1) manifested itself in extreme manic states, followed by suicidal depression. Mine came in more depressive (often suicidal) waves or spells of hyper-mania (bipolar disorder 2), or both moods together (mixed states), and they came often (cyclic).
The evidence was always there, but doctors never asked us the right questions. They’d only see us after a fumbled suicide attempt, which led them to mistakenly diagnose us both with depression. Later, they said my brother was a schizophrenic, then he had a personality disorder. They gave me a personality disorder too, then said I was a chronic depressive with anorexia, because I was tiny and sad.
One nurse mentioned manic depression once, but nothing came of that.
And to think, all this attention — useless as it was — only came after numerous suicide attempts from us both. Before that, waiting lists for counselling never shifted, and their antidepressants and guesswork made us so much worse. This sounds crappy, right? Where is the humour, you ask?
Well, we’re not there yet. I need to lift the curtain, to reveal the set, so to speak. Bear with me.
Following my brothers’ death (age 35 years old, leaving a son and daughter fatherless), there was an investigation into the treatment he had (not) received. They looked at his records (finally) and said he may have actually suffered with bipolar disorder. Ah! So antidepressants weren’t the best idea then?
Thereafter, when each one of us tumbled through their doors in one state or another, we also received the same diagnosis. Because he had it!
It runs in families, don’t you know?
The investigation led to a “lessons have been learned” apology (of sorts), and doctors developed a searing need to medicate us all — just in case we followed him to a rope!
We are now officially a family of mental health sufferers! Hurrah!
Sounds awful, I realise, but this meant I finally got my hands on mood stabilizers, instead of those awful antidepressants (which made me more manic, self harm and see ghosts!). So did my brothers daughter, and then my sister, too. We all swallowed them down and bloated up, rejoicing in those yummy, equalising, mind numbing pills that made our world make sense for the first time. Strange that receiving the same diagnosis (as awful as it was) that stole my brothers’ life, ultimately saved ours.
Because without the right diagnosis, there can be no effective treatment. My brother is testament to that.
My poor family — cursed with an awful hereditary disease. It didn’t end there, though. Those diagnoses just keep on coming, writing one family member off after another. My youngest sister has OCD and my other, younger brother was recently told he could also have bipolar disorder. And now, both sisters and my niece have their own families, so I imagine our doctors’ sons and daughters will be diagnosing members of my family for years to come.
What’s the odd thing about all these so-called hereditary diagnoses? What’s the giggle in the groan?
Well, my youngest brother and I share only a dad, but not a mum. Our dad was an addict, but had no mental health issue. My brother’s mother was a stable and loving human being.
My deceased, older brother and I only shared a mum, but not a dad. His dad had anger issues, but nothing else.
Then, there are my two sisters, (one with bipolar disorder, the other with OCD) who share the same mum as me, but a different dad to me. Keep up! Our mum understandably suffered reactive depression after losing her son, but nothing else.
Neither my brother’s dad, nor my sister’s dad, or my youngest brother’s dad (who I share) ever received treatment for mental health issues, either. So where’s the hereditary factor?
Confused? Me too.
But when doctors asked us whether anyone in our family suffered with a mental illness, we told them about our brother. We didn’t talk about our half-brother. We didn’t feel the need to explain how the blood in our family spreads weak and wide. We talked of Brian, the one we lost, whose brain beat him into submission. As the oldest, he suffered the most, and lost his war with clueless doctors and an ignorant society.
He died so that we might finally be heard.
So how did three dads and two moms make babies with two rare mental illnesses, without having suffered themselves — without a traceable family history of mental illness?
I have to ask: Are we all the victims of mental illness, health care negligence, life, or plain BAD LUCK?
Answers on a postcard, please!
(Or in the comment section below, whichever you feel most comfortable with).
The world is a smaller place than it was, even eight years ago. Social media helps to spread awareness, medical advances help science treat us without debilitating us (mostly), and better training of medical staff (an insightful CPN suggested to my psych-doc that I may have bipolar disorder, not depression or a personality disorder) help psychiatrists to make the correct diagnosis, quicker.
But more needs to be done.
I now live happily on one tenth of the medication I’m presently prescribed by supplementing it with various natural treatments, an open and honest lifestyle, and stability. Everyone close knows of my illness, so if I get a little manic, they don’t over react. I simply up my meds for a few weeks and I’m fine. Same if I slip down. Then, once balanced, I return to the maintenance dosage
(NOTE: I took a year to reduce my dose and did so with the support of my family. Don’t try this alone!).
My niece stopped taking it altogether (again, over time), preferring to deal with her illness with the loving support of her family, and my sister manages her own dosage like me, according to her moods. She couldn’t function as a mother and university student on her full dosage.
My sister with OCD takes no medication, but she has everything under control! 😛
I think teaching sufferers to manage our own medications, and encouraging sufferers to talk and not hide in shame, will empower us to feel strength in reaching out, instead of fear. Of course, we should all spread awareness too, so that society in general turns their backs on the prejudices and ignorance’s of old.
Okay, so there was little in the way of humour …. sorry! 🙂
Is your family riddled with mental illness? Do you love someone who suffers from a mental illness? Do you have any insights or advice to share with us?