One key tenet of the psychology behind bragging is thought to be overcompensation for a perceived personal inadequacy. And since I am contributing to a mental health project, we can reasonably conclude that I am dealing with some strong insecurity.
So allow me to brag for a second: I am one of the few contributing writers that know the lovely Eleven personally.
This is relevant, I promise. Bear with me.
We became acquainted with each other via Twitter and Instagram (IG) probably 2011-ish...which is to say we would RT each other occasionally and I would litter her IG comments with every thirst-bucket emoji imaginable. What can I say? She is a timeless beauty, has such eclectic style...you just don’t see women like her here in Cincin-
In late 2016, I noticed she started posting short form poetry on IG and I thought it was SO GOOD! Her ability to paint an entire landscape in 10-20 words was unlike anything I had read before. When she writes, I never feel like she is someone enduring something painful, I feel like she is a survivor empowering the next person...inspiring them to continue, confirming that scars might remain but the wounds WILL heal.
And she does all this in like 17 words.
If you have followed Eleven for longer than ten minutes, then you are aware of her disdain for IG and its algorithms. Necessity is the mother of invention and she wanted to build a community or “Tribe” not necessarily dependent on mathematical popularity. While developing “Tribe of Poets”, she decided to make mental health awareness one of its primary focuses (‘why’ is her story to tell!) and I can vividly remember thinking “those kinds of people will love that!”
Long story short: because of her I have since accepted that I am one of those kinds of people.
Similar to Johnny Castle and Baby, she thinks she is afraid of everything while I think she is afraid of nothing. I admire her beyond articulation. Thanks to her, while I am still judgment-averse, I am no longer shackled by it. Thanks to her effort, her sacrifices...she has inspired me to accept ALL aspects of myself.
Even the Bipolar part.
Proofreading this essay is bittersweet for me because throughout I bounce from acceptance of my disorder to backdoor denial, meaning, “Y’ALL are creating my problems!!”. The perfectionist in me wants to change those instances and make everything agree. But I opted to leave them as-is because it provides insight into my “struggle”.
They also remind me that I am not as together as I portray myself to be.
If you were to ask my mother and step-father about my childhood, they would tell you that I laughed and played like any normal child but that I was abnormally morose. I can recall playing with G.I. Joe’s and my narrations of their interactions would include things like divorce, terminal illness and suicide. While those are realistic occurrences in our society, I can see why parents might be alarmed by their six year-old child so casually working those scenarios into playtime.
Before I was old enough to really understand song lyrics, my musical tastes still gravitated towards the emotionally heavy.
Gloomy melodies and instrumentals could move me to tears.
A vivid bad dream could ruin an entire week for me.
In elementary school, I was awarded admission into a gifted & talented art program and I was told that my portraits routinely made the subjects look more angry or sad than they actually appeared to be.
In recent years my autumn ritual would be to drink and binge watch House, M.D. on Friday nights (starting from Season Four and never bothering with the god-awful final season). It would make me cry for hours. I had convinced myself that it was due to the show’s dramatic brilliance. But I know as much about “dramatic brilliance” as I do tax law.
The reality is that I identify with the character Dr. Gregory House on an embarrassingly deep level. You have this person who is seldom wrong but his colleagues constantly defy him because of his “negative” demeanor. Not only does he have to deal with their constant doubt but he has to watch the people he loves do predictably stupid shit as a result. It’s insult to injury! And on the occasions everyone around him wasn’t making poor decisions, they used the time to plead with him to get help.
I never knowingly sought help.
That’s difficult to do when you don’t know that there is an issue. When you’re clutching your sheets every night wishing someone loved you, it’s a little easier to accept that a problem exists. But depression isn’t ALWAYS manifested with inconsolable sadness. Promiscuous people aren’t out banging everyone in sight because they love sex, lest they claim otherwise.
But I say “knowingly” because my parents had me seeing different therapists from the time I was about six years old up through high school. What’s funny is that I never had a clue who these people were or why I was seeing them. I just remember them asking deep, thoughtful questions. I felt like I was on 60 Minutes.
I loved how interesting they made me feel.
Every kid that I have ever known has dreamed of being famous one day and that’s exactly how I felt in those offices.
But that would all change in high school.
The therapist I had been seeing at the time diagnosed me as “Manic Depressive”, which is now affectionately known as “Bipolar”. I still have trouble describing what that felt like. “Betrayal” is really the best I can come up with. I felt like my privacy was being violated. I felt like a fool, I had been sharing my most intimate thoughts with someone and he was only sizing me up to outfit me with a label.
I made it my mission to prove wrong this doctor and anyone else willing to believe him. Crazy people don’t have logical explanations for their anger and outbursts like I did. All I really needed was for the entire world to stop plotting against me. My list of enemies had then grown by one.
When the movie “Good Will Hunting” came out, I remember getting a hearty chuckle at Matt Damon showing up for talk therapy only to stare at Robin Williams in silence for an hour. A page right out of my book.
But imagine how wrought with narcissism someone has to be…to have had frequent, deep discussions over the course of ten years…with people that have “Dr.” prefixing their names…only to not have any clue that they’re being psychoanalyzed? Once that dawned on me, I still wasn’t ready to accept my diagnosis but it was a critical step towards realizing that I can be a little “off”. Nevertheless, I set out on my journey to never be sad or angry again. I was going to be so happy and successful that it would illicit envy from everyone.
Or so I thought.
The doctor prescribed anti-depressant medication (Wellbutrin) for me and I begrudgingly took it accordingly. I don’t recall feeling any different while on it but I was thankfully bailed out by an allergic reaction right before my first renewal. No parent wants a crazy child so I managed to prey on that and convince my mother that I didn’t need medication anymore anyway, that I was “all better”.
Meanwhile, I was anything but.
Bipolar II is characterized by infrequent hypomanic and/or depressive episodes, like 2 – 4 per year. This is much less severe than Bipolar I, which involves occasional psychotic episodes...there is no finessing your way around Bipolar I. But we II’s spend probably 90% of the year living relatively normal lives. The more severe forms of mental illness tend to have rather apparent symptoms...ours does not. It is because of this lack of visibility that our illness isn’t taken very seriously by the world around us or, in many cases, by those of us with it. For as long as Manic Depression/Bipolar II has existed we have been lumped in with the spoiled and ungrateful, that our shifts in mood are due to being incapable of appreciating what we have and only focusing on what we don’t. Shit, I could only WISH for triggers so easily discernible!
The only depressive trigger that I have been able to identify is enjoyment, ironically enough. If I don’t temper my enjoyment, then I tend to have an ensuing depressive episode. So I often exclude myself from “fun”. If I accidentally find myself having too much fun or doing really well at something, I mitigate the depression by downplaying the entire experience.
Seldom will I outwardly enjoy anything and if it appears that I am, then I am probably faking it.
Coping with depression is difficult enough but I’ve always felt that the REAL suffering occurs once the do-gooders get involved.
Their desire to help is only eclipsed by their arrogance in thinking that they can.
There are certainly people who could use a pep talk in this world but clinical depression is a MEDICAL CONDITION. A do-gooder wouldn’t try to talk someone out of having acne.
“Aww, clear up and think about all of the places you don’t have pimples” has never been said.
So we are still perceived largely as brooding teenagers by the logical world.
What I tend to deal with during depressive episodes are feelings of extreme inadequacy and these can often begin without notice and continue for weeks, in most cases. And whether I’m ACTUALLY not good enough for whatever I’m obsessing about or it’s just the disorder talking, I never really know. What I DO know is that involving more people to disappoint has never been beneficial. Do-gooders EXPECT us to be happy. They EXPECT their hollow platitudes to help us. Our support circles expect their patience to reap some sort of payoff for them. When people who don’t know what we deal with get involved, it is a stone cold lose:lose proposition. The question for us becomes “when do we want to be an asshole?” Because we can either tell them to fuck off up front or we can fake it ‘til we break it and wig out on them once we can no longer maintain the façade.
Well, I chose option B.
I got so good at being a phony that I felt like it was a legitimate superpower.
What I once believed was some extraordinary talent to deceive was really nothing more than symptoms of a mental illness coupled with a mathematical brain. I just wanted to prove a doctor wrong and make my mom not feel helpless for her “crazy” son. But after I learned to incorporate all of the techniques from the therapists on how to make people feel interesting, the deception got out of control.
Imagine giving a petty criminal the ability to teleport.
But here I am in my late 30’s with no concept of what is real and what isn’t. Every interest I have now, I have to ask myself if it’s genuine or if I’m trying to endear myself to someone. I’ve developed a bit of a fitness addiction lately and, even as I type this, I couldn’t tell you if I genuinely enjoy the training or rather all of the attention that comes with it.
If any portion of this essay made you feel bad for me, then I failed. This is my reality and I do not know any differently. I live a life very lacking in enjoyment, true. But it seems to be what keeps me out of the rut. I’ve “failed upward” in many ways thanks to my struggle with Bipolar but not of any real substance.
When I talk to people about my particular struggles, people often say that I seem to have figured it all out. Whether that is true or not, it is testament to the lack of severity of my disorder more so than any great ability that I have. I want you to know this because mental illness is as physical as leprosy. Not all mental illnesses can be harnessed and manipulated into resources. Chemical/hormonal imbalances ARE REAL and should at least be evaluated if not treated.
While we can’t control how we feel, we do have some control over the manifestations of our illnesses and it is our DUTY to be accountable for our actions. So my advice to anyone struggling with accepting that they’re ill: EDUCATE YOURSELF. You DO have options!
I am very fortunate to now only be surrounded by people that I trust. I don’t always realize that I am “off” some days and when they ask “is everything okay?” I know that it’s not a cue to ready myself for a fuck ton of unsolicited advice. When the people I trust ask me that, I will tell them what is on my mind and it might dawn on me that the identical situation didn’t bother me a month ago or that I’ve weathered similar storms. These people don’t want to fix me. Frankly, I think I bore them. But they KNOW me and understand that they are invaluable resources to my introspection by just asking a question and not saying another word. They have earned my trust and if they say that I’m off, I at least stop and think about it, whether I feel like I am or not.
So to you reading this, I want you to know that I appreciate you and I am willing to listen to you just as you did to me.
#dontcallmecrazy. My name is William and I have #bipolar2, but it does not have me.
- William Newton, 2018