I have a divergent way of thinking, a certain manner of mood, a cyclic emotional pattern with a name given it by the culture I live – “bipolar disorder”. For me, this pattern is sometimes mental illness, because my thoughts and actions can become harmful for me and for others around me. This is the depression phase which can manifest as anxiety, oppressive sadness and pain, anger, and suicidal thoughts. Other times, bipolar is not making me sick, it’s making me a powerful creator. When this is happening, I can literally do anything I think of.
And I can think of an awful lot.
I’m not given to the kind of mental delusions where running naked down the street is likely to be an issue for me – so far. But even if that were to happen, if I became that ill, I would still be worthy and beautiful. I probably wouldn’t think so at the time, or those feelings of self-harm might come later, but mentally ill or apparently “normal”, I am always worthy. There is no currency of “deserve” when it comes to being on the planet and the way we think or feel. In fact, for me, mental illness is only ever truly “illness” when manifested outwardly or inwardly as beliefs which convince us we do not deserve to be alive because of who or what we are. When feelings of unworthiness and shame permeate us body and soul from the inside, like a cancer, this is depression – you basically mentally and emotionally eat yourself alive.
Depression has been such a regular part of my life since I was young I thought it was just who I was everyday, my normal. I thought mental illness was when I was “manic” – making art, starting new projects on top of new projects, dreaming up ideas, staying up late creating things, dreaming up the amazing and fantastic – but now I understand this is pretty much my stable state. I have had years on end consumed by depression and anxiety, where I made nothing, dreamed nothing, created nothing. I was sick for such long periods I truly believed my creativity had just been a phase I was going through and I had grown out of it. Now I understand those times of non-creativity was when I was sick, injured, and needed support, like a diabetic needs insulin, or a sportsperson needs physiotherapy. I needed also a way to become less volatile in terms of the ups and downs. Nobody can live a happy life experiencing those kinds of extreme peaks and troughs, and neither can the people around them.
Last year, I became as ill as I’ve ever been. I don’t remember being as consumed by emotional and mental distress as in the last twelve months. Thank god help was accessible, and I thank good friends who stayed by me and kept reminding me of my worthiness and beauty. I can never repay their gifts. And thank god for medication. Several times since my diagnosis with bipolar sixteen years ago I have had long periods off meds. I’m okay now, I’d tell myself. I even convinced myself seeking a diagnosis in the first place was part of my illness, so taking medication was also part of the illness, so I could stop and would therefore prove I was not actually mentally ill in the first place. Trust me, that sounds as ridiculous to me as it must to you.
Earlier this year when I had the breakdown, I found a terrific GP and a supportive psychologist, and I went back on meds. It’s been eight months. I can honestly say I can’t remember feeling this well. I know I’m well, because I can’t stop making stuff, thinking new stuff up, can’t stop being amazed at how my creativity just keeps coming. This may look like mania to some, but to me, this is normal. This is wellness. It’s time now for me to turn some attention to the neglect I’ve paid to my physical body whilst I’ve been unwell. And that too feels possible for me, thanks to the work I’ve done spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and to medication.
There is no shame in taking medication for mental unwellness. Listen to me. NONE. Shame itself is a form of mental disorder. When you experience or feel shame, that is unwellness. And when others shame you, that’s a method of torture and control. When you shame yourself, that’s a sickness and it needs treatment, or it will manifest in all kinds of pretty fucked up ways. Shame makes us blind to our own pain, and the pain of others, as we squirm and contort ourselves to get away from it, or to tolerate it if we cannot escape. Shame distorts our perceptions of other people, often manifesting as anger and violence, against the self and others, and often we seek or justify violent ends in our efforts to eradicate it.
Shame is a disease and it’s contagious. Shame-based structures perpetuate it outwards, and will attract those for whom shame is an unhealed wound. Shame wants to normalise itself so it can hide from the light. It’s not beyond calling itself the very word of God in order to make us all feel we are supposed to have it. Peddlars in shame will tell us we ought to be ashamed simply for who and what we are, for things beyond our control or knowledge, and then offer relief in the form of religion, belonging, inclusion, special rites, special knowledge, specialness. There are places in this world filled with good people riddled with shame-sickness – addicted to the panacea of rituals and confession, besotted with the concept of a god who cures shame with violence, sold on the promise of some place beyond this life where shame doesn’t exist – never realising shame doesn’t exist except in the mind as a belief. Trees and cats and rivers and saucepans and tuna and mountains don’t experience shame – it’s a human experience, an idea. And what do we call ideas and beliefs that cause us and others harm? Mental disorders.
Shame is an idea, a belief – a mental disorder.
Ironic then how we shame people for having a mental disorder like depression, which is really just intrinsic self-inflicted shame, then shame them again for taking medication to help them deal with it. And then there are those who say we ought to feel shame simply for being born human, and if we have faith there is a god and accept the idea violence eradicates shame, god will take our shame away, but if he doesn’t and we still feel ashamed, then we ought to be ashamed, because obviously we don’t have enough faith, and not having enough faith in itself is something to be ashamed of.
I believe there is atonement where we and god are concerned, but I do not believe in this.
I do not feel shame for the mental illness I have. I do not feel shame for the medication I take. I do not feel shame because I feel no shame. I do not feel ashamed for being born human. I feel God delight in me when I am well, and I feel God carry me when I am not. The greatest breakthrough I experienced was when I decided I would not succumb to the economy of shame going on around me, because it was enough for me to work on the illness of shame I already had going on within me.
So, it’s a truth when I say that to me, everyone is beautiful after I have my Zoloft. Because antidepressants help me see myself as worthy and beautiful, and we see people as we are, and not necessarily as they are, so when I am well, you too are worthy and beautiful. When I’m not, you’re out to get me, you hate me, and I need to stay home because the world is a dangerous, painful place, and I am not safe and likely to cause others pain. And I feel ashamed for this when it happens, and for feeling that way when I’m feeling it. But knowing now that shame is a disorder of the mind, a broken idea, a wounding belief, when I feel shame I appreciate I am unwell, and I do the work required to reestablish wellness.
I face my issues, I listen to my pain, I embrace my darkness, I take my medication.
Everyone is beautiful. After I have my Zoloft.by