As time has passed I have felt more and more at ease discussing my struggles and triumphs in bipolarity, I talk openly and honestly on here and I am always met with positivity and understanding, I feel supported.
Sometimes I forget that the wider world isn’t quite as open to people with mental illness as I think they are, to some degree I have subconsciously placed myself into a secure little bubble of people that ‘get it’.
Living in a rural area, you don’t have a whole lot of choice of people to associate with, you either get along or keep to yourselves, so to find a nice family only 10 minutes down the road with similar aged children to our own was a wonderful blessing.
I babysit two of this neighbour’s sons most Thursdays so that their mother “T” can finish the placement part of the diploma she has been working very hard on (her kids are homeschooled). Although we are in so many ways very different people, we have still developed a good friendship over the years and one of their son’s has become best friends with one of my sons.
T is a wonderful lady, we have very different views on religion, politics, education and many other things in life, but we choose not to discuss those topics because when it all boils down we have very similar morals and core values. We each respect the fact that the other has a different way of doing things and different reasons for doing them.
T’s husband on the other hand is more outspoken in his views, he is very certain of the fact that he is always unequivocally right. He frequently makes little comments here or there that piss me off and I usually just smile and nod, think “whatever” and change the subject.
But when I am hypomanic, I am somehow able to harness a normally deeply buried confidence for confrontation and I seem to have developed a nasty habit of biting back when he says something I disagree with. When this happens we end up getting into hour long philosophical arguments while my poor husband stands by shaking his head and kicking me under the table in an effort to shut me up.
There will never be a winner to these little debates, because while we will listen to the other party’s point of view and respond civilly and respectfully, in the end, we are both completely unshakable in our beliefs.
We had another ‘discussion’ the other day which started about politics and guns when he suddenly brought up depression, he doesn’t know about me. I don’t remember his exact words anymore, the crux of it was that he is of the opinion that depression is complete bullshit, people who commit suicide are selfish morons who just need to learn to be grateful for what they have and get over themselves.
As he continued to speak, my skin started prickling and the rest of the world faded away around me, shocked at what I was hearing from someone who professes that ‘as a good Christian’ he ‘cares about everyone’ I wanted to call him on his hypocrisy, ask him what he would have said to my husband at my funeral if things had gone differently back in 2015, but I was rendered mute.
I looked down at my wrist and placed a thumb over my semi-colon tattoo, as if he would suddenly notice it and realise what it stood for. I could feel my body vibrating, I heard each shaky breath I took as I searched for an understanding of my emotion in that moment. Yes, I was angry about the ignorance of what he was saying, sad, offended too but there was something else, something deeper.
I suddenly realised that I felt ashamed. Ashamed of my illness, ashamed of my inability to ‘get over it’, ashamed of being one of ‘those’ people that others look down on and judge, ashamed I couldn’t just shut up and fix it.
I had told his wife in confidence about some of my struggles with depression and the fact that I had an eating disorder as a teenager and I am pretty sure she did not mention any of it to her husband. That discussion had enhanced our friendship significantly and we became much closer, I wonder if her husband knows about her own struggles? While T knows I still speak to a psychologist, I have never actually told her that I have bipolar disorder, active ED issues or that I have attempted suicide. Something had instinctively made me keep it to myself.
My neighbour paused his rant for a minute as if waiting for a rebuttal or agreement. I wanted to say something, I wanted to say everything but I still couldn’t bring myself to speak. Hubby who had been sitting at the table staring at his coffee hoping the ground would swallow him up for the past hour then glanced at me and used the opportunity to deftly change the subject while I excused myself to use the bathroom.
A tear rolled down my cheek and the things I wanted to say, yell, scream at him ran through my head. But mostly I hated myself for feeling ashamed about my illness, wasn’t I over that by now? I preach everyday online about mental illness not being the fault of the sufferer and yet here, when taken out of my safe little ‘online security bubble’, not only could I not stand up for myself or mental illness in general, my own mind was still perpetuating the stigma we all fight so hard against.
I tried to think about it differently, I tried to be pleased for him that he has never had to suffer through a depressive episode, thankful that he has never known the desperation of needing to end his own life the way so many of us have. I wiped away my tears and went back out to help the kids pack up their things, I could hear Hubby talking to him about chainsaw sharpening and felt relieved that the topic had moved on.
Of all the passionate conversations we have had, nothing has ever affected the friendship between our families but this broke something for me, this made it personal. As his son is my son’s best mate I will keep these feelings to myself and just limit my interactions with him as much as possible. I am so grateful that I never went into further details about my own mental health, although his wife is far more caring and understanding than he is.
Small towns out here are so stuck in their old-fashioned opinions, stigma is rife and those of us with mental health conditions stay silent. I hope that one day I will have the strength to come forward and educate people in real life too, but for now I guess I will stay here, cozy in my online bubble of security.