It’s mid-March 2012 and I’m sitting in a waiting room and I have the shakes so I’m squeezing my hands between my knees. My parents are sitting on either side of me; I’ve been back at their house for about a week after a few months living alone in a two-bedroom apartment in St Lucia. I’m underweight, my skin looks like crap and I have those horrible yellow-brown blotches on the fingers of my right hand from rolling cigarettes.
The psychiatrist’s secretary is also his wife and has prints of Monet’s waterlilies and Audrey Hepburn in her office. I’m told to go in alone and there I shake hands with a tall, slender man with large eyes and a kind face. We talk for over an hour and then my parents come in and we talk some more. I’m told that I have Bipolar disorder or Manic-Depression and that it is most likely type II which is characterised by long cycles of crippling depression and then hypomania, which is not as severe or psychotic as mania and is therefore often confused with periods of high productivity and energy.
My dad asks questions about whether I should continue working or studying (at this point he is unaware of my two week absence from any classes or lectures) and my mum tells the doctor about my previous experiences with a psychologist for depression and anxiety related to drug use. I’m prescribed with varying amounts of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and Lithium, which is a mood stabiliser. We shake hands again, my dad goes back to work and my mum drives me to her physiotherapy practice where I’m working as a receptionist after being fired from a coffee chain store. In the car I cry.
As someone with experience, this is my advice if you’re feeling depressed or manic or just proper fucking crazy:
Do not go to a funeral with a Mohawk!
Do not burn paintings of your best friend!
Do not move out by yourself!
Do not drink a bottle of scotch!
Do not take drugs (legal or otherwise) without researching the side effects!
Do not self-harm!
Do not tell your friends you are ‘just tired’ and then ignore their calls!
DO NOT yell at your mum!
DO: GO AND SEE A DOCTOR! There are people who are professionally qualified to tell you that you are living in Crazy Town and teach you how to get a working visa to Normal Land.
The craziest thing about being diagnosed as mentally ill is how much of a fucking relief it is. It makes sense when for as long as I can remember I have been unhappy, anxious and exhausted for months and then suddenly hostile, prophetic and unstoppable. Don’t get me wrong, shaving your hair into a Mohawk, burning paintings and running around screaming poetry at people is an experience. But lying in bed for weeks sleepless, smoking, wanking and throwing up is a lot less fun than it sounds.
It’s been a year now since my diagnosis; I take medication twice a day and have monthly blood tests followed by visits to both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The nurse laughs because I have tattoos but can’t watch as the needle goes in and my blood goes out. I still stay up too late too often, smoke too much and live at home with my parents, but for the most part the ol’ brain is much better and I’m back at university, playing drums in a band or two and generally getting my shit together.
Apparently about 1.3% of Australians also have bi-polar and although I only know half a dozen of them, they’re all beautiful, brave people, and hey–who wouldn’t want to be in the company of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Maria Bamford, Russell Brand and Stephen Fry? I might be feeling a little manic, and a little tipsy, but I’m doing all right.
Heather Joan Day is a writer and filmmaker. Their writing has been published in Going Down Swinging, The Lifted Brow, Plaything Magazine, and online. They currently live in Melbourne with their cats, Vivienne and Persephone, and tweet @emo_flowers.