March 10, 2014

 sheila

Shortly after I was released from psychiatric hospital for the third time, I rang my husband from a railway platform. I'd been out for the day, and I knew he'd be curious about how I was.

"I'm happy," I told him, adding: "But not too happy."

We both knew what I meant. My second hospitalisation occurred after a toe-curling bout of mania in which I didn't need to be taken to hospital - I asked to go. Not because I thought I needed it. Having been in before, I believed I was the ideal person to set the place to rights.

There is no certainty like a manic-depressive on a mission.

I was happy. I was confident. I was full of energy, and creative ideas. I was also given to extreme irritability and, most worrying in retrospect, a terrifying tendency to "blank out". Some of the things I did whilst manic I'm only aware of because people I trust have told me about them.

Fast forward several years and one hospitalisation later and, once again, I'm happy. And it feels wrong.

I'm reasonably stable. Sure, I sometimes experience intense worry and paranoia, but I can live with that. I've even managed to drop my medication to a level where I can buy a packet of chocolate biscuits and not eat the whole thing. Well, not all at once.

So, what's wrong with feeling happy?

As someone who has survived one episode of full-blown mania, several of hypomania, well, I'm scared.

Scared that I'm living a bipolar dream, and really am hypomanic.

Scared that any moment now I'm going to drop off some metaphorical cliff into That Big Horrid Doom World that typically engulfs me twice a year.

Scared that I'm going to mess up – again.

And yet …surely happiness is a frequent, if often fleeting, human state of mind? Aren't normal people happy from time to time?

Ah. “Normal”. That word often crops up when speaking to other people with mental health problems.

“I just want to be normal again,” people say. Sometimes I'll reply: “What's normal?”

What indeed is normal? One “Time to Change” champion wrote an excellent blog on being bipolar and trying to separate themselves from their mental health problems.

Can this be done? Should I even try? I was in my mid-40s when I was diagnosed, which means most of my life was spent as a 'normal' person. (Well, sort of normal, if you count having one major bout of depression every decade from my 20s through to my 40s as 'normal'.)

Where does an individual end, and their mental illness pick up? Or can a mental health condition colour someone's life, no more and no less than someone with, say, diabetes, or a serious heart condition? All of these – including mental illness – can mean a life cut short, and one which is miserable whilst it lasts.

But it doesn't have to. For now, despite the various troubles in my life, mental and otherwise, I'm choosing to be happy. Even if it does feel wrong.

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