I’ve had to think long and hard about whether it is appropriate to post this, and still can’t come to any conclusion so doing that ‘jumping without looking’ thing.
There are so many charities that particularly at Christmas tug on the heartstrings. My particular interest is in mental health issues for a number of reasons, but mostly because it is so misunderstood. So, I want to tell you about my friend, who I’ll call Alex. She ran a thriving beauty PR business for a number of years with amazing clients and an absolute talent for making journalists feel like they were the only one in the world that mattered. She had PR down to a fine-art; never forgot a thank-you, could organise an event at the drop of a pin, always kept us up-to-date and had the most phenomenal energy and vivacity. Nothing was ever too much trouble. Ever.
But, things started to go badly wrong for her. She talked too loud, she developed facial tics, she became erratic and if I’m honest, too awkward to be around. Welcome to bi-polar. We’ve basically watched her lose everything over a number of years to an illness over which she has no control. Her clients, her business, her home, her friends and her sanity. When I look at why people with bi-polar, or mental health issues, are hard to be with, I find it is because they’re unpredictable. Nobody likes unpredictability. At first, you find their behaviour just a little ‘off’, then plain embarrassing and after that, it’s the easiest thing in the world to stop dealing with them altogether because frankly, it’s difficult. So, while one dreadful episode saw her business crumble as clients literally ran for cover (and I don’t blame them.. it was bad and it wasn’t condusive to a business relationship), a lull and return to health saw another agency give her a much needed break. So far, so good.
But then came the mother of all episodes and nobody could cope with her. She was wild; on a rampage of manic happiness and completely uncontrollable. She thought she was in Chicago and she was having a ball without realising any of the havoc she was wreaking with what would be described as highly anti-social behaviour. Subsequently admitted to a mental health unit, she’s spent more than three months trying to get better and she isn’t there yet.
Bi-polar is a horrible, life wrecking illness without the visible signs that a sufferer is ill. They look completely ‘normal’, nothing to alert anyone to be kinder or more understanding. They’re either frenetic or deeply depressed or anything in between and they’re very hard to have as friends. With Alex, I keep a distance but I keep an eye on her, and as someone who can and does understand partially the complexities of bi-polar, that’s quite hard to confess. We’re not very good at tolerating mental issues, or any differences for that matter, that make things socially awkward.
I worry about her nearly every day though. Where will she live, will she ever work again, has she got any friends who live nearer that will support her? She doesn’t deserve to fall into a welfare system that doesn’t tolerate the mentally ill and she certainly doesn’t deserve the impending poverty that is inevitable if she is unable to work. Watching the slow descent into her own kind of madness has been unbearable to see, but so much more unbearable for her. But bear it she has to. She knows what’s wrong with her, but her brain won’t let her put it right no matter how much she wants to. My ideal scenario is that she moves nearer her family – but that is purely because I can stop worrying and that makes it all about me and not her. There isn’t a tidy solution for Alex; she isn’t, during episodes, fit for work and particularly not any kind of front of house PR work and yet she is a highly skilled, likeable, competent woman with a wealth of talent when she is well. It’s really a bad hand in life, and it would be a brave company to take her on those terms. So, if you are doing Christmas donations, please could you think of the lesser known mental health charities, and if you do have a policy of employing those less able, then please consider bi-polars. Their brilliance on the good days will carry you through the bad, I promise.
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Very heartfelt. Thank you for shedding some light on mental health x
This is a great, thoughtful, post and I think you deal with the subject very sensitively and honestly.
I have a friend who has gone through a similar thing and it can be truly heartbreaking to be on the sidelines and not be able to do anything to help.
A truly great post. I’m feeling a touch weepy and I have always always donated to mental health charities but will look out for lesser known ones this year.
Alex is lucky to you have you. xxx
Thank you for sharing such an important yet hardly spoken of illness. My Aunt suffers from Bi Polar and I hate it when people don’t realise how serious it is.
This story breaks my heart to hear. You know, you always wonder what happens to people when they start to slip and I think most of us haven’t ever let ourselves really think about things like poverty and homelessness that can come at the tail-end of severe mental illness. I don’t have much else to add other than my heart reaches out to Alex. x
My sisters suffers from a mental health issue of a different kind. The subject seems taboo and as a result sometimes the charities get overlooked. Thank you for this post.
Thank you for posting this. Even though mental health is a topic close to my heart, even I sometimes overlook MH charities when donating.
Heartfelt best wishes to Alex. x
Thank you so much for posting this. It’s disgraceful that in this day and age mental illness is still stigmatised and poorly understood. There’s absolutely no excuse for misconceptions that people have about mental illness, and there’s even less of an excuse for the lack of funding available for mental health services. I really hope that your post opens some eyes and changes some minds about the true nature of mental illness – something that’s devastating, but that can be overcome with treatment and support. The travesty is that so many people don’t get the support that could see them living happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.
Amazing blog, Jane. It’s odd how it always appears to be the truly brilliant ones who end up suffering from bi-polar; I know a few sufferers who are freakishly talented/amazing/charismatic types, which in a way makes it even harder to witness them go downhill. It really is an awful illness that’s often misdiagnosed, regularly misunderstood and still heavily tabooed, so I salute you for posting about it xx
So true, we never truelly know what is going on in some bodies head, and keeping a healthy brain and head is just as important as keeping a healthy body. Mental health charities need to be supported as much as body ones are.
i didn’t speak to my mum for 6 years, when we finally got back in contact she had lost everything, husband, kids, house, job, driving lisence…all to the illness bi-polar. this isn’t how i remember my mum, i remember her a well liked, friendly person. bi-polar tears through lives leaving devastation in its wake. your post made me cry, maybe because im sad for my mum, maybe because you bought attention to this illness in such a powerful way.
I love your blog even more now. I have personal experience of mental health issues and dealing with a bi-polar partner. With the right help things do improve. But it’s always a risk telling anyone about mental health. We aren’t all mad ax murderers, some of us are very scared, loving individuals. Yes we don’t look sick, but then most people don’t look heartless.
Thank you for such a wonderful post
Thank you for sharing this. My aunt and my father are both bipolar, so it’s an issue I care about too.
Thank you for writing candidly about a rather touchy subject. Not many people will admit they do shy away from people suffering mental thealth issues. I lost a lot of really close friends who couldn’t deal with me struggling to cope with agoraphobia and insomnia. They just disappeared, stopped calling, avoided e-mails and even set up a “confrontation” to let me know how much I had hurt them, what I had done wrong and that they frankly couldn’t take it. I was welcome to “apologise” and they would “consider” having me back as a friend. This hurt me more than anything.
Eight years on I am still struggling to keep my daily life from falling apart, and have found wonderful new friends who don’t claim to understand but doesn’t shy away; when I tell them I’m having a bad week they know I’ll be back in business the next week on. Having a chronic illness or condition shows you who you can and cannot count on – this will be one of the most painful and important lessons in your life.
I donate every year to a charity focusing on funding research for anything brain-related. One day they might find a cure for me and others suffering.
Thanks BBB for writing about this. Suffering from moderate depression myself and having a mother who struggles from severe depression, I can relate to the struggles of mental illness and how much it can hurt to watch someone you care about struggle, while knowing that both of you are helpless to do much.
I’m sure your friend may have considered it and that it doesn’t solve all problems, but please talk to her about considering medication. It really sounds as if finding the right medication will help her a great deal. Again, it won’t put everything back together, but people who suffer from an uncontrollable mental illness, including myself, have to realize that sometimes medication is necessary to get back on track and you just don’t stop taking it just because you feel better. Medication and a hobby or faith or support group are all good steps.
Cheers my dear. As someone who has had a nervous breakdown, depression and an episode of mania, this is a subject close to my heart.
My friend with bipolar has transformed her life with meditation and Buddhism. She’s still on the lithium though. Medication and a support system can help a great deal.
P.S. My thoughts are with Alex. Wish her mothing but the best. xxx
Thank you, as a sufferer of clinical depression to a severity where my life was on pause for 3 years, thank you.
A combination of medication, therapy and the support of family and friends has helped me regain my life but it has been a damn hard struggle.
Thank you for writing about this issue.
A really compassionate and thought-provoking post. I have a few friends with various forms of bi-polar disorders, and when I consider how their lives are hostage to its “fortunes”, it puts my brief contained spells of depression into perspective. It’s the unpredictability, as you rightly say. I have a nervous flutter in my heart always with my friends when they’re doing well, how long will it last, is the positive mood a high or real, what’s around the corner. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with as a sufferer.
So thanks for writing this post. There still isn’t enough support and awareness of mental illness.
I was really touched by this post as someone close to me suffers from bipolar. Not only have you brought awareness to it, but I think it’s important that you’ve highlighted how it affects other people that try to deal with it. It sounds so cliche, I often feel a bit patronised when I read comments like this on my own blog, but thank you so much for speaking so honestly about how you’ve felt. It’s refreshing and relatable, and as much as I adore beauty and used to love your blog anyway, I’ve got you in a higher esteem from this moment on.
A fantastic blog. Mental health is still abit of a taboo subject, as many people don’t know how to handle it if they haven’t experienced it in some way themselves. Thank you for helping to raise awareness.
This is why i personally love to read your blog,it’s not just about products(which i love) mental health is often pushed under the carpet embarrassing taboo suject
I have had a close family member with mental health promblems
sadly they took their own life
always donate to mind wish i could do more
So a big thankyou for bringing up this disscusion
Thank you for this. As someone who has struggled with at times crippling depression and anxiety, I have a glimmer of what bi-polar can involve. I think it is a travesty that mental illness is so frowned upon and shied away from. We cannot control these illness but we try damn hard to cope with them and live through them and there should be more understanding amongst the general populace. I give to mental health charities regularly and I strongly encourage others to do the same. Even if you can’t or don’t choose to donate money, give a conversation- share an experience or listen, openly and nonjudgementally, to someone else’s.
Best wishes to Alex.
That really touched me, it’s such an awful thing to have to suffer, but mental illness is quite the unspoken side of illness, which makes it harder for people around to understand.
I have depression and I know this in itself is hard enough, but my cousin hung herself due to her bipolar so it truly is a silent killer.
Thanks for bringing more people’s attention to this. x
I have witnessed this from way closer than I would have liked, in my own family and I am so glad someone has the guts to write this – we really need to raise awareness on mental health issues. I think people don’t want to know about this, it’s easy to sympathize with someone who has cancer or any other physical issue but the “crazy people”? We don’t want to know that we could become one of them and lose the grip without being able to do anything. They need to stay a separate group with some weird condition that we cannot imagine happening to ourselves!
It’s that fear and that attitude that we need to change, one step at a time.
A wonderful & honest post.
Frankly, it’s disgusting that in 2011, when society is so accepting of most things that mental illness remains such a taboo. Thank you for using your popular blog as a platform to raise this.
I’ve always been bubbly and have worked in PR too so I felt ashamed and lonely when I suffered with severe depression a couple of years ago. Luckily, i was able to articulate my feelings and get the help I needed. Even so, I remain shocked at how judgemental people were and how they felt they could comment on my illness and treatment when surely they wouldn’t dream of doing so for a physical illness. I’m so lucky to know that there is light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel and hope your friend gets better, or at least finds a way to manage her illness. x
Thank you for posting such a heartfelt blog.
I have bipolar (rapid cycling) and luckily have a wonderful family and supportive friends who totally understand the ins and outs of my condition. Thankfully I discovered a doctor who specializes in bipolar and he has helped me no end.
There is such a stigma around bipolar disorder and pretty much all mental health issues. People seem to focus so much more on the negatives than positive. I’ve always said that having bipolar disorder is both a blessing and a curse and although I’m still young, I feel lucky I have been diagnosed rather than wondering if something was wrong.
If you feel depressed at all or you feel that something isn’t quite right, please don’t be afraid to go to your doctor or seek professional help. And try not to research on the internet!
Thanks so much for this post. The more we talk about mental health issues, the less stigma there will be! xx
Thanks for raising this issue and asking people to think about mental health sufferers, who are all too often ignored because it’s not easy for onlookers to understand what a person is going through.
Mental health sufferers are not weak, incapable people. All too often they are the ones who’ve taken on too much of the burden of other people’s problems or too much responsibility than a person can reasonably cope with. They begin to feel like failures when the inevitable happens and they can no longer cope.
Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton all suffered with depression. Where would we be today if they had been cast out by society and left to fend for themselves?