For as long as I can remember in my mums battle with her mental health she has told me, and anyone else listening, that she is a weak person.
This is something she utters when she is low, and it often forms the basis of her negative thoughts. She seems to believe that because she has bipolar she is weak, actually she thinks it’s the other way round; that she has bipolar because she’s weak. She believes she’s only depressed because she’s too weak to think positively, that her high anxiety is caused by her weak inability to ‘get a grip’.
I was reminded of this idea of weakness when talking with my twin the other day. He was having a particularly bad day; following a month or so of feeling low. He was telling me that the day had been so hard he had really collapsed on his partner. I thought about this ‘collapse’, I acknowledged that this person spends every minute of feeling low fighting to keep going and living life and it occurred to me that maybe they needed that day of collapse, maybe, by trying to keep everything going for so long they ended up at that point, because, well, don’t we all?
Similarly with mum, a CPN told her that she was allowed to give in to the low sometimes and suggested that she must be exhausted simply by living with the low and the anxiety every day. My mum struggles with this idea as she feels she should be striving every moment to ‘be well’.
And I think this is my point. Its quite the opposite to weakness that I affiliate with Bipolar, it’s an inner strength like nothing else I know. How else, indeed, what else, gets them through the lows and out the other side? My mum might say its the medication but she’s the one with the strength to take the pills every day, despite side effects and even when she feels there’s no point to anything.
I believe it’s normal for us all to get to a point in our day, week, year when we don’t feel so capable or contented and we may allow ourselves a duvet day/a nice meal/a good cry with a friend. As a result we regain some energy to get back on top of things.
Imagine facing such a wobble in your mood. Then imagine feeling huge anxiety that it might be the beginning of a long term low mood or anger that you’re not coping even though your doctor says your meds are fine. Imagine never feeling able to give in to a wobble for fear that your mental health will remain low.
Living with that, to me, shows such strength, such resilience. I salute them/you and take inspiration from that.
We are moving forwards with a wave of ‘talking is positive’. We seem to be beginning to accept the need to talk about our mental health and indeed recognise that there’s no shame. But there’s more to be done. Let’s start to challenge the idea of mental illness as a weakness, let’s start to see the strength and positivity that comes from it.