"You're so happy!"
"You always have a smile on your face!"
"I wish I had it all together like you."
These are just some of the comments I get from my friends, family, colleagues and people I meet in my day-to-day life. Sweet? Yes. True? Far from!
Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, and I found it fitting to hit publish on this post as well...I need to talk. And none of that bullshit talk you might hear from me usually, but real talk.
Sure, some days I'm genuinely happy and I'm sure it shows. Other days? I deserve a damn Oscar because, let me tell you, I wish I was home in bed crying. Or, I'm in the office dealing with my anxiety. Other days I just wake up angry with no explanation. So, why do you think I'm "so happy"? I call it the mask. I put on a mask most days I come to work or have to interact with people. This helps me try to have a consistent tonality to me when I have to deal with the public (or anyone other than my dogs really). Basically, I'm facing my day-to-day challenges until I can make it OK for myself to be OK with myself taking off the mask.
I've made no secret of having bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, but I've never really talked about how I cope with it or what they actually are. I used to have this fear that people would simply think I'm "crazy" or "unstable", but let me tell you something, these disorders have helped really learn who I am, what I'm capable of and how to handle everyday stressors in the best way for me. But let me take a step back and provide some information on what these disorders are.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) classifies bipolar disorder as a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. For me, it's cyclical. Most weeks, I'm fine, but every four weeks or so I become manic and think I'm invincible. I have a flood of thoughts, I'm uber excited about everything and I can't focus. How does that look like to you?
- I might seem ridiculously busy working away on a bunch of projects at once. But what you don't see is that I'm only able to spend 15 or 20 minutes at a time on one task before my brain needs to move on to the next. Basically, my brain needs to have multiple tabs open at the same time so I can flip through them when I need to switch my focus. The perk? I get multiple projects done pretty quickly. The downside, I can't focus enough to edit my shit or am quick to restart the project from scratch several times.
- I talk really fast and can't focus on what you tell me. I'll ask you to repeat yourself a few times as my brain flips through the tabs to pick your tab to focus on. This is my personal pet peeve when I do it, and I'm really trying to work on it, but it's still a thing.
- I will text constantly. With all the damn ideas floating in my head, I might text you every time I have a thought about something that may help you, reminds me of you, or your "tab" just opens in my head. I wish I could simply lock my phone away when I'm manic, but until I can, please take this post as my apology for being annoying hahaha.
- I'm so wired that I don't sleep. The part that comes with being productive and always on the go in my mind is that sleep feels like a figment of my imagination. The longest I've gone without sleep is 72 hours, followed by a 45-minute nap and then back awake for another 36 hours. Luckily, I've been training myself to use the "sleep is for the weak" time to work on random projects I've been putting to the side.
This can last between three to seven days, and then I crash and am depressed for the next five days or so. When I'm depressed:
- I don't really want to get out of bed. Having a full-time job helps force me out of the warm, comfy security that my bed provides me, but it also reminds me that I'll get to see my friends at work and that makes things slightly better.
- I binge eat. Yes, I'll always be in recovery from my eating disorder, and this habit or way of coping is not helpful. To avoid binging on carbs and candy, I stock up on things that are healthy. Binging on carrots, anyone?
- I'm irritable. I'm sad, didn't want to get out of bed, want to cry and now I'm stuck at work. As much comfort that my friends and my work give me, I can't shake not wanting to be there when I'm depressed. When people want to talk to me, that mask goes on real quick. Otherwise, I would be a real bitch to the poor, innocent soul who has no idea what the hell happened to "happy, smiley Mati."
All that, that's just what I cope with for my bipolar disorder (yay me?). What about my Borderline Personality Disorder? It's all of that but spanning within a few hours or a day. The NIMH says "this illness is marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behaviour. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. People with Borderline Personality Disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days."
I'm a fucking joy to be with, eh? But in all honesty, IT'S TAKEN ME YEARS to find coping methods and replacement thoughts and behaviours to help me get by. And I'm still not perfect. There are days where, you know what, the damn illness wins and I'm just angry at people for three hours for no reason whatsoever. But I never give up. I keep trying. Trying to be a better version of myself. Trying to prove to myself that I'm more than these disorders. Trying to prove to others that these disorders are part of who I am but they don't define me. I'm a constant work in progress and I'm finally OK with that. I'm at peace with the idea that I'm still worthy of being loved. I'm still worthy of friendship. I'm still worthy of people's time and attention.
We're always juggling so many balls, and I'm not shy or ashamed to say that I drop my balls from time to time. It's part of life. Sometimes it's because of the disorders, other times it's just because life happens. Do I have my shit together? Nope. And I'm OK with that. Will I ever have all my shit together? Probably not. I'm still waiting to meet someone who does. We all have one or two things that, no matter how hard we try, will always be our areas that we know we could be better at. I'm an adult who doesn't have all their shit together, not because I have these disorders, but because I'm a fucking human. I love who I'm turning into in my 30s, ups and downs, highs and lows, and everything in between.
I'm not brave for posting this. I'm not courageous for sharing my story. I'm doing what should be considered a social norm like talking about diabetes or blood pressure. Mental health is part of our overall health, and if this helps someone else open up about what they're going through, it's worth it. This conversation needs to go on beyond today, beyond the once a year Bell Let's Talk initiative, beyond the little voice in our head that says, "Don't talk about it because they'll think you're crazy."
You and I are so much more than our mental illness. We are human. We are loving, caring, smart, funny, silly, awkward, annoying, beautiful beings who simply think differently. No big deal!
All that to say, always know that I'm here for you if you ever need to talk to someone without fear or judgement.
Never forget that.