Isn’t Mania Fun?

Although there are two ‘types’ of bipolar – bipolar I, marked by delusions and psychosis in the manic phase, and bipolar II, in depressive episodes are punctuated by milder hypomania – it seems that most of us have entirely different experiences within those two spheres.

For me mania, or rather what’s classed as hypomania, didn’t ever seem to be much of a problem.  It’s only recently that I’ve begun to recognise that periods or snappishness and irritability, my rather famous spendy episodes or the times that I get mad obsessed with something are indicative of of mania, rather than being, as I had assumed, judging them to be ‘negative’ as opposed to the ‘positive’ of mania, linked to my depression.

Now you’d think that I’d have known better but ever since diagnosis I’ve wistfully looked forward to a nice little bout of mania.  I’ve busied myself reading wikipedia medical research, imagining myself with this fabulous ‘increased productivity’ dreaming of this ‘decreased need for sleep’ and making grand plans for the day that the Manic Fairy finally visits; Redecorate! Earn a million! Clean the stove! Be the best parent EVER! Save the world…

Imagine my extremely predictable disappointment when I finally got my manic.

No amount of research prepares you for mania.  In all of my reading I’d focused on the positive side – I’d feel happy – and ignored the rest.  But once I’d realised that I was in a manic phase (it was my husband’s diplomatic silence in answer to the query ‘am I talking too much?’) all the bad stuff crawled on out of the woodwork and all my vain hopes for an amazing rest from the depression were dashed.

Here’s the thing.  Increased productivity is great if one can be productive one project at a time.  Instead I found myself writing thirty words, getting distracted and doing some online shopping, writing another ten words, then typing an email, going for an aimless walk around the house, another fifty words…I never focused on a single thing for long enough to make use of it.

This wild brain spin made me feel horribly out of control, which was the most unsettling thing about this, my first true hypomanic episode.  I’m lucky in that my episodes are comparatively mild and I’m able to keep myself from growing too grandiose or following through on too many silly plans and ideas, in fact I think the knowledge of my condition has helped me to keep myself on the straight and narrow – I’ve a strong feeling that bipolar could be to blame for an awful lot of my bad choices of the past (it’s as good an excuse as any right?).

The real surprise however was how much mania hurts.  I’ve spoken to many people over the years who, like me, imagined a great ecstasy high and I wish I could go back and put them straight now.

I imagine it’s the tension.  Whatever it is the longer my mania went on the more pain I found myself in – my jaw and teeth were sore and aching from the grinding and clenching, my spine and shoulders were stiff, even my thighs burned from the almost constant shaking of my legs.  Ecstasy high’s about right…but with none of the good bits.

It’s amazing, in a way, that I can still be learning new things about this condition, something that I suppose I’ve had all my life, and it’s sort of scary that I can still be surprised, despite experience and research, by what bipolar can throw at me.  As much as possible I try to treat anything related to my illness as a lesson because, surprisingly enough, there’s usually something to be learnt from it.  In this case: be very bloody careful what you wish for.  And keep a stash of chewing gum just in case.


Government Funds Mental Health in Work Service…But Should It Have To?

An estimated £4.8m is expected to be plowed in to Remploy’s mental health in work support service.

According to this report in HR Magazine  the initiative will seek to introduce work-based counselling and mental health support, provide personalised action plans, introduce the assessment of an individual’s needs and identification of coping strategies and both provide education for employers and help them to identify adjustments that can be made within the workplace or to working practices.

On the face of it this can only be a good thing, right?  It shows the government takes mental health seriously and it assists employers in coping with staff mental health problems.

But the more I think about this the less I welcome it.  I mean, for me it’s a moot point now, I’m a freelancer who only has herself to answer to (ok, clients too but generally I only have lovely clients), but in the past I can’t imagine that this interference in my working life or my employers’ businesses would have helped my case, and boy have I had a case or two.

bipolar bear would like to request a one to one.

My very last employer, not long after I was diagnosed with bipolar and severe post natal depression made me redundant, promoting a junior colleague in to my position after my contract was terminated.  This occurred a day or two after he accused me of paranoia and blamed my mental illness for my not agreeing with him in a workplace discussion.  I successfully sued for disability discrimination and although I was unable to recover the money awarded to me the fact that I was ‘right’ and he was ‘a twat’ did me just fine (though that £7k would be lovely right about now please Mr Karma).

In that situation no amount of education or support from Remploy or the government would have helped me to keep my job or to be able to work with my manager for any longer than I did.  Would an agency bustling in suggesting different ways of working and trying to ‘educate’ my boss on my mental illness have gone down wonderfully with him?  I sincerely doubt it.  And I doubt that it would be welcomed with open arms in most companies, especially right now when they’re all too busy running round like headless chickens trying not to go under in this horrid recession that has seen unemployment hit a seventeen year high.

As for the idea of introducing and adapting working strategies…again, in theory, this is a wonderful idea.  But I have beef and here it is: I don’t want to be treated differently and I sure as hell don’t want to be seen to be treated differently.  You can educate employers all you like but that doesn’t stop the office gossip and the resentment of other employees when somebody is deemed to be receiving ‘special treatment’.

Perhaps this new strategy might work for the shorter term mental health problems of stress or short term depression – though if an employee is hit by one of these two little nuggets of nutty it might suggest their workplace needs to address issues earlier up the line – but for somebody with a long term disorder; clinical depression, bipolar, OCD for example, will a twee attempt at action plans and ‘are you ok dear?’ meetings solve the potential problems faced by an employee with one of these conditions or their employer?  I doubt it.

The one brick wall I bang my head against time and time again is the lack of understanding of my condition among people, even people who know me well or who have their hearts in the right place, who see bipolar as something to be ‘snapped out of’, or who comment “oh, doesn’t everybody have bipolar these days?”.  Until the UK is able to open up communication on mental illness, something which we prefer to keep firmly under our cosy Persian kilim as much as possible, until an employee is able to feel comfortable admitting to their condition and openly discussing it with colleagues AND employers, un-judged, and until mental illness is seen as just as debilitating as a physical disability by everybody, Remploy’s attempts to improve the workplace for the mentally ill are likely to have little more effect than throwing a pebble in the Atlantic.