I found a copy of an award-winning essay when I was looking amongst my paper documents. I thought it had been deleted forever. I wrote it when I was struggling with chronic physical and psychological pain. My diagnoses at the time were treatment resistant major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia. Later changed to bipolar disorder (type 1), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, coeliac disease (after this essay). Plus various other health conditions.
I won third prize in an Australasian essay writing competition by The Black Dog Institute in 2008. My first and only trip to Sydney. I destroyed the trophy during a mania episode as I was disappointed getting third prize plus it had my former name on it. I had changed my name to Xanthe Wyse after more trauma.
Today, I was merchandising toys and stopped to stare for several seconds at a new shiny Thomas the Tank engine anniversary toy. My son was obsessed with Thomas when he was little. The metaphor in the essay was partly inspired by his love of trains. I have typed the essay below and also linked a video of me reading it out.
I wrote about burnout and a breakdown as a metaphor so no-one could be sure it was about me. Then I chose Xanthe Wyse as a blogging name (blogs deleted after making it my legal name). Xanthe was the start of me having a voice. Now, 12 years later, I've nearly finished my first novel, Pet Purpose.
My brain is currently struggling to be organised enough to speak or write, so I will probably keep this short. Because I am exhausted and I have been getting breakthrough mania and mixed episode symptoms. And also because I am waiting for sedation to kick in enough for me to go back to sleep as emergency self-care.
I just read a rather old 'article' called Bipolar is not a Mental Illness, by Phil Hickey, who describes himself a a retired psychologist. I would like to know how on earth he 'treated' patients.
In his post, he continually blamed bipolar symptoms on behaving badly and not being disciplined as a child. He asserted it that is is not a valid illness and that people do not need medical treatment. I thought it was complete bullshit. I will post some quotes in red italics about his 'analysis' of some bipolar mania symptoms with my comments below each.
I have seen people say 'I have bipolar' and others say 'I am bipolar.' Is it just semantics?
Or is 'I am' identity language? For example, I could say, 'I am a woman,' and 'I am a Kiwi (New Zealander)' and 'I am a mother' and 'I am an artist' (even though I'm a 'hobby' artist not a 'professional'). I could say 'I am a merchandiser' (working part-time helps my self-esteem).
Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are two separate conditions that frequently get confused with each other. Some people suffer from both together and for some people there is difficulty in deciding on a diagnosis. One thing that they unfortunately both share is stigma, which hopefully with education will be reduced.
Example of stigma on a comment on an article about BPD (people used to say the same about clinical depression 25 years ago):
I loathe politics. It's typically people with polarised views fighting online. Gun violence is a problem in America, but Trump and many of his supporters blame it on mental health issues. The comments below are a small selection from Trump supporters. Mental health is the scapegoat when it comes to crimes motivated by hate. It's a stereotype that all people with mental health conditions are high risk criminals and it reinforces stigma that all people suffering from mental health issues and taking medications are violent.
Several times in my life, I have been told that I am 'too honest'. Lying makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Over the past few years, I have been working on an semi-autobiographical fiction book called Pet Purpose. I see it as semi-autobiographical because it is telling my story in disguise.
Originally, when I chose the title around five years ago, I intended to write memoir about my bond with pets. But more of life happened and the story has evolved into a story of courage as a young girl suffers trauma and loss, is later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and with her determination to survive, finally starts a healing journey many years later in adulthood.
The story loosely reflects my own journey, but I have changed the story-line to protect myself and others, even those who have hurt me. Changing names wasn't enough. I made the decision to write fiction, to 'lie to tell the truth', to help ease flashbacks of PTSD. So that I didn't have to remember it 'exactly' and keep re-traumatising myself. So that I minimise upsetting people. So people can't say 'that's not really what happened' (because they won't know what really happened) and minimise my message. So that I could have some distance while I still tell a personal story. So that I could express my truth in a creative way.
I grew up in a fundamentalist christian church that preached that illness was demon possession and oppression. They also preached that gays were going to hell and other things that I don't believe in anymore.
Many years later I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, which has episodes of full mania and severe depression. I have also been diagnosed with PTSD from trauma. When I was involved with the church, I was a very sincere Christian. When I had euphoric highs, I was told I was filled with the Holy Spirit. It certainly felt very spiritual. When a psychiatrist first asked me if I had 'highs' I told them that it was God. People in the pentecostal church I grew up in enjoyed getting 'high' on God. When I was suffering from internal torture and distress, I was told it was demons and that I needed 'deliverance' (exorcism).
I had a big bipolar mania episode two years ago. I'm still recovering. I told my psychiatrist that the medications were like putting a bucket under the Huka Falls. The Huka Falls is a powerful waterfall in Taupo, New Zealand that could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in sections. You can hear the roar before you see it. The intensity and energy of emotions being released that had been shut down with PTSD was so powerful that it was a huge challenge to try to harness.
I have finally started trauma therapy at the age of 46 after suffering PTSD since I was a child and untreated bipolar disorder since my teens. I was misdiagnosed with 'treatment resistant depression' and in my twenties I was started on antidepressants which can (and did) trigger mania. Yet I still went incorrectly diagnosed until my forties. This journey for me has had a lot of suffering. I have had some extremely painful experiences physically, but the psychological pain has far outweighed extreme physical pain (that morphine hardly took the edge off).
Recently, news of teenager Noa Pothoven's death has been circulating on social media. Noa suffered from PTSD and anorexia after sexual trauma. The English-speaking media misrepresented the cause of her death, saying it was 'legal euthanasia,' which was not true. Pro-euthanasia campaigners jumped on this story. Noa died after refusing to eat or drink. She described her suffering from trauma as 'I breathe but I am no longer alive.'
I can understand that, as I felt like I have 'died' from sexual trauma as a child and again as an adult. The reason I legally changed my name was because my former name became a trauma trigger - I would have flashbacks re-experiencing trauma when anyone said my former name. Changing my name was part of trying to survive. Up until the effects of the adult sexual trauma, I had been surviving by 'shutting down' - the childhood form of PTSD. Plus avoiding. Then it morphed into something very complex with the co-morbid mania and depressive episodes of bipolar 1 disorder.
There is currently a euthanasia debate in New Zealand and I have found it to be very triggering. I have been tearful and withdrawn and dissociating. I know the reasons why it is triggering for me. One of the reasons is connected to the death of a beloved pet cat, Tommy who was severely injured in an accident at the time I was sexually abused as a child. The vet said he would suffer in extreme pain for the rest of his life if we tried to keep him alive. I am still processing that loss, but now as an adult, I would have still chosen euthanasia for a pet with the extent of injuries that Tommy had. I have written a book (still editing it) called Pet Purpose and these are some of the central themes - suffering and loss and trying to survive with trauma and bipolar disorder.
I do not see the topic of euthanasia as black and white. I have been grateful for that option when pets have suffered terribly at the end of their lives. To me, it would have been cruelty to let my pets die a 'natural' death when they were suffering so much.
People have asked for it as a compassionate choice for humans, so I am not opposed to giving them that choice for certain situations. There are valid concerns for the vulnerable but I do not see it as being compulsory. Noa was refused euthanasia and told to complete her trauma therapy and wait until she was an adult. Noa felt she could not wait that long.
Every day, I make a choice to stay alive. Part of staying alive is finding meaning in life (and religion does not give me that meaning - it is another trigger - for example people telling me I needed demons cast out of me and that I would go to hell if I killed myself). It takes courage to live with bipolar disorder and PTSD. Bipolar disorder and PTSD both have a much higher suicide risk than the general population.
Recently I painted a self-portrait - my first since I was a teenager. I called it Painting Courage. I chose a selfie where I had a convincing smile as a reference photo. I can mask a lot of the time. I can smile and people think I'm fine. I can usually mask that I have invisible disabilities and that I am still processing a lot of pain.
For me, painting semi-realistically takes courage too. Lately, I have been doing that as I have been having trauma therapy. It was a very long process to be finally approved for therapy. I continue to hope that things will improve.
I intend to get back to completing my book, but I feel afraid and anxious at times about publishing it because the themes are very personal. Even though I have changed the story-line, the essence and emotions of my story are still in there. But for a while there, writing the book was one thing that gave me a sense of purpose. My wanting to help people understand some of what it is like to suffer from bipolar and PTSD. To try to survive.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.