The damage

My mental illness has a significant and lifelong impact on my life. It is potentially terminal, and while I was told I had depression my probability of suicide was around 5%, now with bipolar that number jumps to 25%. Plus people with bipolar are 20 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Twenty times.

Can you imagine if that number related to something other than mental illness, what amount of money and media and attention would be pumped into that cause?

I hope that my illness isn’t the cause of my death, although as it stands currently people with a mental illness in Australia have a reduced life expectancy, and are dying 14–23 years younger than the rest of the population. So while I might not die directly because of it, it might manage to slice off up to 25% of my life span.

While I focus a lot on the impact that bipolar has on me, the damage that it causes to those around me never goes unnoticed. It is felt by friends when I don’t have the energy to go outside when we had plans. They feel the anxiety that one day, they may get a phone call to say that I have died by suicide. They sit with the not knowing whether that good mood this morning will be there tomorrow, or even if it will last the whole day. They’re whether I’ll be able to make it through the night at a party without having an anxiety attack and crawling out a window. They’re sure if I’ll manage my impulse control and not insult that person that is annoying me. They don’t know if one day when depressed, or agitated or hypomanic if I’ll say or do something awful to them that can’t be taken back.

For my family, I try to minimise it as much as possible. Recently, there have been a few family crises, and I know it just makes it easier if everyone can just go, ‘oh well at least Elle is ok right now’. That is the burden of a lifelong illness.

I wonder whether bipolar will reduce the life expectancy of my friendships and romantic relationships. Will a partner get out of a relationship and be relieved? Will their friends say they did their time, like being with me is an act of charity. That ‘looking after’ the mental girl is an achievement, but now they can find someone normal? But at least the sex with crazy chicks is great, am I right?

One of the great fears I have is of having children. For a start, to even consider it, I would have to cease my medication, because it would damage a foetus. God knows what damage going off it would do to my mind, and anyone forced to be around me at that time. People say, ‘oh it’ll be fine, you’d be great.’ And I want to shake them. Because they see the public me, the one that pulls it together and makes it easier for everyone else by not showing my insides on the outside. They see good days, they don’t see the days where I stay in bed and don’t even drink water, because then I’ll need to go to the toilet.

What about my ability to even be a fit parent? I have been the child of a parent that couldn’t get out of bed, that cried constantly. I had the step stool so I could reach the stove to cook dinner for my brother and I. I felt the rage of a parent that is too far into their own despair to have any love for their child. The idea of doing that to another human being terrifies me. What about the hereditariness of my illness? How could I create life knowing that they might be destined to feel as I have felt? It seems cruel.

I feel like I’m the epicentre of an earthquake, those closest will be damaged the most - they may suffer catastrophic consequences - but the fault lines are wide reaching and even those far away may feel the after shocks.

What do I do to protect the people I love from it, from me?

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If this post has brought up issues for you and you need help or advice, Beyond Blue and Lifeline 13 11 14 can offer support.