I was fourteen when I knew something wasn’t right with me. It was not only the teenage blues and it wasn’t just hormones, all the things they dismiss in young women of that age. They weren’t normal reactions and I was known as the lizard queen by my younger sister for my rabid & feral disposition. I was sixteen when I was initially diagnosed with depression and anxiety after I made my first attempt at suicide around that age.
The SSRI antidepressant that was meant to fix my anxiety and depression screwed me up by giving me the energy to act on my volatile feelings because I hadn’t had the necessary psychological interventions to change the thoughts of a creative teen with a death wish. I spent an interesting weekend in a psych ward, only to go back to year 11 English on Monday morning as my life was still normal. and be Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Everyone thought I was hilarious because I was so darkly humoured and I had her broken heart, because my whole world had changed. Of course my identity was “so similar” to the heroine of the play because wit is wit, joking about being in the mental health ward was a good one since the devil was going to send me back to the gates of heaven as an old maid. I was okay back then to let them think that. I was damned in my own estimation but at least I was funny.
My life as a chronically ill woman started before I could legally drink as I struggled with medication side effects, conflicting diagnoses between a pair of competitive psychiatrists and my state got progressively worse until I’d just turned in my mid-twenties and moved near my parental unit because I was going utterly nuts losing my mind. I found someone progressive and professional who took their time to listen to my story; I was told I had bipolar disorder and complex PTSD, that was a relief in all candour.
At first my illnesses was a monster with a name that I could slay; this was was before I discovered it was a much easier beast to have a relationship with as I recovered. It was a pretty intense teen love/hate affair but as I reached closer to a state of wellbeing, the less hate & drama there is. It’s an ongoing process the relationship and it took me decades before I figured out loving it, was loving me and the fierce battles became unique user features and strengths when I leaned into myself. There was never anything wrong with me, I was just a limited edition model.
It was years of therapy (and so many more to go) and medication tweaking until I can say I feel like I’m the closest to what my definition of normal is. Life for me is sometimes like being the emotional equivalent of port-wine flavoured jelly, though tomorrow I might be raspberry or strawberry or a slice of New York baked cheese cake. It’s not certain. I’m the Gump Chocolate Box. And that’s the point, you just don’t know and that’s normal (but at least there is chocolate and I’m delicious.) When your life is always an uncertain flavour and jiggly dessert, you learn to adapt despite the grief cycle of living through the crisis while everything is shaking up. I’m an expert in living with life quakes.
One way to cope with the uncertainty is to look at the myriad of amazing free courses & meditations out there on the Internet. You can find think pieces on like this but YouTube has been my garden of knowledge, however it does not replace talking to a professional and get help however you can or need to. But life will carry on even if you do collapse, even if you congeal for a single morning and are floored by the c-19 event. Why am I being harsh saying the world doesn’t give a damn if you fall? Because while this pandemic isn’t a choice in itself, we mostly can only manage it ourselves on a local scale.
We are all going to fall at some moment in it, we can choose to be a much more loving, compassionate and courageous responder even in our crises and while life will go on if you melt, don’t fear you’ll be alone. As a society, the isolation of physical distancing has made us so much more open to what human connections are than ever before. We can have two choices here, we can choose fear and stockpile toilet paper while the less fortunate miss out. Or we can choose love in the face of adversity, we can choose to be our best selves in not necessarily the best situation but hoarding Quilton like Smaug is entitled. Smaug is choosing fear.
Why am I telling you all this? I was never told I didn’t have to disclose my mental illness as a teen and I faced a lot of stigma from the medical profession (and probably ex-boyfriends); I wasn’t told that it didn’t have to be the thing that defined me so I was a broken creature and my recovered perspective on the world being a place full of love didn’t occur to me until much later on. Prior to that I was an entitled, demanding bitch because I had this situation thrust upon me that somehow made the world owe me for a suffered experience I didn’t choose. I was an effing special snowflake (love Fight Club and how the toxic masculinity taught me to be totally adversarial) and I was less than kind to anyone non feline until I took responsibility to be loving, accountable and full of grace. Not my natural temperament but grace is love in motion and I could at least move towards a better user experience.
I’ve not talked much about stigma, it exists, it’s yuck and much smarter people have written about it so I encourage you to seek out those amazing resources. I’ve had a dear family member (LL) diagnosed with the corona virus and I’m watching them struggle through grief and pain as the thought process I see is as if though they recklessly caught the virus and then intentionally to expose young children in their care to it. She’s taken her diagnosis as part of her identity (hopefully not merging with the virus to become an alien queen because that’s my thing!) and I just want to say you don’t need to let this be the thing that defines you.
All COVID-19 is a virus, it’s not even alive. It’s just this weird little biological machine that replicates in humans with (hopefully) no awareness at all. She is an awesome family member and the least evil of my relatives yet she is identified herself with someone who cultivated the virus deliberately and without a care. It couldn’t be further from the truth. People care for family, neighbours, friends, strangers (thanks lady who sold me one extra body wash at the supermarket). Small acts is a great place to start the movement from the Lizard Queen to the Lady of Winterfell.
The corona virus is so serious and more than a type flu and there’s a dark side to the pandemic; I’ve read letters published from medical practices in the UK that ask elderly and terminally ill patients to sign do not resuscitate orders because in crisis cases, respiratory assistance priority will be given to the young and most likely to survive. This to me as someone who is entwined with her conditions sounds just a little like “Lebensunwertes Leben”. It’s easy to identify with your diagnosis and labels such as mentally ill or disabled when you’re still becoming an adult and perform the part. Part of me wishes I’d had the option of choosing to where and when to disclose because I’m disturbed that we are in a medical situation where we are choosing who lives and dies based on the lack of resources. This is not what I signed up for and it’s what I’ll actively protest against as someone disabled and chronically ill. I’ll protest because they want to murder my family members.
Part of living with my conditions openly has meant that people have written me off as useless at this adulting thing yet living in a state of chaos is what I do for a living and my neurodiversity is actually an amazing user feature to have most of the time. Be it COVID-19 or bipolar affective disorder, I am an expert in existing in uncertain times and I see this adversity as an opportunity to be better: every encounter at the supermarket to buy loo roll or pasta sauce are all opportunities for us as individuals and a community to rethink the way we reframe the concepts of communication, etiquette and politeness built into our culture. Let’s be on the light side of history that shows what we can do as a considerate collective species and not the kind that future students writing essay compares the treatment of certain C-19 victims as the pandemic”untermensch”. Because for I one, very much want to live.
Clara Rose Santilli, “Cassowary” blogger, 02/04/2020
Postscript: Mentally and physically I am safe and well. I’m embarking on this journey by choosing love if you tune in tomorrow.