I am loathe to write this post; I almost feel as though in doing so I am adding to the very problem I am about to complain about and yet if ever I needed to write something; this is it.
It has been a tough week in the world of Bipolar disorder. I’m sure we have all been struck by the untimely death of Robin Williams; it is a tragedy. My online support group has been finding the whole thing incredibly difficult (as have I) not only the way the way the media has spun the story in as many ways as possible to make reading it all unavoidable but also the apparent ignorance in claiming he suffered with depression when it is widely known that he was a fellow Bipolar disorder sufferer… (a very different illness) I believe they reported it this way because it is a more widely coined term and they believe more people will understand this; however, many within my support circles believe it is a missed opportunity to discuss Bipolar disorder in a more open forum and perhaps attempt to de-stigmatise what has become a disease that is so widely ridiculed.
I do find it incredibly sad that this apparently effervescent man found that he could no longer carry on and as a person with Bipolar disorder it fills me with dread and sadness; is that my future? You always hope you’ll have it all figured out by the time you get to that age; this somehow just confirms that it will always be a struggle – there will always be a fight to be fought.
It is hard to explain in a way that the everyday person will understand but the constant publication of details of a mans downfall, leading to suicide which is explicitly described in several publications is very dangerous to many with Bipolar disorder; it plants the seed of suicide – which then has the potential to breed within your mind. I have a very visual mind and when I was in the midst of my biggest suicidal period, hanging was an obsession of mine – I can literally picture myself dying that way; from finding a rope, to the actual act itself and all the motions in-between… I realise that will be disturbing for some to read – so imagine what it is like to have that image on a loop within your mind; meaning that even if you aren’t low enough to contemplate suicide ordinarily, reading about it described so thoroughly means you are still at risk of obsessing about the act and then potentially following through with those obsessive thoughts.
My Facebook is literally filled with tributes and news stories about him and his death making Facebook a dangerous place for me at the moment. My Bipolar support group is all suffering in the same way; we cannot seem to stop reading and we cannot seem to stop discussing it all… does it mean the same for us? Are we bound to reach the same sad fate? Even as I sat on the bus two days ago I was faced with multiple images of his face and headlines of a provocative nature from the many strewn metro newspapers. There is no escape and no reprieve from this story and so it is all consuming…
I think the ignorance of the media is that they believe in publicising his suicide in a sensitive and understanding way, they are not causing damage; I do not think they are aware that a whole massive community of people are potentially on the verge of copycat action because of the sensationalist and relentless way in which they have approached this.
And yet; I cannot tell you how they could have done it differently. He deserves the many gleaming tributes; he had a massive impact on so many lives – the way his children have paid tribute to him is heartbreakingly wonderful and a glimpse into the man he truly was – he has played part in many of my favourite films… yes, he deserves to be mourned.
And the truth is; I wanted to know how he died and the news that he was also suffering with Parkinson’s disease makes sense to me; for dealing with both this illness and another is something I’m not sure I would stay to weather either… I don’t now how we fix this damaging age of media sensationalism and propaganda; I certainly am not one to suggest the censorship of media and the truth is that it has always been this way – only in the age of the internet, mobile apps and all manner of other instant communication it is a lot harder to avoid reading this kind of hype. The really harrowing thing is that we all want this information – we seek it and feed upon it like the vultures we so often are; but just because we want something does not mean it is healthy for us – it does not mean we should have such instant access to such a font of information…
If this week has brought anything to light it is that we still have a long way to go before mental illness is understood or at least de-stigmatised within the public domain. One day we will get to the point where ignorance does not prevail; maybe one day it will not be too much to ask for all provocative media publications to carry trigger warnings as food would declare its potential allergens… at least then there is an element of choice for those of us at risk… something to make us stop and think before we read/listen. And maybe one day it won’t be too much for the media to state the correct mental illness rather than using a blanket term for ease of understanding…
To all my fellow Bipolar sufferers I say, be cautious – be mindful of the things you read and expose yourself to; pay attention to how it makes you feel before your mood/obsession has leave to get out of control; talk to those around you or failing that, find an online group of people who understand that you can vent these emotions to – the therapy in talking through the way you feel is bigger than you can imagine; communicate with medical professionals – stay open, stay honest; however silly or illogical it might seem.
To those who do not suffer with Bipolar disorder; I hope this has at least given you a small insight into what I am sure it is hard to fathom… and I hope that you too will be mindful of the content you share, knowing, now, the potential effect.