Mental illness isn’t a solitary, isolated, and vacuum-sealed experience. Mentally ill people, like myself, have friends, family, and peers. We interact with strangers. We can make mistakes and have messy behaviour, just like everyone else. Sometimes, mental illness is bad—or at least it makes us feel that way. When I say mental illness is bad, I don’t mean mental illness is a problem that needs to be fixed, or that mental illness is something immoral that needs to be punished. What I mean is that mental illness and its symptoms can have a negative impact on people. When talking about mental illness, it’s important to be honest without reinforcing stigma. But it’s also just as important not to dismiss or romanticise parts of mental illness. Sometimes, my mental illness is bad, and I end up doing hurtful things to myself and the people around me.
I have bipolar type II, with hypomanic and depressive phases. I also have complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). They’re not “pretty” or “easy” mental illnesses. Along with being complex and individual, they’re messy and difficult to manage.
This is going to be about my personal experience and symptoms. They are bad to me. They make my life harder, and they can be harmful to me and the people around me. I sometimes fear for my life when the symptoms get intense. Please do not take this as reflective of everyone with mental illness. If you can identify with what I say, then that’s okay—but if you’re neurotypical and reading this, remember that I am just one person.
Symptoms that my mental illness is bad
It’s hard to feel human when my mental illness makes me feel like an immoral person. Like what I’m doing and how I’m behaving are wrong, rather than difficult and symptomatic of a deeper problem. Maybe I’m overthinking how much these can affect other people, but I know I’ve lashed out or been incredibly irresponsible with some of these symptoms present.
I lash out a lot. When I get frustrated, I can get very impassioned and heated. It’s not nice to be around me. My hypomania often goes from hyper to angry, not happy or over-the-moon as the stereotype can be. Anger is not a bad feeling to have, but it’s very easy for me to disrespect the people around me when I get irritated.
I want to hurt myself. This is not good. Urges or desires to hurt myself are a sure sign that I’m not in a good place.
Lack of sleep
When I’m hypomanic, I don’t feel tired and I don’t feel the need to go to sleep. Not sleeping means that I’m hurting my body. It affects my reaction time, so driving and walking become dangerous. It also changes my routine and schedule. My self-care and work can be severely affected if I’m not resting. It’s irresponsible, mostly.
Delusions of grandeur
I become convinced that I can undertake projects and make plans that are, without a doubt, beyond my capabilities. This ends up wasting my time and resources, while also potentially wasting other people’s time and resources. If I start getting invested in a project or goal that originates from a delusion, I don’t follow through. It doesn’t get completed. I put a strain on my money and friendships.
These are the scariest. Most of my hallucinations are visual and they set off anxiety. When they’re auditory hallucinations, I’m even more afraid. I hear things that don’t have a source outside my head, even if they sound like they’re external. My behaviour changes significantly, and I can end up lashing out or slipping into paranoid thinking.
These are all signs that my mental health isn’t being managed and maintained well. That’s what I mean when my mental illness is bad: it’s not being treated properly. I’m blessed to be able to have counselling and medication to treat my mental illnesses. But when I get to this severity? I’m in trouble. They can’t be managed by a crisis intervention. I feel just a level below crisis, or like it’s less concentrated and intense than a crisis, when my mental illness is bad like this. But it’s a little too much for me to handle on my own.
How I can improve
Talking about these issues requires self-awareness. Without being aware of my own behaviour, whether it’s from my mental illnesses or not, I can’t make an attempt to manage and improve myself. The mental health community needs to give space for these discussions as well. We need permission to converse about our harmful behaviour without being villainised for experiencing it. Mentally ill people, especially those with mood disorders like mine, have a reason for why they act certain ways. It doesn’t mean they should be given a free pass to continue that behaviour. It means that we need to be aware of the context.
If I flip my lid, I need to reflect on that. Why did I react that way? Was it appropriate? How is the rest of my behaviour, in terms of symptoms?
This also means I need to learn how to follow-through with correcting my behaviour and apologising if I do end up hurting someone. I need to be able to have the grace and forgiveness to apologise to myself, too. I need to be able to say to someone, “Hey, it was wrong of me to behave that way, and I sincerely apologise for my behaviour. My mental health has been poor, so I’ll be taking some time to address it and my symptoms—including the rage I directed at you and the irresponsibility of my actions.”
I am one person, and as Kelly Kapoor said so intelligently about managing her one-person department, I am not easy to manage. It’s especially true when my mental health is bad.