Those who have been paying attention to my social media may have by now noticed the proliferation of semicolons everywhere, including my current profile picture.
I’ve not been shy about telling people that I have bipolar disorder; the stigma associated with mental illness kills people. As part of my own therapy, I have decided to fight that stigma in my own ways, and that is primarily by sharing it and writing these blog posts.
It is a sad fact that people with bipolar disorder are much more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and even more than people dealing with major depression in the absence of a mood disorder. People with bipolar disorder are also fairly likely to require at least one hospitalization in their lives as a result of their mood disorder.
There is no shame in mental illness. As I said above, the stigma associated with mental illness kills people. We are taught it is a weakness, and not a disease that is every bit as serious and deadly as cancer.
This is even more true for men. As men, as husbands, as fathers, society expects us to be stoic, to not talk about our feelings, to not show “weakness,” to be strong for our families. This may sound a little flippant, but at least society “allows” women to discuss their feelings. It is for the wrong reasons, but the “expectation” is that they will.
Thankfully, I have not experienced any pushback from friends and family on this. I know many do receive pushback. Times, and attitudes, are definitely changing, though there is still a lot of work to do. The number of celebrities coming forward about having bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness is certainly helping.
So now to the point of this article.
I will not discuss the details that actually lead up to, and I may well never want to, but it is time for me to explain why the semicolons are popping up.
I had been dealing with mild to occasionally moderate depression for much of the last half of 2019. Neither I nor my (wonderful) psychiatrist were able to determine where it was coming from. In mid to late January of this year (2020), a variety of personal problems hit all at once. My depression was already tending towards moderate, but these problems lead me to spiralling quickly into very severe depression. For those familiar with the PHQ-9 assessment, my score went from about 14 to 24 in the span of roughly 2-3 weeks.
Adding in an extremely stressful event at work and I reached my breaking point. In mid February, I attempted to kill myself. I did this in secrecy, away from my family. The attempt, obviously, was unsuccessful. More to the point, I gave up. I won’t provide further details on exactly what I tried to do, nor when or where or any other information regarding the circumstances.
It was in the days following this that I started adding a semicolon to my social media bios.
On the strong advice of my psychiatrist and my therapist, I admitted myself to a mental health hospital for about a week. Getting me away from the stressors that lead to this did wonders for me. As of March 5, my PHQ-9 score was a 3(!). All of those stressors are still present in my life, but between the mental “vacation” and greatly increased therapy, I am better equipped to handle them.
As I’ve written in another post, dealing with mental illness is like being in a daily battle with your own brain. No amount of medicine or of therapy will stop that. Those are tools. I still have to do the work myself.
As always, I am writing about this both as therapy for myself, and also in the hopes that I will reach someone else who deals with mental illness, perhaps in silence. You are not alone. There are people who care and will help you.