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Mental Illness – Does It Get Better or Worse?

I’m sitting on my red, plush couch in my living room and I have started crying. Tears well in my eyes at first while I try to convince them not to roll down my face and splash the back of my glasses. As usual, the tears don’t listen and soon my cheeks and lips and chin are wet with saline. I take off my glasses and put them on the wenge coffee table and my head falls into my hands. Loud crying now, choking sobs wrack my body as I feel the pain of illness that I had been pushing away for so long beat me once again.

And I wonder – will it get better?

I Hate Bipolar Disorder

I hate this disease. I hate it with the fiery hatred of a thousand suns. I hate the pain. I hate the suffering. I hate the loneliness. I hate the tears. I hate the blood. I hate everything that bipolar disorder brings to a life.

But Does it Get Better?

I’ve been doing this for 14 years and yes, it gets better. And then it gets worse. And then better, and then worse. The illness is like that. It moves in cycles.

And if you’ve been doing this for a while you know it’s true. You know that when you are at the lowest of your lows, you have climbed back out of the hole only to see glimmers of hope again. These glimmers might be infrequent, I know, but they’re there.

Yes, it gets better.

Yes, It Gets Worse

Mental Illness - Does It Get Better or Worse?

But living with the idea that it gets worse again is almost impossible. It’s clearly not impossible because I do it, but it’s as close to impossible as one thing can get. Knowing that the pain is coming is like waiting on the tracks for a freight train. It’ll shred you to pieces, sometime, somehow, and yet you can’t move.

Living with This Knowledge

Knowing then, that I will get better, and I will get worse is quite a challenge. I know of only one thing for it – to lie. Or perhaps, put another way, to ignore it.

When it’s bad, you have to think about the fact that it will get better and ignore the fact that it will get bad again. Knowing that you’ll be back to the swells of pain that have swallowed you whole won’t help. Not then.

When it’s good, you have to ignore the fact that it will get worse again. You have to plan for it and yet your psyche can’t sit around waiting for it. There’ll be time enough to worry about the freight train once it’s on the horizon.

I know this adds up to willful ignorance and denial – which usually I’m against. But I know no other way of living with such earth-destroying information. Just try not to think about it.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

53 thoughts on “Mental Illness – Does It Get Better or Worse?”

  1. Your post topics seem to come exactly when I need them. It’s a bit strange, really. I had been doing well for a little while, everything seemed to be finally getting better, but it stopped and the past two weeks have been hell. I did things a little differently this time, so hopefully I can come out of this.

    Great post!

  2. This last year and a half is my first ‘remission’ or euthymic period since the symptoms began six or so years ago. I have been better and better since the diagnosis and correct treatment. I have not experienced a cyclical relapse, and I hope that I never will. I know that, if I do, I can overcome it.

  3. Yes, Holly, I am bipolar, why even ask? I mention the said condition in my post.

    I guess for my acceptance is more of… well, I have a condition. Still better then living in Gaza Strip. It ain’t the end of the world. I do have my limits and I know it holds me back, but I work on that. I try to use it to my advantage (my depressions tend actually to get hyperfocused to slightly obssesive level. I channel it. It is not ideal situation, but I can either feel sad about it, or I can live. I chose to feel sad for a bit… then I live).

    I don’t think being doom and gloom makes you more geniune. One has to deal with what they got. I think maintaining healthy hope and belief in yourself is important.

    It’s actually awfully easy to “accept” giving up. To “accept” that you cannot do anything for yourself or very little. More challenging it so live regardless and to work with what you got instead of dwelling on “if only I didn’t have this, I could…”.

  4. Hi Natasha,

    I so appreciate your honesty regarding this illness, and I respect the fact that you do not succumb to the pressure to be a “cheerleader” for an illness which does not deserve the light of false hope shone upon it.

    This illness has caused you, and millions of others, intolerable suffering. I applaud you for being ‘real’ about it. Psychologists and psychiatrists are, despite good intentions, puppeteers of the pharmaceutical companies. Let them, with all good intentions, peddle the wares of aforementioned companies, whilst simultaneously patting themselves on the back for providing their best service with the most advanced products available at the moment. They are simply doing the best they can, with the limited resources they have, for a patient population with a very poor prognosis. No pessimism here – just realism.

    Can you imagine how much indirect joy our suffering brings to the medical fraternity? Just picture the look of poor bliss on your psychiatrist’s face as he drives his family to the airport in his Ferrari, then languishes in first class, sipping champagne and dreaming of the pampering he will receive at his chosen luxury resort.

    I am not bashing psychiatrists, (well maybe just a little), but the “it’s a calling” crap they bleat over and over, does not diminish their uncanny ability to dissociate (yes, they do it too) their vast earnings and commensurate enjoyment derived there-from, from the immeasurable suffering of those they ‘fleeced’ en-route. Psychiatrists who take on Pro Bono work for the right reasons, and not to present a facade of the “calling” crap, are exempt, of course. 🙂

    I digressed…I meant to say…that we need people like you, Natasha, to offer an alternative and honest perspective.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. I’ve been mulling over this post for a while. With bipolar type II – which is all I can speak of – it gets better and worse, in ways all its own.

    I wasn’t diagnosed bipolar until a few years ago but it was clear I’ve been bipolar all my life since early childhood, no doubt. I raised two children without being medicated for bipolar and the docs asked how that was possible, but the answer is easy: my one daughter was high special needs, her life always in the balance, and the stress kept me almost always hypomanic and able to function at a keen level of energy, but given any downtime at all I plunged deep into depression, pulled to duty only by my daughter’s intense needs.

    But being so different – with brain damage and autism – she gave me an outlet for my own ‘specialness’. She was very ‘odd’ and I revelled in joining her in her ‘oddness’ and it was a great relief to me andmy own pent-up energies. Since she died I haven’t done any of our special things. And I’ve been medicated so my highs are not so high and the lows are different too. Mostly I’ve lost a great deal of creativity that went with the hypomania. So it’s better but worse too.

    The depression is not usually as dramatically deep, but it is most of the time, and anti-depressants make me manic so I can’t increase them, and lessening the drug that keeps me from being manic makes the post traumatic stress come back full force. They’ve run through the gamut of medication so this is what I’m left with. I’m a joy-hunter. I have to pull it out of life myself. It’s a full time job. But with age that’s an easier task. I’ve learned where to find it. I know myself better. I know the world better. I’ve become more daring.

    The Greenday song says: For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while… and that’s the very big, big picture…in the end I will make it all worth the while. I don’t have to work on building a treasure chest full of memories of depression; they’ll happen on their own, time has proved, but my job, I have come to know, is building a treasure chest of photographs and memories of *amazing* experiences when I’m able to experience them.

    What I learned from a friend of mine battling breast cancer for nearly 20 years was to make big plans for big experiences in between the times she was not well. She lived an *amazing* life!!! And she taught me to travel and to live wildly and full of joy when I could and to curl up and be whatever I was when I was not well, but to always have a plan ready for when I would live again. The last trip she went on before she passed was to fly her son to Scotland to the booklaunch of the last Harry Potter novel in a castle and his book was signed by the novelist herself. Memories! She was the queen!!!!

    Live, and retreat, live, and retreat, live, and retreat…it can make for a beautiful life. It really, really can.

    But yes…like this last week I’ve been really suffering…and I will make plans for some time when the sun shines inside me, when I’m ready for it. I must. I’m learning. Even though down don’t stop being down. Down dirty on the ground down. But light is always warm and refreshing when it returns, and it always returns.

  6. Acceptance for me has been a key factor. Accepting that yes I have an illness and I will have flare ups is the reality. Embracing that yes I am completely bonkers and having a sense of humor about it has been my saving grace in the hardest of times.

    I know my limits now, there are times I can achieve and there are times I need quiet solitude. Cleansing myself spiritually and on all levels helps tremendously. Believing that I am a part of the cycle of the earth and seasons and that as my spring and summer comes I am empowered to take action and as my winter and fall come it is a time for rest and reflection. Acceptance.

    A belief of everything in life teaches us something in the best times and worst gives me quiet gratitude to feel the cycle of life so intimately.

    There is sadness in death, but there is also appreciation for life in the same act. Death is a beautiful transition as is birth. If there is benefits of this life cycle then I think if you look closely enough there is benefits to experiencing bipolar. It teaches us to accept and see life with new eyes each day we open them.

  7. I do not think it does have to get worse. It’s not denial, it’s having hope.

    I know this is not popular opinion in mental health circles, but I think attitude and spirit have a lot to do with well being. Unless you believe in yourself and believe that you can overcome and have the will to do so… all the top notch (sadly in the case of psychiatry not so top notch) medical science cannot save you.

    I think that “earth destroying information” of “oh, yes, it gets worse, lifetime of suckage head” is not a truth. It’s a philosophy. I met sucess story people with bipolar, but none of them were success while maintaining doom-and-gloom attitude about their future.

    I think at one point it gets better. One learns to live with it. Recognize their patterns and warning signs and learn do do what is good for them. No, that does not mean they are cure, but one can endure much bad episodes without spiralling out of control…. because it is one episode, it passes, one lives on. Learnig damage control is important. But to do this, one has to believe they can do it….

  8. I think for me, I have hope that the next time things get worse I’ll be better equipped to deal with it. After my last hospitalization a year ago, I was put on an extended leave of absence and I decided to use the time to work hard to find things that would be preventative, and also help me in the early, mid, and late stages of crisis. Participating in the WRAP program helped, learning and working on CBT helped, major changes in diet and exercise helped and learning how to manage my schedule so I don’t feel overwhelmed helped. And of course, there were some medication tweaks (the most noticeable being no longer taking benzodiazepines).

    Since implementing these changes I feel more empowered and I’m pretty confident that the next time things get worse, as of course they will, I’ll be better equipped to combat my symptoms, and hopefully it won’t be as bad as the last time.

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