Cyclothymia is not a gift. It is not a tool that allows me to see the world as it 'really' is. It is not something that should be nurtured or cultivated.
Years back, when I was tentatively living with a diagnosis of depression I met a girl who told me we were special - that we saw the world more clearly, lived more honestly and thought more deeply. I was 17, she was 19, and I believed her. We sat, watched our classmates and we pitied
their naivety. A year on from this, I was on my third anti-depressant at a much higher dose than either of the first two, I'd taken my first overdose and I was merrily cutting my arms to ribbons every
night. She was voluntarily in psychiatric hospital for an indefinite stay. Our classmates? They were happily, 'naively' getting on with their lives. There is no secret to see, there is no truth to discover, there is just living your life and you get to do that the hard way or the easy way - your choice.
There can be advantages to living with cyclothymia - highs which breed productivity, confidence and inspiration are certainly enviable. But given that thousands - nay, millions - of people get through their lives without such chemically unbalanced highs and still manage to create works of great beauty I suspect that I could live without them. Indeed, those same millions feel quite satisfied with a life which does not include manic highs - a relatively small proportion of them seek out artificial means to create those moments of pure ecstasy and confidence; cocaine is popular, but it's not every-single-person-in-the-world-
I am accepting of my brain chemistry - it is counter productive to be anything else - so I make allowances in my life to cope with mood swings which I choose not to control with medication. I am not being sold a lie by the psychiatric profession - you probably aren't either - I know this to be true primarily because I got a diagnosis and a suggested treatment regimen after
I sought out help for the unbearable mental unease I found myself experiencing. Unless you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated by court order it is unlikely that you fall into the camp of the maliciously medicalised outsider - indeed even if you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated, that is still no guarantee that going without medical intervention at that point in your life would have resulted in brilliance, creativity and continued existence. In fact, it tends to result in death.
Increasingly I believe that mental illness is less delineated than the discourses of medicine and society would have us believe - we are all born with a genetic code which will determine our brain chemistry and whilst substances can alter that chemistry both temporarily and permanently there is a degree of pre determination. Life experiences and situations leave two people with the same brain chemical balances in different positions - one might work in an office and take anti depressants and be in and out of hospital whilst the other lives a life which permits great periods of inactivity without loss of earnings - as a writer or musician perhaps - or lives in a close and well developed social group where a style of communication as open and honest as therapy is typical can help them through bad periods without turning to outside agencies. The second hypothetical person here may never come into contact with a mental health professional - is their depression any less real than the first person? No. Is the decision of the first person not to dedicate their life to 'cultivating' their depression in order to avoid reliance on pharmaceuticals and allow for a realisation of the true potential of their misery the wrong one? I'd say categorically not, but apparently that is not a universal view. Moreover, whilst I'd say this example merely shows that 'madness' is a sliding scale applicable to all of society which is only labelled when it becomes a problem, certain factions would prefer to believe that yes, there is a clear line be 'mad' and 'sane' but that, contrary to what modern medicine says, the 'mad' should not be cured but raised up as desirable and enviable
There are, undoubtedly, thousands of people walking around with thought processes who engage in activities which could see them easily diagnosed with mental health problems - I've met them. But the existence of unmedicated cyclothymics/depressives/whatever does not mean that those diagnosed have been sold a lie/tricked into selling their magic beans for an incontinent cow. Primarily, this is because they didn't have magic beans to start with - they just had erratic moods which impacted on their ability to live life in the way they wanted to, unlike the undiagnosed cyclothymic on the street, whose moods have not infringed on the fulfilment of their lifestyle. Organisations and individuals who point to the increase of diagnosis rates of mental illness as support for the argument the medical establishment have gone power MAD and are attempting to homogenize the world are equally mistaken. The reports which suggest there have been a 43% rise in the prescribing of anti-depressants in the last 5 years
seem to me to merely suggest that the de-stigmatising of mental health difficulties, as a result of the hard work of organisations such as Mind, has been successful and people are now daring to approach their GP with problems they previously thought would see them laughed out of the doctors office.
I have shared that infamous habit of many mental health patients of concluding I WAS NEVER ILL when medication and therapy get me to a point I feel 'normal' and subsequently rejecting all the methods employed to normalise my brain chemistry. Funnily enough, I got ill again. A lot of people would argue that sort of hypothesis-test-proof loop was enough to support the psychiatrist who made the original diagnosis. Few people would argue that my returning to a state I call 'ill' is merely the internalisation of an oppressive narrative when in fact I was 'realising the mad gift' the universe has given me. Fewer still would go further set up an online community propagating this opinion as a valid medical alternative.
The opposition to pro-ana and pro-mia sites is well established - I'm scared by how little opposition there is to pro-psychosis websites. I feel as though the mental health lobbies have been so busy (quite rightly) fighting stigma in wider society they have been completely blind-sided by those who want to share faulty thinking - who want to rubbish a system which helps more people than it hurts. How much more good work could they do as patient advocates working within the system as it stands? How much more good work could they do by having a dialogue with the medical profession about not becoming a factory and treating mental health patients like a simple machine to be inspected, repaired and pushed back out into the world all shiny and new? Yes there are problems in healthcare as it stands but it is still a whole lot better than nurturing mental instability into bigger and more monstrous things.
I think the NHS could save itself money by offering stricter guidance on how GPs respond to first presentation of mild depression and anxiety in patients, I think they should offer more training to their senior employees - consultants for example - on alternative lifestyle so they can recognise the difference between 'alternative', 'abnormal' and 'problematic' so that they only offer corrective steps for the latter. I think money should go back into health promotion campaigns and I think we need more patient advocates and advisers - such as those provided by Mind - to ensure the medical establishment doesn't lose sight of the individual in favour of 'cured' statistics linked directly to pharmaceuticals.
I am all for self determination in mental health care - I practice it; I worked out a way to get off medication and live without too much unpleasantness a year ago. But I'm also for informed choices - telling people you are an advocacy and advice organisation aiming to end stigma and help people overcome the alienating effects of mental health labels is all well and good, but when, in reality, you are pushing a non negotiable model for living without medical intervention you are deceiving and misleading those you claim you aim to protect. On the face of it, the Icarus Project sounds great - offering hope of 'normality' through inaction rather than the world of hit and miss drug therapy offered by the medical profession for example - in reality they are pushing an unproven, potentially dangerous anti-cure on vulnerable and often desperate people whose judgement is impaired by mental instability. This is the blind leading the blind.
Also, just a final thought - Icarus crashed to earth after ignoring advice not to fly so close to the sun, and died. For the shining moment he was soaring up to the sun he certainly was glorious, but his ignorance and arrogance killed him. Did The Icarus Project
chose him as their namesake with an awareness of that irony or did they stop reading after bit when his ambition took him up into the sky?