Last week on HealthyPlace’s Breaking Bipolar I mentioned that I use a nom de plume. Yes, that’s right, Natasha Tracy is not my legal name. I don’t think this should come as a gigantic shock to anyone given as writers have been writing under pen names since the beginning of the written word.
But apparently it did come as a shock. And apparently people felt betrayed by this piece of information. And apparently some people felt like being rather nasty about it. And apparently some people felt like becoming ex-readers over it.
Well, OK, fine, that’s your prerogative. But I have my reasons for not using my real name. Here are a few.
I don’t want people knowing where I live. I don’t want stalkers.
Allow me to relay a short tale to you.
Writing and Death Threats
I have a good friend who is a writer. He writes on sensitive, emotionally-charged subjects similar to mental illness. And is the case with us online personalities, he got death threats. Horrible, but not something that isn’t expected in the world of the internet.
My friend was the kind of person who did share real details about his life and family and he did use his real name. So when it came time that a stalker really hated him, the stalker found out where his kids went to school and made threats against them.
Yes, that’s right, threats against his kids. Deplorable. Unthinkable. And illegal.
And if you think I’m going to facilitate that type of behavior where I’m involved you’re downright batty.
No, I’m not in the Book
The reason that I don’t use my real name and I don’t tell people exactly where I live is because I don’t want a real-life stalker. It’s because I don’t want someone to make death threats and easily have the capacity to follow them through. It’s because my privacy is important to me. It doesn’t mean I’m not open, or honest, or even make public appearances and videos, but it does mean that you don’t get to be able to easily find me. That is not your right.
I want to be hirable in fields other than mental health.
Again, a short story.
I was working for a very fancy software company. One that makes the software you’ve probably got on your computer right now. I worked among some of the smartest people you can imagine. Their big brains were barely contained in our building.
And while I was working there I had a vagul nerve stimulator implanted. The details aren’t important but suffice it to say that when it activates it cuts off my throat and makes it difficult to speak. So if I was in the middle of a conversation with a co-worker I would wave a magnet in front of the computer implanted in my chest to turn it off so I could continue speaking. I never told people what it was or why I did that, trying to make it as inconspicuous as possible.
However, my co-workers decided on their own that the device must have to do with my heart and that every time I waved something over that area of my body it must be because I was so stressed in the conversation that something was going wrong with my heart. My co-workers assumed that I couldn’t take the stress of the job due to something that had nothing to do with stress.
They just made a judgement without facts.
(I didn’t know this for a long time. Eventually one of my co-workers told me.)
And once I found this out I realized that’s why people had started treating me differently – not because there was anything wrong with me but simply because they perceived that something was.
Employees Judge You
And you can bet the judgements would have been worse if, heaven forbid, they thought I had a mental illness. People suggest that others don’t judge you for your differences when this blatantly isn’t true. I had a slight difference that produced no change in my behavior and yet it changed the way other people treated me. People can be biased and bigoted and small-minded. If nothing else, it’s a subconscious thing.
Employers Judge You
And even worse, in the same environment one of the employees was assumed to be bipolar. And he had to leave the country (and finally the company) to get a fresh start because of how it affected how people treated him.
These are not things I made up. These are things that I have witnessed, things that I have lived. If your experience has been different that is great, but I wouldn’t risk having that kind of experience again. I just wouldn’t.
(Keep in mind that I’ve work in very-corporate America where backstabbing and politics run extremely amok.)
Employers Google You
And let’s not forget that before any techie geek is hired the employer Googles the heck out of them and if they were to find my writings, judgements would run rampant.
Why I Use a Nom de Plume
So, quite frankly, death threats, stalkers, prejudice, hirability and other reasons are why I use a nom de plume.
And I will not apologize for that. You can judge me and feel it discredits me if you like, but I believe my work speaks for itself and your judgement speaks considerably more about you than it does about me.
One of the criticisms antipsychiatry folks like to make of psychiatry is its lack of objective diagnostic criteria. In other words, there’s no blood test that says you have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
And this is true. While today we do have blood tests for biological markers indicative of mental illness diagnosis, there is no hard and fast test that can diagnose a psychiatric disorder (except Huntington’s, for which we have discovered a gene).
The fact of the matter is no matter what is written in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or what blood we draw or which scans we do nothing diagnoses a person properly except a trained psychiatric professional.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing objective or meaningful about it.
In fact, using the diagnostic criteria from the DSM or even from a clinician’s clinical experience allows two experienced clinicians to arrive at the same diagnosis for a patient. (Is this always true? No, of course not. But there are second opinions in all of medicine so this is hardly rare.)
Psychiatric Diagnosis and Treatment
However, even if two clinicians were to arrive at slightly different conclusions, for example, one says unipolar depressive and the other says bipolar not otherwise specified, I would argue that it hardly matters as alleviating suffering is the goal and the diagnosis is only a way of getting to that end.
. . . clinicians do not in general fret over what does or does not constitute a disease. . . . If, for example, a patient’s arm is broken in a car accident, a doctor doesn’t lose sleep pondering whether this represents ‘broken bone disorder’ or simply an expected response to an environmental stressor—the bone is set and the arm is casted . . . mental disorder or not, clinicians working in ‘mental health’ see it as their calling to try to improve the lives of whomever walks through their office door seeking help.
Similarly, it is objective as to whether a person is suffering or not and thus it is obvious the person needs help regardless as to what the ultimate diagnosis is.
Do Psychiatric Diagnoses Matter?
Yes, of course psychiatric diagnoses matter as they direct treatment, however, just because there is no hard and fast test governing that diagnosis doesn’t make it any less valid nor does it mean that psychiatry doesn’t have a place in its healing.
After my recent post about stress leading to hypomania in bipolar, I’ve had a couple of questions about what tools I use to handle hypomania. I’m happy to share my experience with hypomania but I can’t promise it will agree with your own. (Remember, hypomania is not the same as mania. In bipolar I, mania can easily be life-threatening.)
Are You Hypomanic?
I know it’s tough to admit you’re hypomanic, which is a mood, which is a symptom of bipolar, because many of us enjoy parts of hypomania and we don’t want it to go away, especially considering some of the alternatives. We just want to believe we’re feeling “good.” Really good. Which would be nice.
Nevertheless, the first step in dealing with bipolar hypomania is realizing that you’re hypomanic. And, of course, there are various degrees of hypomania – the more hypomanic you are the more worried you probably should become. The more hypomanic you are the more you need to focus on dealing with it properly because the chances are greater are there’s a nasty depression waiting for you at the end. (See, Self-Diagnosing Hypomania.)
How to Handle Bipolar Hypomania – Self-Talk
The first step in dealing with hypomania is self-talk. If you know you are hypomanic then hopefully you can create the presence of mind to not make decisions based on your mood. Yes, I understand you feel like you’re the most brilliant person on Earth but the President probably doesn’t want to hear about it, k?
Self-talk is about your own awareness. Yes, I’m hypomanic, that’s why I’m feeling this way. Yes, I’m hypomanic, that’s why I want to act this way.
If you know that, and you can (probably) repeatedly tell yourself that, then you can start to correct some of the problems that are likely to happen when you’re hypomanic.
Dealing with Bipolar Hypomania
So to deal with bipolar hypomania:
- TAKE YOUR MEDS and see your doctor if the hypomania puts you or your life in jeopardy
- Don’t make any big decisions; don’t make any major purchases
- Don’t eat sugar or caffeine; don’t take drugs or drink alcohol
- Don’t skip meals – force yourself to eat good food
- Breathe – your hypomania is going to want to speed you up but purposeful, deep breathing will slow you down – but you have to do it for it to work
- Try meditation or yoga (if that’s your thing)
- Exercise to wear off the excess energy in a positive way (One commenter mentioned this can be activating for them so be careful about that.)
- Force yourself to sleep on schedule (I admit to using sleeping pills for this. I believe it’s much better to take pills and sleep than to not take pills and not sleep. I believe it is much better for mood and this one step can often right hypomania immediately.)
- Check in with yourself on your actions – before you go and sleep with that handsome stranger, check in with yourself and really see if it’s you that wants a one night stand or the illness. Are you really angry with your friend or is it the illness?
In short, whatever the hypomania wants you to do, do the opposite. That’s not a very fun rule but it is a generally true rule of thumb. Hypomania feeds on itself so the more you give into its behavior the stronger it will get (just like depression).
Self-Awareness and Bipolar Hypomania
Dealing with hypomania is like dealing with any other mood – you need to see the mood, analyze the mood and outthink the mood. It’s hard but that’s what self-awareness is about. And self-awareness is what’s going to get you out of the jams that hypomania has a tendency to put you into.
(This is not to suggest you can always do this on your own. Sometimes other people can be your saving grace as they can see your behavior and moods much more clearly than you can. It’s OK to lean on them for their insight too.)
How do you like to handle hypomania?
As many people know from my last post on hypomania, last week I was filmed for a documentary by Andy Fiore. The documentary is about bipolar disorder and I was one of three people interviewed. Michael Schratter of Ride Don’t Hide, an international tour and movement to battle mental illness stigma, was also interviewed.
What’s It Like to be in a Documentary?
So, what was filming the documentary like? Well, there was some talking and some acting, but mostly acting like a version of me, a version of me that walks in girl shoes, that is.
I met Andy at the Vancouver Central Library and we enjoyed a latte in the gorgeous, cobblestone courtyard. He’s a bright enough filmmaker to know that being on film requires the energy of caffeine (although truthfully I’d probably had enough already).
Then we began to shoot “b-roll” which is, “supplemental or alternate footage intercut with the main shot in an interview or documentary.” Alternate footage contains scenes of me walking on the stairs, walking across the courtyard, looking at flowers and so on. If you like watching Natasha Tracy walk up stairs, then this documentary is for you.
We then moved into one of the glass meeting rooms of the library where I checked my makeup before shooting, getting loose powder all over the table and floor (sorry janitorial staff). Andy then proceeded to ask me about two hours’ worth of questions. He asked and I answered while attempting to maintain good eye contact with the camera. A wandering gaze is bad in such scenarios.
Somewhere in the middle of the interview I found that all my happy energy from the hypomania had simply vanished. My brain slumped; I can only hope it wasn’t visible on film.
We then finished off with more coffee (thank-you Andy; thank-you caffeine) and a few more b-roll shots with me walking in downtown Vancouver.
Thoughts on the Bipolar Documentary
Overall I think the shoot was really positive and I hope Andy got everything he needs for his final cut. He’s deep into the editing of another film right now so I won’t be seeing a rough cut of the bipolar documentary for a couple of months.
While it’s nerve-wracking to have someone ask you questions for two hours while looking into the abyss of a camera lens, I will say it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a powerful way to get positive, real information about mental illness out and I’m honoured to be a part of Andy’s work.
Speaking out – it dispels fear and stigma.
PS: Pictures from the shoot are coming.
I’m not sure how your average person deals with stress. Bingeing? Talking? Ranting? Raging? Running? I just don’t know. As far as I can see, people do all those things when they’re stressed.
But for a person with bipolar disorder, stress can lead to hypomania. And one has to deal with the stress and deal with the hypomania combined – which is kind of stressful in and of itself.
Tomorrow I’m being filmed for a documentary by Andy Fiore of Fiore Films. It is for a documentary about people who have learned to successfully live with bipolar disorder. As many of us do, I successfully live with bipolar disorder type 2 even if it’s a rocky path much of the time. And one might argue, I have turned my bipolar disorder into a positive by becoming a mental health writer and helping create a positive path for others living with bipolar disorder.
OK. Fine. But I kind of can’t breathe.
But I admit, I’m nervous. Stressed. I’m stressed about appearing on camera. Even though I do a video spot for HealthyPlace once a month, I still don’t feel particularly comfortable looking into the black abyss of a camera lens.
What do I wear? What do I say? What do I not say? How do I not sound like a shmuck? I just don’t know these things. These are unanswered questions for me.
And they sure the heck are eating away at the back of my brain. And maybe the middle of my brain. And maybe the front. So sayeth the fragments of brain I can scrape together for a consensus anyway. Many other fragments are off doing random bits of flittery that keep distracting me from writing.
My brain is taking the stress, that would make an average person feel, well, stressed, and turning it into hypomania. A fast-thinking, fragmented-moving, cluttered, shaky world view.
Bipolar Hypomania is Useful?
And all this hypomania is kind of useful in that it’s helping me get a lot done before I’m off to do the filming (it’s going to eat a whole day). I appreciate that. But hypomania also seems to turn the stress volume up to 11, makes sleeping impossible and makes following through on a task extremely challenging. It’s like pumping 110 volts into a 100 volt socket. It’s powerful but one could argue the usefulness of lighting your wiring on fire.
Using and Not Abusing Hypomania
Hypomania then, is pretty dangerous. It’s a sharp knife, good for slicing carrots but deadly on the fingers. So I try to use it for what it’s good for – producing energy and getting things done – and yet try not to let it get out of control. I won’t drink coffee or eat a tonne of sugar and I’ll force sleep on myself through whatever means necessary tonight. I won’t encourage the hypomania, I’ll try to work with it accepting that I’m not going to be able to make it go away completely.
Hypomania Passes, and Not Usually in a Friendly Way
And if there’s one thing I think it’s quintessential to remember it’s that the higher you fly in hypomania the farther there is to fall when you’re done. A hypomanic Wednesday, due to excessive stressors will probably lead to one heck of a Thursday coming back from an impact crater.
So, wish me luck, deep breaths and good hair. I’ll let you know how it goes.
As many of you know I’m writing a book on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This book will hopefully answer all the questions a person might have before undergoing ECT treatment as well as share with them my personal experience and the experience of others.
And I’ve decided to include, at the back of the book a list of hospitals that offer ECT to help people who want the treatment with a starting point on how to get it.
There’s just one problem – there’s no central repository on who offers ECT treatment.
[Note: I am running a survey on real patients’ experiences with, and perspectives on, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If you’ve had ECT and want your voice heard, please take the survey here. More detailed information on the ECT survey can be found here.]
Please Help Me with the List of Hospitals that Offer ECT
So I’m asking for your help. If you know of a facility that offers ECT, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it to the list. You’ll be helping me and helping others as well. Please include hospitals in Canada and the US.
And, of course, if you have any questions about ECT, also feel free to comment on those and I’ll make sure the answers are here and in the book.
But then something happened. It wasn’t an earth-shattering thing, it was just a thing. A life thing. A thing that your average person would feel bad about but not the end of the world.
Just the end of my world.
Hi all. A lot happens around these parts in six weeks. As most of you know this month I launched a new blog on Healthline.com called Bipolar Bites and, of course, I still have my blog on HealthyPlace.com called Breaking Bipolar.
Bipolar Bites and Breaking Bipolar Articles
In case you haven’t kept up with your reading, here’s the best of what you might have missed in the last couple of months from both blogs:
- A discussion on the unique mental illness therapy deep brain stimulation and bipolar disorder in two parts: New Treatment for Bipolar – What is Deep Brain Stimulation? and Does Deep Brain Stimulation Work for Bipolar Disorder?
- Bipolar Disorder and Fixing Your Circadian Rhythm – The start of several article on light, darkness and your circadian rhythm in bipolar disorder.
- Can Treatment Noncompliance be Good? – An idea that is hard to bring up without seeming to endorse treatment noncompliance. Is treatment noncompliance sometimes the right thing?
- Lack of Understanding of Mental Illness and sometimes even Hatred Towards the Bipolar Community – it’s difficult for someone without a mental illness to understand what someone with a mental illness goes through every day. Here is some of what I go through that I don’t think people understand.
- Is Bipolar a Personality Disorder? – a question that gets asked frequently along with questions about bipolar disorder and identity.
- Mental Illness as a Disability – can we handle the idea that mental illness really is a disability like any other?
- Bipolar Depression and Feeling Nothing at All – a rarely discussed part of bipolar disorder – feeling nothing at all.
- Bipolar Disorder, Depression and Psychosis – psychosis, delusions and hallucinations, isn’t just a part of schizophrenia, as many of us know too well, it’s a part of bipolar mania, and even depression, as well. Recognition of Irritation and Anxiety is also important.
- Telling Your Family You Have a Mental Illness – You’re Not OK – we all face the battle of telling others about our illness, how do we do it and what do we do if family members remain in denial anyway?
- Why Didn’t Evolution Cull Bipolar Disorder? – Bipolar Benefits – are their evolutionary benefits to having bipolar disorder?
Oh, and the mental health resources page has been updated. Check it out.
If there’s a topic you’d like to see covered feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll see if it tickles my fancy.
Let me share a little secret with you – I don’t agree with all mental health treatment. I don’t agree with all the decisions doctors make. I don’t like all the available treatments. I have had very bad experiences with some mental health treatments. I have had some very bad experiences with mental health care professionals.
But I still talk about them. And I still think they are right for some people.
Because my story isn’t your story.
I remember the day, or rather, the night, about 13 years ago when I discovered I had bipolar disorder. I did exactly what I tell people not to do: I went online and diagnosed myself. In my case, I happened to be right.
I remember the extreme pain, fear and shame I felt at realizing I had a mental illness. I remember the indignation I felt at the idea that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life. Mostly though, I remember the tears. I remember the candy apple-red face stained with hundreds of tears. That’s what I remember the most.
But that was 13 years ago and a lot has happened since. One thing I have learned though is that I didn’t accept my mental illness that night. Nor the next. I didn’t truly accept my mental illness for years.
Recently a couple of my posts / links / images raised eyes with some of my readers. Some complained and others requested that I put content warnings in front of them.
Well, I don’t do content warnings.*
In this case, one post was about self-harm and had a picture of a cutter’s arm. Another post contained a link to the TV-promo for a Dr. Oz show on electroconvulsive therapy, in which a person gets ECT. Images of self-harm and ECT, it was argued, are very upsetting to some people.
Nevertheless, in neither case did I think a warning was appropriate.
Here’s why: you’re an adult. Grow up.
Reader Warning on the Bipolar Burble
And just for the record, on the homepage there actually is a content warning for the whole blog. It warns that there may be graphic and disturbing subjects and elements to articles. And this is quite reasonable because if you haven’t been here before you should know what you’re in for – and it might be something you don’t like.
Why No Content Warnings?
There are no content warnings for a simple reason: I don’t think there should be any. There is no reason to warn people about an image of a cutter’s arm.
Because there is nothing shocking about seeing the evidence of a medical problem. I talked in the comments of that post about how people who self-harm should not be ashamed because what they are suffering from is an illness. By posting a warning about an image of their illness, I am suggesting there is something wrong with these people. I am doing a disservice to their reality, to something they live with every day. They don’t deserve a content warning thrust on them.
And as a writer I think it’s considerably more fitting and I refuse to post a picture of a person forelornly looking at a sunflower because it’s just so damn disingenuous.
And as for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), yup, it’s desturbing to some people, particularly images of ECT conducted in the past. And I rather think it’s tacky for a TV promo to feature images of a procedure that is no longer conducted in that manner. But you’re watching a promo for a TV show on ECT it’s hardly unreasonable to think you might see an image of ECT.
Here’s a Content Warning
You’re an adult. You are going to see and hear things you don’t like. You need to deal with that.
If You’re Feeling Sensitive
And to be fair, I understand sensitivity, I really do. I get sensitive sometimes. Sometimes there are subjects I’m sensitive about. Sometimes I not strong enough to read about things that I might find activating.
So I do this: I don’t read / watch that stuff.
I protect myself. Because it isn’t up to the rest of the world to devine what I might find upsetting and warn me of it. It’s up to me to make the right choices for myself and understand the risks I choose to take. There are lots of things I choose not to read. That’s my choice. That’s my responsibility.
Content Warning Proviso
* I will say that there is content I would warn people about, but that would be a fairly extrardinary circumstance and it certainly wouldn’t include an international TV promo or an image pulled from Wikipedia.
Update: I’m sorry for the flurry of strong feelings. I honestly didn’t think one picture out of the hundreds over the years here would cause such a stirring. While my feelings on the matter are my feelings on the matter, I am sorry it caused so much consternation for others.