Anyone that has spent any amount of time poking around the internet has likely run into the Laughing and Crying Drama Masks as representations of the dual nature of Bipolar Disorder. Of course, the Crying Mask can easily represent Depression. Hell, I use it on my Facebook page myself. But I had an epiphany while having a conversation with one of my visitors who goes by “T” in the comments. So thank you, T, for jogging this particular thought process that I’m working on writing about.
The thought processes I’m referring to is one I hear constantly from folks dealing with the struggles that we face. “I’m afraid of medication because I don’t want to be a zombie.” “I don’t want to take it because it might make me someone I’m not.”
But here’s the thing- the reason those Drama Masks are such a perfect representation is because the Disorder (and Depression) are essentially masking who you actually are. The unmedicated, often unwell person you know now may not actually be the person you are. Instead, the person you are is obscured because the Mask is on.
I’ll use myself as an example, as I typically do. From what I can gather, I started Bipolar cycling when I was about 13. I spent about 75% of my time depressed, 20% of my time hypomanic, and maybe 5% as “other”; normal or recovering from an unwell cycle where I didn’t immediately shift into another cycle. The person wearing the mask had precious few opportunities to actually peek out from behind the Masks in that time frame.
The caseworker I saw for diagnosis asked me, “when was the last time you felt happy?” I couldn’t answer that. I didn’t know what hypomania was but I knew my “good times” were very damaging and strange for me- so I knew that wasn’t happiness because that’s not how it worked for other people. Happy people didn’t fuck up their lives and do insane shit when they weren’t depressed (which was my frame of reference that I didn’t quite understand since I thought everyone struggled with the same shit I did).
I’ve had glimpses of regular emotions unstained by mental illness. Only a few times but I remember the feeling crystal clear because it was like 3 times in the span of 20 years. I felt happy once, for absolutely no reason at all. I felt sad when I found out my ex-Fiancee had moved on and was engaged again; and then I felt happy when I realized I was feeling sad with no hint of depression on the horizon. Honestly, I had no idea what to do with myself with it because in 20 years I do not remember EVER feeling JUST sad. It was always depression. Numbness. Nothing. Null and void.
Those Drama Masks are an apt representation because the real you is behind the Mask while you’re unwell. The medication, self-management, doctor appointments, all the bullshit that we hate fucking doing- it’s to take that mask off and set it aside. The person behind the mask is the real you.
And let’s face it- that can be a frightening and daunting prospect. I’m not perfectly medicated at the moment but I’ve had tastes of wellness that keeps me driving forward, keeps me self-managing, keeps me hungry to succeed. I know the apathetic bastard is waiting to come out if I slip back behind one of the Masks. Frankly, that guy is a fucking dick. But that’s the person I was when the Disorder owned me.
Those of you that have been dealing with this shit for a long time who are afraid of what you might become if you pursued wellness- don’t be afraid. It’s quite likely that you probably don’t know the person you actually are. And speaking from experience- my outlook on a lot of things changed but my interests really haven’t. I still love heavy metal and rap, book/dice and video gaming, reading and learning; and essentially everything I usually have.
What has changed? Perspective largely. I don’t look at the world through shit-colored glasses anymore. If I drop a glass in the sink and it shatters, the Depression doesn’t automatically go “that figures, you always fuck things up.” Instead, with that Mask taken off; it’s just a shrug and me saying “mother fucker” to myself.
And to quote T’s comment- “I appreciate the points you added about the goal of meds and side effects being manageable. It really did help to stabilize me. Funny, I would write profoundly deep and dark pieces in my depressive states. The second day of my medicine I was feeling silly and giddy and wrote a couple of lighthearted, funny pieces. So the creativity is still there, but more balanced, as well as the moods. I’m glad that making the choice to take the correct medications gives even more choices.”
That’s a perfect example of getting a glimpse of the actual person behind the Mask.
And I want you to always remember (and I will beat this drum loudly for the rest of my existence)- psych medication should accomplish two goals. 1. It should make your mental illness manageable. 2. It should have bearable/manageable side effects.
If it does not accomplish those two goals then it is NOT RIGHT no matter how much your doctor may want to brush you aside and get moving (much love and/or mad props to the doctors and nurses that actually give a shit about their patients). YOU have to be the one to advocate for yourself and your wellness. What the fuck good is trading one debilitating problem for another? It’s not a fucking solution.
Sooner or later you’ll find a way to pack those Masks away in a trunk, chain it up, and dump it in the ocean where it belongs. You’ll get to know the real you. It will probably be a long, hard, shitty journey. But goddamn victory will be sweet.
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