Writing by Anya Trybala // Photograph by Lais Azevedo
Last week was my work Christmas party. It was fun, we played indoor Boule–which is kind of like Bocce–drank wine and chatted about pesky clients and plans for 2017. I only started the work placement about a month ago – moving to Sweden from Australia and securing a good job has been harder than I imagined so I am doing what I can to get my foot in the door.
The conversation shifted to our favourite actors – off the cuff, mine were Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett and I do have a soft spot for Leonardo Dicaprio. Then someone mentioned how much they loved Catherine Zeta Jones and most agreed – then someone said, “But she is a bit crazy right? Like, not right in the head?”
I was about to open my mouth but then shut it and looked down at my glass. The sting is always strong when people talk so callously about mental health. I was yet to reveal to my colleagues that I had Bipolar II Disorder – just like Catherine does – and felt like maybe this was the chance to speak up in her defense and say that I had the same disorder. But no, I just sat quietly, hoping for the conversation to move on. In hindsight, I wish I had said something, spoken up like I normally do, but I stayed silent.
The thing is, a few years ago I might have read an article about Catherine Zeta Jones opening up about her disorder and not really comprehend what it meant. A person who has never experienced first-hand a mental health disorder would find it difficult to comprehend. I do understand the ignorance – but it doesn’t make it any less stingy.
It wasn’t until I was suffering from a dangerous depressive episode in 2014 (not for the first time, but definitely the most dangerous!) that I could fully understand. It took 29 years to diagnose this condition. If more awareness was present when I was growing up, I may have been treated earlier and all that paranoia, anxiety and mood swings would have been managed. Bipolar II is a tricky one, often misdiagnosed as General Anxiety Disorder or Depression as the symptoms are not as obvious as Bipolar I Disorder – the mood swings sit somewhere in between what would be considered ‘normal’ and manic – called hypomania. The depressive episodes can be lethal – those with Bipolar II Disorder are statistically more likely to die from the depressive episodes. I also had a tendency to catastrophise situations and take on way too much than I could handle when I got excited about projects. I encourage anyone who doesn’t feel quite right in their bones to seek guidance and advice because mental health can be managed – it just takes that first step.
And a message to everyone, no matter where your mental health is at this very moment; use the energy of the new year passing to be kinder to yourself and employ self-care. It’s so important.
If you have been diagnosed with a condition or you are dealing with some hard stuff, here are a few tips on self-care and management to take you into the new year.
– Hush that inner critic – there are many things we think we ‘should’ do – but sometimes you just have to ask yourself if it’s truly worth your time and energy. Try to be content with ‘good enough’ and not perfect. Perfectionism is actually a symptom of this disorder and it can be toxic.
– Try and avoid drinking too much alcohol. It’s so hard this time of year (and I do love red wine and bubbly stuff!) but limiting how much you drink really does help, as moods drop sharply when alcohol is consumed– I’m writing this with a hangover and feel quite flat right now, but I know it’s the alcohol dictating my mood.
– Monitor your moods. If you do have a mood disorder, I found that monitoring myself via a mood app on the phone helped me identify the triggers in my life and the graph it generated was helpful to show my progress. It was also nice to have a little question of ‘How are you feeling?’ asked as a bit of a check-in a few times a day. I only used it for a short period, but it was super helpful.
– Acceptance. If you need to take medication, try not to be too bummed about it. There is a lot of stigma around medication with this mentality of ‘trying to get off the meds’, but for me, it saved my life – I was lucky enough to find the right combination after just a few tries. On the other end of the scale, if you take something and just don’t feel right, it’s important to raise this with a professional, as it may not be the right combination. Some people don’t respond to medication at all. It’s a big trial and error game, but whether you take medication or not, if it saves your life, it’s worth taking.
– Art and craft! Get into some crafting or making something with your hands – when I was recovering from the big depressive episode I got into jewellery making – FIMO polymer clay was my colourful friend and it felt nice to do something tactile with an immediate result – I even started my own label, Shy Piece, and sold my little creations at markets – people seemed to like my stuff. This equated to a rise in self-esteem, which is a critical part of any recovery process and eventually led me into rediscovering my passion for music making and I started making and producing songs again, which I’m so grateful for.
No matter what kind of year you’ve had, going into 2017 with some self care ideas up your sleeve can be a wonderful thing. If you have any further ideas, comment below!