#blogjune 27-30: Coming Out Mental

This ended up a combined post, because I knew I wanted to write on this topic, but I needed to think about what I wanted to say first, and that wasn’t going to happen while I spent chunks of pondering time .

I’d like to start by giving my thanks to the LGBT world for giving me a mechanism to describe the process at hand. “Out” is a process rather than an end point and though I’m taking the step of talking directly on the matter here (rather than discussing symptoms such as insomnia) this is far from the first .

My performance persona, seanfish, is very much at times a celebration of my illness, whether I’m acting loopy to make small children laugh or howling angst at an adult audience.

I’ve contributed to the New Zealand book “Caught Between Sunshine and Shadow“, in which ordinary people who manage their bipolar* disorder and Β live meaningful and dignified lives share their journey with the hope of lending courage to others. To any library colleagues reading this: The literature is almost without exception written by clinicians, and while many of those titles are excellent resources a key element of long-term wellbeing is the ability to move on from a sense of isolation. If you check your collection and find that you have an 80/20 imbalance of clinical to personal narrative titles, please consider adding this to your collection. I received no money for my contribution, and the editor Georgie Tutt is willing to provide the title to public libraries in New Zealand at cost if it means people in need get access to this kind of resource.

It has been years since I worked for a manager or team leader who I did not make aware I had a history of mental illness. This provoked a lot of fear for me initially, however now I wouldn’t imagine working any other way.

In personal conversations and relationships I will mention the matter as it naturally arises, although I’m generally not interested in pursuing the subject at length unless the other person has their own equivalent journey to share.

Most of the time responses are appropriate. I recently had coffee-and-desert with a pair of my fellow diligentroomers and their respective spouses (you can see Penny’s husband Rod’s excellent photography at his site, Michael’s other half prefers to be anonymous online but I can vouch for her as she is a fellow ex-children’s librarian). I’ve known Penny and Rod for years, and it was the first time Michael and I have met. During the initial phase, I was trying to recall when I’d last seen Penny, only to be reminded it was in a hospital shortly after the birth of her first child, a meeting I have no recollection of. Fortunately Penny reminded me that I mentioned having difficulties with my medication at the time. My response was to say to Michael and his other half, “Oh by the way, I suffer from mental illness”. We giggled, shrugged, then moved on to continue the greetings and introductions.

Sometimes this results in disappointment. I played at a gig organised by one of my small town’s local musical leaders. At that time I using my music to explain the different experiences my illness can give me. The organiser came up to me after I played and said, “Wow, your songs are so varied in tone, are you bipolar or something?”. When I responded with the obvious “Yes,” his jaw dropped and he simply walked away.

Events like that bring out a dual feeling in me. On the one hand, I’m completely unsurprised. I’m very comfortable with talking about my illness in casual conversation, and I’m used to occasionally seeing similar – and sometimes more negative – reactions. In the times where the other person has found the courage to address their issues – much preferable to those who try to make it all my issue – I’ve found they either (a) themselves suffer from a disorder they are afraid to talk about, or (b) have had someone who suffered from a mental disorder in their life who caused them some personal distress. Having experienced both situations (a) and (b) I am completely able to empathise.

Owning one’s illness is a long series of steps, and this post represents another such step. I am in the first stages of planning a small speaking engagement to promote the book with Georgie and have also had initial discussions around presenting on mental illness to a library profession audience.

My life isn’t perfect and some days are harder than others, but even on the hardest of days I’ve developed an awareness that those struggles are temporary. Because of my choices around openness, I’ve heard from a lot of my fellow information professionals who sometimes struggle and are afraid to share. I’m here to say – you don’t have to share with everybody, but your working life will be better if you take a small risk and choose at least one person who you already get on well with who you can talk to them on a hard day.

*My set of swings and roundabouts has the mood characteristics of bipolar disorder (much improved since medication) with a type of social anxiety (much improved since therapy – about four years ago I had the exciting experience of being able to go shopping without having a panic attack) that a friend recently suggested to be related to OCD. As I spent my entire childhood avoiding stepping on cracks, making sure I put an alternate foot first over each such crack and working through a roughly 30-minute pattern on my fingers based on scales and arpeggios, I think she may have a point.


About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

17 Responses to #blogjune 27-30: Coming Out Mental

  1. A great post Sean. This is something I hope to write about on my blog one day too.

  2. seanmurgatroyd says:

    Thank you!

    The best thing about our profession is I not only knew I’m not the only one when I posted it, because we’re about sharing in the first place.

    Also: I just decided that it’s totes me to share a song I love with every commenter. So here’s your one. Thanks for being awesome. πŸ™‚

  3. I’m wary of sharing that I have depression – so often people see depression as being a modern-day overdiagnosis. I’m more open about having an anxiety disorder though – it’s been my experience that people are more accepting of that. Or maybe it’s just me?

    I had a similar experience to your “do you have bi-polar or something” moment. A young friend said to me once “don’t take this the wrong way, but my friend reckons you must have OCD or something”. My reply of “yes actually, I do”, made him turn a lovely shade of beetroot in embarrassment. Which I found strangely satisfying. I can be a bit sadistic like that!

    Thank you, by the way, for writing this.

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Anxiety’s kind of autoshare – pretty much at some point as I get to know someone, they will see me completely unable to process in a social situation, which is a marked contrast to my normal which runs from slightly reserved to warmly gregarious. It’s sympathy for the other person – not wanting them to feel they’ve done something when the reality is some ghost from the past has decided to pop its head up. Being able to say “its ok, I’m just freaking out and I’ll be fine very shortly” is incredibly liberating, as well as being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Depression – well when my cycle is pushing me towards that side I don’t want to communicate with ANYBODY so that solves that issue. πŸ˜€

      It’s funny when the person is much younger, to be honest when I see him around town I feel queasy because he’s a grown man who (a) hasn’t learnt some things are better not to say, (b) hasn’t learnt to give the injured party a gracious apology after a faux pas.

      OK, song ;):

  4. selina says:

    Hey Sean,
    Thanks for sharing. I’ve written a bit about what happened to me on my blog, so you are not alone. (Although I don’t tell many people I have a blog)
    As for books on bipolar disorder..I too found most of them pretty unhelpful, either too clinical or hopeless or condescending. However the best books and poetry are written by people that had struggled with bipolar (manic depression) themselves – Sidney Sheldon, Spike Milligan, Sylvia Plath, Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke, Danielle Steele (on her son) and numerous others less well known. They’re all reviewed on my shelfari – books tagged in the returns slot post under manic depression and mental illness – at least I hope they are all there still, and the tags work?!.
    I’ve found I can’t talk about this stuff with people who have not suffered themselves, because they just wouldn’t understand what it’s like or know that there IS healing and deliverance from this.
    I didn’t know you had contributed to a book I will definitely request it and be interested in any talk you may give on the subject. I did think seriously about writing one on what I experienced and also what my friend went through..I have asked her family about it once but they said it wasn’t the right time, however it’s been a few years since. I think she would have wanted her story told also as I remember at the time thinking how they say 1% people get it and how it can be a blessing or curse and never understanding the why’s and wherfores of it from people who had no idea of what it was really like. If you tried to discuss spiritual warfare with a pyschiatrist (or anyone who doesn’t understand these things) they would look at you like you were nuts.

    A really good book I found was ‘Pills for the Soul?’ by Dietzer Mullitz which I wish I had read years ago. I found it in a christian bookstore. I’ve lent it to a friend but I highly recommend it..should order it for the library.

    take care

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Wow Selina – I really love the idea of creating a support collection using Shelfari.

      Do you feel comfortable posting a link to help other readers who might want a great way to find a few needed resources?

      I really think the issue is that the books tend to be written by the clinicians, because in a 1.0 business model an accreditated person has more right to speak about an issue than someone whose expertise comes from managing it every single day of their life – not that I underrate the support professional staff have given me when I’ve ask for and needed it – well, some of them anyway – I’ve had some excellent people and some truly abysmal ones, like my first OT after diagnosis who felt she was delivering her best support by telling me what I was doing “wrong” in a firm tone of voice. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my journey to wellness, it’s that getting stuck on “what’s wrong” is a surefire path to moving backwards.

      Writing definitely helps. I don’t think I’ve got your new blog in my feed since you moved from agl – could you msg me it on fb?

      Here’s one of my favourite songs ever.

  5. Nice post Sean, well done. As we have already discussed, I am lucky enough not to have mental illness but I do have plenty of special people in my life who do and I have been with them on some of their “journeys” with their illness. I like the “coming out” concept. πŸ™‚

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Thanks Corin.

      Believe it or not, I feel lucky that I do have a mental illness despite the pain its caused me and people I care about over the years.

      Don’t forget the act of being able to deliver support to those people in your life is a heroically courageous one. The hospitals are filled with people whose families and friends turned away when it got hard.

      OK, one of my faves. Hmmm. Oh I know, was loving this yesterday. Great synth, and it’s from a movie based on a book about boy and a book which contains a heroic journey.

  6. Lovely. Thank you. Close to home for me in many ways. πŸ™‚

  7. seanmurgatroyd says:

    You’re welcome. Here’s a song for all librarians.

  8. Pingback: Keep the customers satisfied « The Room of Infinite Diligence

  9. Hi Sean

    Mental illness is certainly one of “those” topics, and certainly one that should be more out in the open.

    I had depression for a while, and ended up seeing a councilor, and that is not a topic I like to raise. I am constantly surprised though at the negative reactions you get when talking to friends who recognize they have problems, but are unwilling to get help. There is still an unnecessary stigma associated with having to get help for a mental illness.

    I am glad things are working out well for you. It’s a brave path you have taken.



    PS Kylie says hi πŸ™‚

    PPS Our eldest is not “neuro-typical” and while only dipping his toes into the spectrum, we teach him his “issues” are largely causes for celebration as they make him unique and interesting..

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Thanks for sharing, Mr. Parry and hi Kylie πŸ˜€

      Like I said over the other side, this isn’t about bravery, it’s just a useful solution for a problem. πŸ˜›

      Good message for your eldest.

      Song: For a writer and a children’s librarian.

  10. Kelly M says:

    wow, glad to have found this post Sean……its a fantastic one. My significant other has suffered from serious clinical depression on and off for the last 10 years, and like you, he is happy to talk about it and share experiences – I think it has really helped others when he has done so…so yay for you doing the same! I also suffered from post natal depression on the birth of our little man…something weighing a little heavily on my mind at the moment, as I am due with number 2 in just under 3 months time….but at least this time I am prepared, and I know what great support there is out there for me. Thanks again for the post πŸ™‚

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Thanks Kelly.

      I’d be interested to know if your husband has some of the same motivations I do – I cherish the opportunity to help others, but I also find the action of giving that help to help me immensely.

      Support is definitely the key to it all. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without vast quantities of support, it’s good to be in a position where I can pass some of that on.

      I got sneaky and checked out what music you like on FB. πŸ˜› Yay for electronic/dance type stuff!

  11. Pingback: Let it go – mutually supportive partnerships: #blogjune 13 | Seanfish

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