Hi. I am Laila. I am 29 years old. I have survived a military coup in my birth country, the raid of Afghanistan during the War on Terror and living as a Muslim woman in post 9/11 Australia. I have been published multiple times, produced Burlesque Shows in Perth in the mid 2000s, been in a documentary about Islamic Feminism, had my play about Queer Muslims produced at The Blue Room Theatre and am currently finishing a degree in Criminology and Counter Terrorism.
I also have Type 2 Bipolar Disorder. And my illness and I, we are learning to be friends.
Because Carrie Fisher told us we should.
I make no sense.
But I will.
I was first diagnosed with this Type 2 Bipolar Disorder in my second year of Law School when a professor (who himself had Bipolar Disorder) helped me seek professional help. He recognised my erratic attendance and ability to survive a semester on next to no sleep as symptomatic of the manic highs and depressive lows of the same illness that plagued him as a teenager. In 2007, at the risk of being expelled from University for failure to attend all 4 of my examinations in Semester 1, I attended a session with a Clinical Psychiatrist at Joondalup Mental Health.
What followed was a diagnosis that shook my life to its foundations. It was almost as if, over the course of my diagnosis, my actions, behaviours, and thoughts were no longer my own. Rather, they were symptomatic of a series of behaviour patterns associated with my illness. Suddenly everything, from my sleep patterns to my personality traits became the product of a condition that is still widely misunderstood.
And the worst part of all was that it was for keeps.
Life with Bipolar Disorder can only be described as erratic. We seem to live by a different calendar, with the year punctuated by cycles of highs and lows instead of weeks and months. That play i wrote? That was x cycles ago. That time i drank a bottle of sailor jerry rum to myself? That was 6 cycles ago. How long is a cycle? Who the fuck knows anymore. When is the next low coming? Always too soon. Just when I think I have grasped my behaviours, i surprise myself again. And again.
There are the manic highs where I cannot sleep for days, where every idea is genius, where I start diets and fitness routines and writing projects. Then there are depressive lows where I cannot stay awake, when my shoulders are stiff and my body hurts. Where getting up, showering and leaving the house gives me anxiety. My mind becomes a place so dark, and bone-crushingly cramped I feel like a human black hole. If you have depression you know what i mean…
And yet, somehow, at the age of 29, I managed to carve out a life between the crests and the troughs. Somehow I woke up and realised I had made it past my teens and early twenties despite God knows how many attempts to wipe myself off the face of the Earth. Somehow, against odds, I am standing with my back to the threshold of 2017, waving at my 2007 self.
“You made it!” I yell at myself across the years of near misses. “You’re going to be 30 and you’re finally really happy”.
I wish 2007 me could hear me now.
You see…the way Bipolar Disorder was explained to me in 2007 was like it was a curse. You have this…THING…that’s going to make you fuck up your life so monumentally that you will never ever have the stability you need to recover. Your illness will become a self fulfilling prophecy. And the only thing you could do was make do.
And that’s what gets me.
Why the fuck have we set neurotypical achievements as the bar that people with mental illness have to attain? Why is it that we are sold this illness as an unmanageable curse.
What about all the things my illness has enabled me to do? There are some failures in the bipolar bucket but theres so many success stories too. And why am I only the product of my success stories? In my mother’s words, “There are no failures. Only lessons.”
I spent most of my twenties in relationships and friendships where I had to explain my “sadness” and “happiness” to people. I was made to feel like less than adult because of my inability to live my life by a calendar year. In this sea of explanations I forgot to understand the relationship between me and my Bipolar disorder.
It’s only after 2 beautiful years of being loved by someone unconditionally that I have managed to love myself and give myself the time and understanding I needed to make peace with my Bipolar Disorder.
This brings me to Carrie Fisher
Unlike most people, my first exposure to her wasn’t through her role as Princess Leia from Star Wars. It was through her appearance in The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive with Stephen Fry for the BBC.
She was the first person who was able to put into words what I experienced on a regular basis. Carrie often said that her drug use was a form of self-medication, using pain medication such as Percodan to “dial down” the manic aspect of her bipolar disorder.
I appreciated Carrie’s candour in a world that tends to throw the term “bipolar” around as a synonym for unreliable (Katy Perry, Miley cyrus et al, I am staring dagger at your shitty songs) and without engaging in serious discussion about living with this condition.
I don’t want the conversations about Bipolar disorder to stop just because Carrie is no longer here to voice concerns. I don’t want to pretend that living with Bipolar Disorder is black and white (all puns and intended). I want to have nuanced discussions about this condition that affects one in fifty Australians.
I want me and my Bipolar Disorder to get along and maybe even be friends one day. But in order to do that, we need to get better aquainted with each other without being shamed for it or for my Bipolar Disorder to be framed as a burden instead of a manageable illness.
I leave you with something Carrie Fisher wrote about living with Bipolar Disorder to a young man who had just been diagnosed with the illness. I wish I had this said to me ten years ago but I hope sharing it on my blog means someone else will get to see it:
“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.“
Remember that you are not alone in your struggle and that talking to someone about it is the first step to navigating your life with Bipolar Disorder.
May the force be with you, dear reader. Love and suppport always.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues please get in touch with Lifeline by calling
13 11 14 or visitng
Black Dog Institute: treatment fact sheet