Roughed up ghost

I started this blog with the idea that it would be a medium for some idle musings, some reflections on some of the random topics that attract my attention. Maybe the odd book review when something really grabbed me and deserved a little verbal leg up.

Then, not even a month after my modest entry into the wold of blogging, life has inserted its own stubborn editorial prerogative. I have crashed, head on, into a brick wall.

JMS 2012

The wall you see here is a memorial remnant to mark the location where a major hospital that was deemed redundant was collapsed in a most spectacular implosion. The government orchestrated the event in a zest to balance the books with total disregard for the awkward fact that that people do get sick. I took this photograph two years ago simply as an artistic statement. Then last week I allowed an illness I have long lived with to bring me to the brink of hospitalization.

I have bipolar disorder. It’s not a secret and I rarely give it a second thought. Diagnosed after a most spectacular manic break in my mid-30s I responded well to medication and never looked back. To appreciate the genesis of this recent setback one has to look back a good year and a half. For nine years I have worked with small not-for-profit agency serving adults with brain injuries. I have loved my job. We help people accessing benefits, advocate for services, and adjust to the sudden impact that severe injury brings to the survivor and their families and friends.

But lately there had been something out of sorts. The Executive Director began forgetting to issue invoices and pay bills. His behaviour became increasingly erratic and unpredictable. As the senior management staff member my workload multiplied as I sought to cover his shortcomings and meanwhile, on behalf of the staff, I had to try to encourage the Board of Directors to issue at least some kind of thorough review. Instead they paid him out, congratulated themselves on a job well done and left it to myself and another key staff to fill in the gaps. With such an increasingly unmanageable forest of papers and emails threatening to bury me alive I brought work home and worked through the evenings and weekends. Sleep all but evaporated and soon I was, well, running on high octane. And not in a good way.

The realization that I was on the doorstop of mania was a shock when I discovered my empty pill case. I had been stable for 18 years. Under medical advice I have requested stress leave but it has become clear that the mental health stigma is alive and well. Of course it doesn’t help that as my mood escalated my behaviour began to appear increasingly bizarre. I can’t take that back, but such is the illness. Consequently I have been referred to as unstable, unreliable, incompetent. It is unlikely that a return will be feasible.

As the longest serving staff member, my heart and soul were bound to the vision of this agency. At this moment, my ghost is not only roughed up, but fractured. And I am not even a strong believer in a soul but there is some soul-shaped hole in my heart right now.

Will mental illness ever be understood as an illness of the body like any other?


Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

5 thoughts on “Roughed up ghost”

  1. A lot is being done and people like to think they understand and accept, but its still easy for them to jump to words like ”unstable” when the shit hits the proverbial fan.
    I’ve also had a lot of stick from people about taking my medication. ”Why cant you just talk it through with a therapist? You don’t need to poison your body.”
    Unfortunately you cant exactly ”Talk through” a chemical imbalance in your brain. And I don’t understand how someone with bipolar taking mood stabilisers is different to someone with diabetes taking insulin….?


    1. You’ve got it.
      It seems to have become a trend for so-called psychiatric professionals to attack the diabetes analogy but the medication forms a safety net, a baseline. A year ago with my psych and GP’s support I dropped to a prophylactic dose to mitigate some of the long term side effects. It took more than a year to ramp up but if stress begins to shrink your sleep, illness slips in with a vengeance. As the drug levels stabilize I am also seeing an awesome therapist as far as $180/hour will carry me (i.e. NOT very far).


  2. Wow. Sounds really tough. I’m a bit younger than you (25) but I can definitely understand some of what you are going through. I am very new to the disease, I was diagnosed three weeks ago after experiencing my first-ever manic episode. Since January, I have probably missed a total of…10 weeks of work. I returned to work on Monday and my supervisors approached me on Tuesday, saying they didn’t think I was better and that I needed to seek a doctor’s note to prove I am medically able to work. It’s frustrating because I know they really care about me (I work at a super supportive organization), I just really want to get back to work. I really feel like I need work to feel normal. Without it, I’m just kind of floating around. I just feel like, because of my illness, they don’t trust me enough to speak for myself and say when I’m ready to be at work.


    1. I wish you well. The sad thing is that my work advocates for people with disabilities but I have never met anyone who wants to be considered someone with a psychiatric condition rather than a brain injury which they can blame on something else (that fall, that stroke, that tumour). Mental illness is bound to the antiquated notion of “spiritual weakness”


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