So apparently, ‘Snakes and Ladders’ as it is known in the UK and here in Ireland is more commonly known as ‘Chutes and Ladders’ across the pond in the USA. Who knew? Certainly not I. But if there is one board game that so readily makes me think of my life with Bipolar Disorder it is that one.
In the game you work your way to the end of the board and along the way encounter ladders that soar you higher and snakes or chutes then send you colliding down. Sound familiar?
Of course in the game whenever you land upon a ladder you seldom become so manic that; everyone thinks you are overdosing on red bull, think you are a the dalai lama or a ‘special one’, go out on a spending spree and buy fifteen sat navs/gps systems when you don’t even own a car, get distracted by such things as a fly breaking wind fifteen miles away, or talk so fast that not even a group of cattle traders could understand you.
And likewise when you hit on a snake or a chute you seldom get so depressed that; you just want to crawl under the board and hide, or even climb into the snake or chute and sleep forever, or become convinced that the entire board has been specifically designed by some deity, higher power or the universe just to get you, or find the next or highest ladder just so you can hang yourself from it.
Of course I am exaggerating and using a little humor in some of the above examples but whilst some of the above examples may be exaggerated or slightly humorous, trust me the stark contrasts between the extremes are neither exaggerated nor humorous and neither is the severity of the impact that such a condition can have on the sufferer and his or her family.
And here’s another piece of trivial information for you. Snakes and Ladders or Chutes and Ladders originated in India where it was known as moksha pAtam or vaikunthapaali or paramapada sopaanam – the ladder to salvation and for many of us who suffer from the condition the end and not having to experience it ever again truly is seen, in times of the depths of the despair and depression, as being a kind of salvation.
As a mental health blogger I have now been blogging about my mental health for over three years now. I know because I went back and checked and indeed the first posting on this blog was way back in January of 2009 and was appropriately called “Voices of Glass“.
Of course what I didn’t know way back then was that there is a whole community of other mental health bloggers and I am by no means suggesting that I thought I was the only one, it just didn’t occur to me to even consider if there were others. It was, and I hope you understand this, more about me getting out what was trapped inside me and letting others know that they were not alone, than it was about me needing to know I was not alone.
And that is I think another interesting parallel that can be drawn between the game and the condition. It is not a one player game and whilst you can indeed play it alone the fact is that there are lots of others soaring up those ladders and crashing down those snakes or chutes and I have to tell you, having some idea of what they are experiencing in both the soaring and the crashing my heart goes out to each and every one of them.
You see I am not just a mental health blogger, I am a reader too and I visit a number of other blogs, many of which having similar themes to this one, and I do so knowing that I cannot help but invest of myself in what I am reading and in the sufferings of those who share it with me. I don’t know how to read other mental-health sufferer’s work dispassionately or clinically. I don’t know how to just read and move on.
Because whilst I may have used a simple well-known board game as a picture or example of this mental condition/illness and whilst I may have drawn a number of parallels from it along the way there are a couple of truths here that totally separate the game from the reality…
Firstly, whilst snakes and ladders or chutes and ladders is a game that friends and family can all get involved in and whilst friends and family can indeed get involved in the life of a Bipolar Disorder sufferer, the fact is that they can never truly know what those ladders or those snakes or chutes and the desperate opposing realities of difference between them are truly like unless they too also suffer from the illness.
Secondly, and more importantly, Bipolar Disorder is not a game. It is life and it is death and it is the expansive wilderness of isolation that lies between the two. Until those realities are understood and accepted by those who look on, even those who look on in caring and love, the isolation that I speak of and that we sufferers often feel will always be there.
Where am I in the midst of this real-life struggle of snakes or chutes and ladders? Am I level, or soaring up a ladder or crashing down a snake or a chute? What does it matter? Is it more important were I am or where you are in all of this?
If indeed I am soaring up a ladder ready to soar out of control then standing at the bottom shouting, “Come down! It isn’t safe up there! You’ll do yourself harm!” isn’t going to help one little bit. I need you to somehow try to climb that ladder and lead me down. And yes I know the seeming impossibility of what I ask.
If I have crashed headlong down that snake or chute and am swimming naked and raw, lost and alone through a quagmire of desperation, then standing at the top looking in and shouting, “Come back! Climb back up! It isn’t safe down there! You’ll get hurt or end up hurting yourself!” is going to do nothing to help me. I need you to somehow climb down and get me. To wrap your arms around me and to hold me safe and warm and to protect me with your love and somehow wash me clean with your tears.
Where am I in the midst of this real-life struggle of snakes or chutes and ladders? I am here – now tell me this. Where are you?