Nurtured Nature


I don't watch soaps but my friend Lynette alerted me to one of the story lines in East Enders: one of the characters was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder (BPD). My God! Could it be that BPD was  becoming a 'cool' illness to have?!? My hubby downloaded the relevant episodes from BBCiPlayer and I settled down to watch them with some trepidation.....

I need not have worried: soaps may not be my cup of tea but they have a long track record of dealing with specific issues superbly well. The BPD story line in East Enders is no exception.

The young woman who plays Stacey, the BPD affected character, impressed me with her ability to communicate a range of difficult emotions without becoming a cartoon version of someone dealing  with her condition  - well done her. The script writers had also done their research - well done them.

The nature versus nurture debate on BPD has been superseded by recent comprehensive research carried out on identical and non-identical twins. At time of writing, this much is clear:

  • There is definitely a genetic component to BPD. It does tend to run in families and mine is no exception (my father, his sister, is mother and his uncle were all affected). I have inherited a strong genetic pre-disposition to BPD - my brother has not (he has his own problems, having inherited some of the conditions that are recurrent on my mothers' side of the family)
  • There is definitely an element of learned behaviour for a child with a predisposition to BPD who suffers at the hands of a parent with the condition (even if - I am tented to say particularly if - the child despises the said parent's behaviour.  In East Enders, Stacey reproduces her mother's reckless sexual promiscuity even though she grew up hating it. In my case, I reproduced my father's rage and found myself adopting his violent ways. I cannot begin to describe how I felt when I realised that the 'monster' who lived inside my father and from whom I had run away as an adolescent was right here inside of me.
  • There is definitely a strong denial element in BPD, not just because sufferers tend to gradually lose connection with reality but also because they cannot bear the thought that they are turning into the very parental version they hated for so long. Stacey shouts: "I don't want to turn into you! I am NOT you!" This is a double-whammy because we don't want to turn into the pill-popping parent either, even if the medication is helping that parent.  As a result we are caught between two versions of ourselves we despise: the un-treated irresponsible unpredictable monster on one hand - the pathetic medication reliant weakling in his/her chemical straight-jacket on the other. No wonder we stick to denial as long as we possibly can...
  • The BPD 'crash' is actually the worst part of the illness for the sufferer (not necessarily for the family), "You WILL go down and believe me you don't want to go there" implores Stacey's mother. God yes. A lot more is written about the BPD high than is said about the BPD low, probably because people in the high phase of their illness give rise to all sorts of juicy headlines. Not much can be written about a poor soul crouching trembling in the corner of a room somewhere... The high is in full view - the crash is mostly hidden, which is why I think it so important for me to share the experience of my crash.

It will be interesting to see how Stacey's story unfolds.  I can guess at a few more highs when she stops taking her meds (we all do it) and ends up sectioned under the Mental Health Act. 

One thing I can also guess is that the script writers will not address the issue of insight. Insight is linked to self-awareness and - let's face it - characters in East Enders are not known for their high level of consciousness. They do tend to fly rather low (as we say in French). It's a shame because insight plays a very important part in any mental illness.

Having said that, any soap that brings mental illness to the attention of millions of viewers gets my full and unreserved approval, especially if a young character is affected.

I might even keep in touch with Stacey to see how she copes with her nurtured nature...

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