When I was little, we had a book in our house called ‘The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek” by Jenny Wagner .
In this book, a mythical Australian creature, the bunyip, tries to find out what he is. Not satisfied with being told he was a bunyip by a talking kangaroo and an emu, he goes on an adventure to find out from other talking Australian fauna, what bunyips should look like. They give him snippets of information which isn’t very complimentary.
When he asks a man though, he is told that bunyips don’t look like anything because they don’t exist. The bunyip, despondent, goes into hiding where he finds another bunyip and they apparently live happily ever after in their little bunyip world.
I didn’t like the book when I was a kid, it freaked me the hell out, especially the picture of the man. But now that I am an adult with 43 years of life experience behind me, I am considering the book in a different light.
I don’t know if Jenny Wagner wrote this for children or for adults who think about stuff too much, but I can draw several parallels to a bipolar me, trying to understand who the hell I am.
The man in the book said that the bunyip is a creature that you can’t see because it doesn’t exist. You can’t see my mental illness either. Does that mean it doesn’t really exist? Does the fact that I wonder many, many times a day who I am, what I am, do I exist, can anybody really see me, mean that I may be just a bit of a weirdo with a rapidly oscillating brain function? Am I bunyip enough to be happy knowing that all I might need is another person just like me? Probably not.
It is not lost on me that the bush creatures who enjoyed wide, open spaces and were obviously less involved with civilisation were the ones who could see the bunyip and tell him what bunyips should look like.
It is also not lost on me that the man, a scientist, did not even bother to look up from his work to consider the fact that despite his belief that bunyips didn’t exist, there was a bunyip in his chair, talking to him.
Sometimes that is what it felt like when early on, I tried to talk about my depression with others who don’t know what it’s like to have it. They didn’t believe that it was even a thing. It’s been said to me to ‘just think happy thoughts’ or ‘why would you be, you have a great life’ or ‘are you serious? You’re so happy all the time!’ Or the people who feel they are all googled up on the symptoms and behaviours who, like the native animals, tell me what I should and shouldn’t be feeling.
And sometimes, I would agree with them and get bunyip-like and slink off, despondent, to ponder my own existence.
I have no idea who I am going to be in the next ten minutes, but I could have a guess at who I won’t be. I won’t be someone who has a one, all consuming passion to achieve something great. I won’t have a clue about whether if what I’m thinking is what mentally sound people think. I won’t be someone who has any idea how I can turn off all the noise in my head or tidy up the jumbled thoughts in my mind that trip over themselves to form a coherent idea. And I won’t know if I give in to not being mentally strong, whether I will fade away from existence.
My existence is a constant topic of discussion between the voices in my head. I definitely feel overwhelmed when I consider the weight of my responsibilities in the world but I’d like to think that as I trundle through, moment to moment, I am like the bunyip, beginning to form a picture of who it is that I am. And hopefully, I will be able to be content with who that is.