Absent from the blogging world for several months, I’ve wrestled with being open, honest, and vulnerable about my recent diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. When it comes to the mind, people are anxious, nervous, and not quite sure how to react when you tell them you have a mental illness, which makes giving voice to my story one of the most difficult things to do.
Living with bipolar II has certainly presented its own set of challenges, from battling the stigma, guilt and denial that comes with a mental illness diagnosis to practicing self-awareness and self-care during the recovery process. Recovery is not simple or quick but I see my family and close friends standing in my corner and they remind me there is meaning and hope. Most days I am fighting to be better for them. Only recently have I fought to be better for myself.
Here are five ways I’ve been able to embrace my mental illness:
- Acknowledging its presence in my life. I think bipolar II was a secret I kept from myself for years. It seemed to always sit there quietly in my unsettled mind, occasionally making an appearance just to remind me it was still there. I always willed it to go away but denying its existence only brought more pain to my life. In the depths of my most recent major depressive episode, I resorted to self-harm and began cutting my wrists. I wanted the parts of me visible to the outside world to match how I felt on the inside, which left me with four scars on my left wrist for the rest of my life. I ultimately reached a point where I could no longer hide my struggle from family and friends and as a result I spent a week in the psychiatric unit at a local hospital. Sharing this struggle and my subsequent diagnosis with close friends and family was the best thing I ever did for myself. People came out of the woodwork to be there for me; to offer their support, love, and a shoulder to lean on if I needed it. I didn’t realize how much I needed all of them until they appeared. By finally admitting I needed help, I recognized that I was no longer alone in my journey. I realize now the crucial role family and friends play in my recovery and I’ve found that by acknowledging my mental illness I’ve laid the groundwork for a dependable support network.
- Making friends with fear. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar II I was plagued with fear. Fear that people might judge me or think I was different and weird. Fear that the free-spirited, adventurous qualities my friends and family loved about me were just the byproduct of being hypomanic. Fear of the sudden realization that I would live with bipolar for the rest of my life, which in turn left me wondering what ‘the rest of my life’ actually looked like. However, admitting I was afraid and voicing my fears brought an enormous amount of relief. I started to view my diagnosis as a blessing because I finally knew what I was dealing with. Armed with that knowledge I’ve been able to use my fear to understand and learn what I needed to do to manage my illness and continue living a healthy, stable life.
- Acknowledging my current state of health. In my most severe depressive episode, I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t shower. I didn’t cook. I didn’t clean. The thought of doing any of these things nearly debilitated me and as a result I stunk, didn’t eat, and slept in dirty sheets for months at a time. It was only at the hospital that I finally became mindful of how much I wasn’t functioning in the everyday world and that I needed help doing all the simple things that seemed so overwhelming to me. I needed medication to stabilize my mood. I needed someone to help me clean and cook and do the laundry. The only thing I seemed to be able to manage in the initial weeks after my hospital stay was to take a shower. I was too exhausted to do anything else. Even though it was a small task it was something. Understanding my abilities and my limitations at the present moment is important to my recovery process. I can’t think about where I want to be or how I ultimately want to function. Instead, I continuously have to ask myself where I’m at today and cut myself some slack. I realize I may need some help getting through rough patches and I’ve found that there are people in my support network who are willing to help even if in a small but significant way.
- Participating in the recovery process in a meaningful way. When I decided to take an active role in my recovery I began educating myself about my mental illness, joined several support groups, and found a creative outlet through writing. Doing all of these things has helped me cope with and manage my mental illness in a way that helps me function and continue living. I think the biggest blessing in my recovery is what I give and receive at support groups. I cling to them like a totem pole. They are my brothers and sisters; my comrades. They are the few people I know who truly understand what it’s like inside the mind of someone living with bipolar. Writing has also been helpful as it’s given voice to my worries and fears and helped me process and grieve my diagnosis. Taking an active role in my recovery process has empowered me to seek help and find purpose and meaning in a post-diagnosis world.
- Not letting it define me. As soon as the psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II I thought others would stop seeing me as the free-spirited, adventurous sometimes sad and lonely writer and instead start seeing me as that crazy girl. The pervasive stigma that exists regarding mental illness is a battle I will constantly fight. Some people will embrace me while others will shy away but I can’t let how others perceive me define the kind of existence I want to live. Yes, I am different, unpredictable, impulsive, at times reckless and at other times seriously depressing, but I am also many other things. Most importantly, I am a strong person with a giant heart. I am a loving daughter and caring friend. My mental illness is a part of who I am but it is not me. For that reason I decided to use my mental illness as a vehicle for change; to break down the walls other people put up.
If you live with a mental illness please know you are not alone in your journey.