My dark days made me stronger. Or maybe I was already strong, and they just made me prove it.Emery Lord
She opens her eyes, legs curled to her chest on the kitchen floor. She pushes herself into an upright position with her palms and glances at the shattered glass all around her. What the hell just happened?
It doesn’t take long for the path of destruction she left behind to remind her that after a particularly vicious argument, she had become enraged enough to see red, slam doors, yell, scream and smash a plate on the floor. She starts crying as she grabs the broom, leaves a voicemail for her psychiatrist to let the doctor know that she doesn’t think that the new medication they’re trying out is working too well.
This type of “episode” had been few and far between since she was a young girl, so this little behavioral set back was actually eating her alive a little bit. I thought we were past this, pull yourself together, says that nagging little voice in her head. The invisible voice that we all have that makes us overthink things, and replay conversations we’ve had, what we could have said or done differently. You know, that one. That same voice that takes control if we let it, and next thing you know, you’re in bed with the covers pulled over your head for two days straight.
The clinical definition of Bipolar Disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania,) or lows (depression.) When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities” (MFMER, 2020.)
Well, yeah, that is what we know about it, those are the majority of symptoms you need to have before you can be diagnosed based on the DSM 5 classification. Or, for those of us who don’t really know much about Bipolar, like I didn’t until a formal diagnosis, I promise it doesn’t always look like Angelina Jolie’s character, Lisa Rowe, in Girl, Interrupted. For what it’s worth, Lisa was a diagnosed sociopath anyway, but I have heard the reference be made.
The World Health Organization estimates that Bipolar Disorder affects over 45 million people across the globe, as well as a staggering 264 million more suffering from some type of depression (WHO, 2019.) I have posted the link to the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization at the bottom of the page for anyone interested in learning more, the statistics might shock you. The thing that I can’t seem to understand is, if humans are living with mental health issues, in those sort of astronomical numbers, why are we not talking about it more?
I often wondered why, until just recently, I felt ashamed when people would find out that I was prescribed medication. I thought that when someone new found out that I live with bipolar disorder, the ground was going to open up right beneath my feet and swallow me whole, (and just to be clear, that rarely had anything to do with symptoms of the actual disorder.) That feeling of being gobbled up by the very Earth I was standing on, had everything to do with the existing stigma surrounding mental health. A stigma that I had even been projecting on to myself. It took me a long time to understand that only I could become my own advocate. It wasn’t until I truly and wholeheartedly accepted the fact that a bipolar diagnosis does not define me as a person. It is however, a part of me, and all I can do is manage it to the best of my ability and ask for help when I need it.
A mental health diagnosis does not make us any less capable as human beings, it doesn’t need to be a debilitating life sentence. But if we stay “embarrassed,” “ashamed,” or too “afraid” to talk about it, then we will never be able to normalize the conversation around it. I have discovered that silence is not support. Silence is in fact, deadly. There are millions of people in this world who are facing the same challenges that I am, yet they don’t have access to the same resources that I do.
In the coming week, I am going to share with you some healthy coping mechanisms and provide some accessible resources that anyone can use to help balance their own mental health journey.
We have an obligation to change the direction of that journey for others. Every person has the right to appropriate mental healthcare. I have decided to share a little about my own struggle thus far, and there will be more to come because I am an open book. I want to hear about your experience too; So, let’s talk and let’s try to eradicate the existing stigma around mental health, together.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.