As human beings, it is often difficult, if not impossible for us to wrap our own minds around something that we cannot see or do not understand.
In large part, that is how certain stigmas are born and cemented into society. That, coupled with failure to educate or refusal to learn is why a dark cloud still hangs around the subject of mental illness.
It took me a long time to tell someone what I was experiencing, and even longer to receive an accurate diagnosis with an actual plan to help me stabilize- like basically my whole life, long. It wasn’t until the last two years or so did I finally get help in understanding my own behavior and constant and painful mood shifts.
I had spent much of the little bit of life I’ve lived asking myself why I never seemed as happy as others, why I had outbursts, why I cried so much, why I was experiencing week-long episodes of not being able to lift my head off of the pillow, and then unable to rest for what seemed like days at a time.
I told myself I was just lazy. I told myself I was just a born pessimist and a drama queen. I was mean to myself. I’d look in the mirror, tell myself to get my sh*t together and to stop being such a baby. But I couldn’t, because those things that I was saying, weren’t true.
You cannot begin to heal if you hate yourself, and for a while I truly thought I did hate myself, because I didn’t understand what was happening inside of my own head.
How could I be depressed? I have a good life that I’m grateful for, I believed I was over most of the traumatic events in my past, yet there I was, staring at a tear-stained face in the mirror that I didn’t even recognize any more.
Then one day, sitting in the office for my yearly physical, my doctor decided to do a depression screening. I argued with her, I told her that I was planning my wedding, I had a decent job, I had just gotten a puppy. What could I possibly have to be sad about?
The doctor had blood drawn for every possible physiological condition that could have been affecting my energy levels and mood. Thyroid issues, Lyme, pregnancy, diabetes, etcetera, etcetera.
When all of my bloodwork came back as normal, enter the overwhelming feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt. I left my appointment that day with some referrals for therapy and a psychiatrist.
I was stigmatizing my own mental health issue like it was some sort of infectious disease and I was deathly contagious. I was treating my doctor’s determination like it was a life sentence. Regardless, with some coaxing and positive affirmations from my oh-so-loving (and very patient) husband, I decided to follow up with one of the referrals.
After just one appointment, I could feel that my whole life was about to change. I did have to go in with an open mind, which at that time was an incredibly difficult thing for me to do, but after just a few sessions, I was starting to feel so much better.
My clinical diagnosis is Bipolar II disorder, which is a milder form of mood elevation, involving episodes of hypomania followed by longer episodes of severe depression.
Two years ago, I would have thrown up at the thought of telling you that, but I have learned so much, and come so far; I now understand, after ongoing therapy and medication management sessions, that Bipolar does not at all define who I am. I am intelligent, I am capable, I am kind and I am no less a human being. Receiving a formal diagnosis did not for one second change how my loved ones view me, or how much they love me.
I was given an opportunity for a better quality of life and I took it. The me that had been buried so deep down by my mental illness, for so long, began to emerge like that one flower that blooms in early Spring, before all the snow has finished melting. I am still learning every single day how to continue to cope with Bipolar, but what I can say, is that I feel free.
I am unchained from what seemed like permanent sadness, hostility and confusion. I still have my down days of course, just like anybody else, but I have learned to accept that that’s okay. A bad day isn’t a setback, it only proves that we are humans. Being diagnosed with a mental illness and taking the right steps to manage it, has been absolutely life-altering for me, and only in the best way.
This road that I’m on is not always straight, but it is certainly an interesting and challenging one. I have always longed for a way to really help others, to make a genuine difference and positive impact in people’s lives. I aim to do that by turning my story into relatable words and sharing my journey. I am on a mission to let the world know that healing is possible and to end the stigma around mental health diagnoses.