Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I have lived with different degrees of the illness. Sometimes it has been a debilitating disease rendering me incapable of doing anything on a functional scale and leaving me to pick up the pieces and put my life back together. At times I have had successful treatment and was able to live a relatively “normal” life. Then there were times when I lived in denial not wanting to accept I had a mental illness. Most recently I struggle between feeling good and fighting the depressive episodes which leave me unable to function and steal my days away.
In my experience the most difficult things to deal with are threefold:
1) Continually fighting off depressive episodes
2) Coming to terms with life after a major episode
3) Dealing with medication side effects
It seems there is always something I have to fight for—whether that is sleeping off the medication side effects or fighting to not believe the lies depression tells me—I am always in a battle with this illness.
Years ago had I known everything I know today about bipolar disorder I believe my outcome would have been far better off but this only adds to my present day frustration. I would not have taken the risks of going without treatment because for me no treatment meant the illness would get worse. I would have sought support from friends and family members instead of isolating myself and pushing people away. I guess this is why they say, “hindsight is 20/20.”
At the same time, years ago I would never have blogged about mental illness much less be willing to talk about it. I had so much self-stigma those close relatives like–shame and blame—and I had zero compassion for myself. At least today I have learned to treat myself better. Everyday I express myself I gain a little better understanding and give myself the gift of compassion.
I think a lot can be said for eliminating negative attitudes toward people who have mental illness. There is so much we have to go through on a daily basis—the last thing we need is to have to deal with stigma on top of everything else. But from my personal experience the worst kind of stigma is self-stigma.
One step I am taking is to remind myself everyday I have got to be kind to the woman in the mirror. I have had to learn how to be nice to me because how can I expect others to treat me differently if I don’t treat myself well? As the old adage says, “treat people the way you’d like to be treated,” and for me that means being nice to myself and forgiving myself for having a serious mental illness called bipolar disorder.
Living with a mental illness means so many things to so many people. I believe it is in part about battling the symptoms of bipolar disorder and winning the fight I can win against self-stigma one thought at a time. I know the illness is not going to go away, but I can guarantee self-stigma can be cured.