Speaking out about mental illness is a very empowering journey. I started blogging because I wanted to do something to help us move along the stigma curve. I really felt like if those of us who had a mental illness and started talking more about it, openly and honestly it would help others begin to understand a little more.
When you go through pain, struggle and adversity the natural course is wanting to share that experience so others may not have to suffer as much. By sharing you also release a pressure valve that comes from holding in a troubling experience. If you never hear about people who have been through what you have experienced the fear gage continues to go up. You don’t know what to expect and all we generally think about is the worst case scenario.
Years ago when I first encountered the mental health system I was 19 years old. My mother came into the system in a crises situation and I was called upon to help her get the treatment she needed at a psychiatric hospital. I do remember talking about my experience to other people, but I don’t think they knew what to say to me to provide any comfort. I think they listened and then wanted to move on with their day. Over the years I often wandered if people would have been more understanding if she had cancer. It seems with a mental illness people in general have less compassion and tend to blame the victim.
What I learned from that experience was that it was not ok for me to talk about what happened to my mother. I wasn’t going to find any compassionate understanding because most people didn’t know what the words meant I was talking about anyhow. They didn’t understand that bipolar disorder could be a life threatening illness for any number of reasons. The sad thing about the whole thing is I don’t think much has changed in 30 years. But I have changed and I expect to be able to talk about mental illness without worrying about what people think.
I would hate for anyone young or old to have to go through that experience. It caused a great deal of pain and suffering and a sense of loss that I went through. But the loss was temporary, thank God. My mother got well, returned to work and continued to live her life even with the struggles of bipolar disorder. It took many episodes and a few trips to the hospital for her to get stabilized. But she did and knowing that is possible changed how I looked at bipolar disorder.
If only we had known sooner that you have to fight for the proper treatment. You have to take on bipolar disorder with a plan of action. You cannot let the illness “run its course” because the course can be so dangerous. You would not let cancer “run its course.” These illnesses are not like having a case of the flu. They are serious and they deserve major attention from survivors and caregivers of all types.
The more we talk about mental illness the better the outcome will be for everyone. I hope the next 30 years will bring about significant change and I hope by writing about it I will help move the pendulum.