Sometimes I Feel Like A Failure
Does having a mental illness make you feel like a failure? As much as I know I am far from a failure I still have my moments when I look at former colleagues and think, “What the heck happened to me?” Of course I know exactly what happened—mental illness dropped on my doorstep and interrupted my life, as I once knew it, but sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact.
Believing we are failures because we have a mental illness is really part of self-stigma. It’s fits right under the category of blaming ourselves for having an illness. I suppose it is in part a way to try and make some sense out of various behaviors and in an effort to take back some control over the situation we point our fingers at the person looking back at us in the mirror.
Self-Stigma: Shame & Blame
In times when I am suffering with a depressive episode I shame myself into believing it’s my fault, as if I really have any control over the illness. The shame makes the situation far worse and really adds to the bad feelings I already have about myself. I made a point to stop the shaming the last time I was sick. It’s already hard enough as it is to get well again but I learned I needed to be a better friend to myself.
Why Can’t I Be “Normal?”
If only I was normal I wouldn’t have to deal with all these things. Mental illness can take you out of mainstream society. It can interrupt your life with hospitalizations, frequent doctor visits, therapy, medication side effects, loss of work and all these things can cause a withdrawal from life. Stepping out of my daily course of living has made me feel like a complete failure. And then the voice of reason kicks in and I hear myself say, “If it weren’t for bipolar disorder life would be different.”
I’m sure not everyone who experiences a mental illness has felt like a failure. But I am willing to bet many people have and I want to speak to those people. I want to tell them to lift up your head and hold it high; hold back your shoulders and walk with confidence; start believing you are so strong because you have faced off with adversity and you have won; you are a valuable member to the community; and you will find your way to recovery. Above all you are not a failure.
Mental illness can cause so much pain and many personal struggles. I have learned that I cannot give it any more power over me than what it deserves. I have approached it in a way that says, “I have a mental illness and it’s not my fault, and I’m going to pick up the pieces and move forward with my life. No mental illness is going to stop me from living a healthy, happy and productive life.” It’s my mantra and I believe it!
Bipolar Disorder Steals
In case you haven’t heard bipolar disorder is a thief. You know my life was going along just fine until I was hit with a severe bipolar episode. For all practical purposes I had it all—great career, wonderful relationship, plenty of money, a home with a pool, spa and basketball court, and plenty of friends. It didn’t take long from my first episode for my entire life to implode. At the end of the day it’s not the material things I missed most it’s the intangibles.
Actually it took about four years after my intital diagnosis before my life started to be completely disrupted. As you can imagine I spent a great deal of time blaming myself for allowing bipolar disorder to wreck havoc with my daily course of living. But really what’s a girl to do? Did I see the warning signs that if I didn’t get the proper treatment the illness was going to get worse? Nope. I can honestly say that no doctor ever said that to me until I was already living proof that it can get worse. At that time it was a no brainer.
Limited Resources & Stigma
See that’s the thing about mental illness. Because of the stigma and the limited amount of resources for treatment no one really sits you down and tells you the way things are gonna be. Often time they just write out a pile of prescriptions (that frequently make you gain a ton of weight) and they send you out the door. I don’t remember anyone ever taking the time to explain to me that according to the National Institute of Mental Health more than 80% of all bipolar patients experience psychosis. Who knew?
I had to take it upon myself to research bipolar illness long after I had experienced the gut wrenching losses because of the disorder. Often times I have found myself giving a therapist a specific statistic and/or fact about bipolar disease. I have been shocked that they didn’t know it. Then again, without playing too much of the victim role should I really have expected anything better?
Years of Treatment
It took me 13 years before I actually found a physician who could give me more insights about the illness than I already knew. I don’t understand how people can go to school for more than 10 years and not be able to relate to a bipolar patient. It’s just beyond my comprehension that not only do we have limited resources for mental health treatment we don’t always have the best treatment either. But who is going to listen to that argument?
Being a Voice for Mental Illness
If I’m going to be completely honest I have to say I’m a little bitter. Even though I know hanging on to negative emotions about how things have worked out is not going to get me very far. I still have to admit I’d rather things worked out differently. So they didn’t’ and now I have to continue moving forward with my life. I have learned that if there is something you cannot change you can focus the passion and energy on the things you can change. This is why I am speaking out about mental illness. Because no one should have to suffer as much as this population of people do. I plan to use my energy on helping the cause. At least that’s a positive way to focus my valuable time.
For several months I found myself searching the Internet for topics relating to “mental illness and losses.” I was not exactly sure what was going on but after several weeks I realized I was in a grieving process with regard to having my life change from bipolar disorder. I was looking for some other stories out there about people who had been through major life changes because of their mental illness. I wanted to know how the illness had impacted them and what they did to deal with those losses.
I found a lot of general information about how mental illness can affect your job, relationships and your economic status. I also found several people on the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance site who had recovered and were working again in various careers. “But what about people like me?” I thought. Where are the people who are grieving the loss of careers and relationships? What did they do to recover? How did they do it?
After several searches I found a YouTube video of a presentation by Dr. Ken Druck. He was presenting for the International Bipolar Foundation. The talk was about grief and losses pertaining to the caretakers of bipolar disorder folks. But as I listened I realized I could relate to various things.
I learned grief, while certainly painful, is a very healthy response to loss of any kind. This can even include the loss of dreams you might be striving for. In my case I was grieving for loss of my life, as I once knew it, which included lots of great relationships and an awesome career. I kept listening very intently and found that even though there is the well-known Kuebler Ross grief process, grieving in and of itself is not linear. And eventually we can heal.
The best part about the video is that I actually had the acknowledgement I had been looking for; it is perfectly “normal” to grieve the losses from mental illness. At last I found a voice out there that resonated with me. Now I could start taking action to help myself heal.
I believe whole heartily in recovering from mental illness, but I also know when things get tough and symptoms break through the road is much more difficult than it seems. Grief can be a trigger for depression so that makes it much more difficult to process when you have bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder. This is one of the reasons why finding the information on the YouTube video was so helpful for me. It gave me a sense of relief knowing that what I was experiencing actually had a name and now I could understand why I was searching for information to help relieve some of my pain.
If you have experienced losses because of a mental illness you might want to check out the video “Bipolar Lecture by Ken Druck.” (This is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XBbDnb1z3w). I also bought Dr. Druck’s book and have been reading it. It’s called “The Real Rules of Life” and deals with several topics related to understanding and dealing with “what is.” I found it very helpful.