Bipolar disorder not only disrupted my life it destroyed it. Every area of my life that I call my Pie of Life was affected: spiritual, financial, relationships/friendships, work, physical health and mental health. It took me a very long time to identify and process how each of these areas have been mutilated by an uncontrolled illness. But after recognizing the destruction I had to literally go back and start to pick up the pieces.
After I got my symptoms under control, I started to tell myself things like, “you deserve a life again.” But having a life meant facing the fall-out of all the things I no longer had and that was a terribly painful process. What also made it worse is that I had no “battle buddy” to walk the journey with me. I had a few family members but none who I really talked too about what I was going through on a daily basis. I might mention my struggles every now and then, but I never hashed it out.
I did utilize the services of a therapist and she was very supportive as I went through the “damage control” process. I found her most helpful as a support person for dealing with my last episode that resulted in a hospitalization. She helped me recover from the trauma inpatient care can sometimes inflict. As a matter of fact, I recently read someone’s blog where she was talking about how her therapist suggested she might have developed PTSD from a recent hospitalization. I have also been diagnosed with PTSD from things that happened during my episodes and then my subsequent hospitalizations. Trauma is trauma. Sometimes it does not necessarily matter, as much how we get to that point for the end result is similar.
Picking up the pieces of a shattered life is not a lot of fun. It is difficult to identify where you are going to start, let alone find the confidence to take one baby step forward and try. I found returning to my Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance group very helpful. Even though I have to admit I was skeptical that I would find as much support as I did. I simply did not know where to turn as I started piecing my life back together again, like a complex jigsaw puzzle with a million little pieces.
I actually sat down and made a plan. Even though I had an idea of what I wanted I knew if I could see it written down it may make even a bigger impact on me. So, I took each category of my Pie of Life and wrote it down and gave it a preliminary evaluation. I decided I would share with you my journey as I tediously rebuild my life.
I can tell you that in the area of relationships/friendships I have found great camaraderie in the blogging world. The active followers, viewers and readers have really made a difference in inspiring me to continue to write. It has also given me a connection to many individuals who understand the journey is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig down deep to want to attempt to rebuild your life. I have to give a big “thank you” to those who have encouraged me. I bet you didn’t know you had the power to influence a life when you wrote those comments or clicked on “like.” Little things make big differences!
I hope you will join me as I share the steps I am taking to build my life all over again. This is one way I know I will beat bipolar disorder.
Do you ever feel like your mental illness cheated you out of something? There are some days when I open my eyes after a long night’s rest and I just lie there in bed. I start thinking about what my day holds for me. What do I have to accomplish? Do I work today or am I going to have to figure out how I can be productive for the day? At times I get frustrated with this merry go round. I am tempted to fall back into dreaming about the past where getting up in the morning guaranteed I was going to have a full plate of activities and things to do.
In my recovery journey I came to realize that having a sense of purpose was one of the most important parts of getting well and staying well. Of course it is not always easy to accomplish this goal, but when I do I feel so much better about myself.
Today is just not one of those days. Today I feel like I have been cheated. I feel short-changed in the game of life– all my past dreams and ambitions stolen away from me because I ended up with a rather severe case of bipolar disorder. This vicious illness robbed me of my life as I once knew it.
There I said it. I have made it clear that I loathe bipolar disorder. I am not one of those people who like the manic highs with endless creative energy. I hate everything about this disorder. Some would say because it is a part of me I must hate myself too. But I don’t really look at it like that. I look at it as an illness separate and apart from me. It may affect my moods, but it does not influence the positive aspects of myself anymore than I like being thought of as a negative person when I am depressed.
It’s an illness. A nasty mental illness. I don’t think people who have cancer love their disease, nor do they romanticize it. There is nothing positive about living with an illness whether it is mental or physical. It is exactly what it is—an illness.
I know some people will take issue with me and in attempt to make me feel better about having a mental illness they will point out all the famous people and celebrities who also have lived with bipolar disorder. This does not make me feel better. It only tells me that mental illness does not discriminate. It also tells me that people who have lived with or currently live with a mental illness have done some pretty extraordinary things. I am grateful for those stories. But it still doesn’t make me feel any better on a day-to-day basis of struggling with my own illness.
So on days like today, when I would rather have stayed in bed all day long, I consider it a success to have let my feet hit the floor. I hold on to the fact that I am in no way alone in the battle against a mental illness. And I know that I am not alone in having those days when I feel like I have been cheated.
I am not willing to pretend my journey with bipolar disorder has been or will ever be easy. Some days I win and some days the whole idea of having this illness gets the best of me. When that happens I look for the small wins and hope for a better tomorrow.
Disclosing you have a mental illness is a very tough decision. There are so many issues associated with telling even your friends and family, much less being open about your illness in a public forum, like social media. From my viewpoint if we are to actively change the stigma associated with mental illness it is important for those of us who live with mental illness to feel comfortable in disclosing it.
I recently read an acticle about disclosing your mental illness diagnosis on-line. The author was an advocate, but chooses to blog and advocate anonymously. I have no problem with her choice, but I wonder about the impact you can make as an advocate living anonymously? Isn’t it important to demonstrate that many people living with serious mental illness can recover and contribute to society?
When writing my blog I decided it was important for me to feel comfortable being completely open and honest about who I am. I wanted people to know I was not ashamed for having a mental illness. In fact, I have worked very hard to live my life without living in shame for an illness I did not ask for and believe is no different than a physical illness from that standpoint.
But then I started thinking about all the reasons why people could judge me and look at me differently because I live with bipolar disorder. I thought about the stigma associated with the illness and how people may judge my competency without ever talking to me or reading anything I may write. I began to fall into the trap of worrying about things that I cannot control. I worked through my fears and doubts and moved forward with disclosure in a well thought out way.
For all the reasons why you should never disclose your mental health issues, there are equally a number of reasons why it is a good idea for at least people close to you to know. I was always afraid people would not be my friend if they knew about my condition. The truth is some people didn’t want to be friends with someone who had a mental illness, as if I had some kind of contagious disease. But others seemed to accept it and offer love and support.
After deciding I was going to live my dream and become a Mental Health Advocate, I put a great deal of thought into disclosing my illness. My focus is on raising awareness and creating opportunities to have a dialogue about mental illness so that others may understand. I wanted to jump on the band wagon and help eliminate stigma. I really felt like if people knew I was an Olympic Athlete who was affected by a mental illness they could see that it does not matter what your socio-economic status is or what parade you may have walked in, mental illness can affect anyone. It also helps other people who are suffering with the illness to know someone else who is living with it.
So—for all these reasons I felt like it was a good idea to disclose my illness. I let my Facebook friends know the other day on a status update that I was a Mental Health Advocate, writer and speaker and I lived with Bipolar Disorder. The support I received touched my heart and gave me more strength to keep on walking down the disclosure path.
I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I can say I feel empowered to share my journey. And I am glad I no longer hang my head in fear or shame.
Serious Mental Illness Baggage
Serious mental illness-depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD-come with a great deal of baggage. It does not mean that people can’t recover and go on to lead healthy, happy and productive lives. What I mean is that if we aren’t careful those of us living with a SMI will start to have a collection of negative past experiences that when compounded make it difficult to deal with.
This collection of baggage is something that usually begins with the onset of illness. It can include a negative experience from a hospitalization or with providers, it can be with a pile up of personal and financial losses, it simply can be an interruption of everyday life as we once knew it. One of the problems with all these things is how we cope and deal with it affects our mental health and we are already dealing with illnesses that impact our mental wellness.
My Experience with Bipolar Depression
I have a major bipolar depression problem that I have been fighting since I was in high school. It has taken me years to finally understand how the symptoms of depression manifest in my brain. Only within the past year have I been able to identify the negative thought process that often comes from the Lies Depression Tells You. But the reason I bring this up is to say that having depression makes it even more difficult to deal with the baggage. Sometimes it is just flat out more difficult to cope.
How I Cope
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how losses have affected me. It wasn’t until today that I read an article that stated how difficult job losses are that I realized the impact my job loss had on me. I took some time to let the article digest and then I did a little exercise where I wrote down on paper all the things that happened as a result of that job loss.
For some reason writing things down seem to help validate the importance of them. It also has a way of releasing some of the negative emotions that come from holding it all in. It’s a coping strategy I am using more and more everyday.
In a time when politicians are trying to figure out what kind of changes they should make to the mental health system, I just get stuck on one fact–serious mental illnesses are difficult to live with but the point is many of us are living with these illnesses. We might not all be working in high paying jobs but many of us are dealing with the everyday baggage that has been left on our doorstep while maintaining our responsibilities as parents, caregivers, employees and as independent adults.
My hope is that we collectively will continue to share our thoughts and feelings about mental illness and in that sharing we can continue to find a peace of mind. At the end of the day it’s not going to be any one thing that helps us manage, but a collective number of things we do to help us live our lives. After all we deserve to have a life too!
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!
The “Recovery Movement” in mental health has been around for several years. I have read different opinions about recovery and I think it’s important to understand what recovery actually means.
A Recovery Definition
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness recovery is a process that includes having an initial diagnosis, learning about your illness and the treatments available, sharing information about your illness with friends and family and finally doing something to help other people with your illness. Nowhere in this definition of recovery does it talk about resuming your life where you left off before your diagnosis.
Before I read this explanation from NAMI I really thought recovery meant I could pick back up with my life as I once knew it. But realistically I had to learn that I had to accept the fact that I now had limitations I had to consider. I have heard the argument that everyone has limitations and while I agree with this I am coming from the standpoint of when you get sick and because of whatever illness you have, your life as you once knew it has changed. It has become a “life interrupted” by mental illness.
Severe Mental Illness
I will be the first one to admit I love it when I read success stories about people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, post traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorder (classified as severe mental illness) who are living examples of people who have been able to get out and work full time jobs. They have either gone back to work or have changed careers. I get excited thinking about the possibilities for my own life.
At the same time, I have to be honest and tell you that we have tremendous hurdles in getting to this endpoint. Our disorders may go into remission but often times we still have to continue taking medications, going to the doctor and/or therapy visits, and closely monitoring our symptoms. So the most important point is that recovery in no shape or form means “healed.” If anything it means people who have learned how to overcome many obstacles and lead a healthy, happy and productive life. I think people who are living with mental disorders have a strong inner strength. Part of recovery is being able to recognize those key strengths and use them to our advantage.
I am glad there is a recovery movement in mental health. I like the idea that younger people can be given a sense of hope that the proper treatment can help them go on to achieve their goals. But I also think it has to be tempered by the fact that severe mental illness is really difficult to manage and if you are managing it well you are a superstar in my book!
I wanted to share some interesting facts and statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health. If you click on the link it will take you to the actual site where additional information can be found.
Did you know……
- Eating disorders have the highest rate of mortality of any psychiatric disorder
o Go to the NIMH home page and under the tab “New at NIMH” you’ll find the twitter chat link about Eating Disorders.
Anxiety disorders including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder collectively are the most common mental disorders for Americans
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue into adulthood
o NIMH ADHD Information
Bipolar disorder effects 2.6% of the U.S. population. Of this amount 82.9% is classified as “severe”
o NIMH Bipolar Disorder Statistics
Borderline Personality Disorder effects 1.6% of the U.S. adult population
o NIMH Borderline Personality Disorder Statistics
Depression effects 6.7% of the U.S. adult population
o NIMH Depression Statistics
Schizophrenia effects 1.1% of the U.S. adult population
o NIMH Schizophrenia Statistics