Happy World Mental Health Day to you all. Today I want to tell you a little bit about my journey and give you hope because we are all in this together.
I have been to those dark and scary places straight out of some hellish nightmare where it felt like I was drowning in a sea of people and not one person batted an eye. I have been so unbelievably overwhelmed with melancholy that getting out of bed required expending energy I just didn’t have, so I stayed in that cocoon for weeks.
I have lost touch with reality. I have had stunning flashes of delusion that have scared those closest to me. I have made undeniably very poor decisions while riding the exhilarating highs of mania, choices that I still pay the consequences of today. In those states there are no consequences that apply to me, when I come back down, reality is one giant consequence.
While mania is terrifying a mixed episode is by far the worst. It was during one of these states that I almost succeeded in ended my own life. A complete psychotic break with features of both depression and mania while unmedicated and being untreated for my illness just about cost me the ultimate price. I didn’t want to die, I wanted the strength to fight for my life and my health, and I wanted support.
I finally accepted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder (twelve years prior I had been diagnosed and had not accepted it, nor told a soul) but at that time, only a handful of people in my life also accepted my diagnosis. I lost friends. Friends who I had spoken to every single day no longer wanted anything to do with me once I had that diagnosis. Apparently it was acceptable to them for me to be completely erratic and self destructive, just not bipolar. And some of my family had a very difficult time with my openness about my illness as well, that was a hard road. It’s not that they were ashamed of me; I think they were worried about how I was going to be treated. They’re all rock stars now, and my biggest supporters. They chose to get educated about my illness, and they did it on their own.
I have lost count when it comes to voluntary commitments to the psychiatric ward at my hospital. At one point I was there for almost two months doing a supervised medication switch. I’ve had some very poor psychiatrists, and been labelled non-compliant, which I don’t argue, and now for the past couple of years I have had an amazing psychiatrist who chooses to work with me and not over me. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on things, but we work things out very well, and she is receptive to me as I am to her. She likes that I am proactive in my care as she saw what I went through regarding the first couple of years of trying to find stability.
I am medication sensitive, if there is a side effect to be had, 1 in a 1,000 chance, you can bet I’m getting that side effect so it’s been quite a rough go finding the “cocktail” that works for me. In the early stages of treatment I took everything any doctor would prescribe me, without asking any questions and expect to be “cured” and I was pissed off when I wasn’t. I ended up overmedicated, which is an entirely different kind of hell in itself. That was years ago now, and that will never happen again because I have a very open dialogue with my doctors, yeas I have a few, who all work together. My psychiatrist, GP and pharmacy supervisor make up a team that I can call on when I need to. They aren’t available 24/7 like a pizza delivery service, but they are there, and I use them.
My support network is vast and loving and it is the foundation that I have rebuilt my life on. These people: my family, my friends, my fellow Stigma Fighters and My Dolls are part of my life that leads me to making healthy choices. I waver and I fall, and there are still days when I want to cry and I do, but I reach out now and I ask for help when I need it, and there is always someone there with a hand reaching back to pull me up because we are all in this together and we are all worth fighting for. Sometimes it’s really hard to fight for ourselves, but when others have your back covered it’s an awesome feeling.
I know what my triggers are and I try to avoid them when I can, this lessens my need for anxiety medications. I keep a mood journal to track my moods and any disruptions. I stay away from drugs. I walk every single day and try to get as much sleep as I can – though right now I’m hitting a weird insomnia thing that I will be talking to my doctor about on Tuesday. I take my meds faithfully, and I research the heck out of any and all meds and possible side effect. I take mindfulness classes, CBT and even DBT. I am in online support groups, and I go to therapy every two weeks. I know that with the change of the seasons, I will cycle, even on medications, I prepare for this. My family prepares for my swings like we prepare for fire drills. This is our life. This is our reality. This is how I live a healthy and happy life.
My life is not always happy, my moods still sometimes rule it, but I have come to accept that this illness is going to be with me forever and if I let it win what am I teaching my children? If one day one of my beautiful daughters happens to be diagnosed then I must blaze the best possible trail so that she may have an easier road than I did.
When I look back over the last few years I’ve come a very long way, and it’s so possible to live a healthy life with mental illness. I didn’t believe that before, and when people told me that, I was bitter and angry. I had to make the choice to save my own life, and it was hard, it still is because I make that choice every single day, but it does get easier some days. I just want you to know that there is hope, there is always hope. Happy World mental Health Day.
Forums at PsychCentral – secure and safe online support
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – offering support 24/7
Canadian Mental Health Association – Support for families