What a Support System Really Means When You Live With a Mental Illness

Alone. I know what it’s like to be alone and afraid, not knowing what it’s going to be like day after day. Having no one close to me who understands my condition. Having people criticize me for taking my medications and seeing a doctor, telling me it’s all in my head.

But I know something else, too. I know unconditional love. I know what it’s like to have doctors and several caring people in my life who are there for me through thick and thin. They are the ones who make life liveable and make me feel like I’m worth something — that I’m a capable human who is loved.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 2010, no one in my whole family –immediate and extended — and no one in my friend circle knew what this bipolar condition was. I was alone, left to my own musings over whether or not I should try to take my life, or over whether or not I was the Messiah whose purpose was to do God’s bidding. My friends saw me prance and dance maniacally all over my college’s campus giving hugs to anyone who showed me a smile. My family witnessed my severe depression mode when I would glue my butt to the living room couch and vow to never leave it because I had no meaning in life. My mania was outlandish. My depression sucking me into a black hole of hopelessness. My mom forced me to see her psychiatrist, the first person who actually understood what these ups and downs indicated. This new doctor explained to me what exactly was going on with me biologically, mentally and emotionally. He gave me books to read about others with bipolar disorder and how they managed to successfully cope with their illness. The psychologist at my college helped me navigate my relationships that were falling apart before my own eyes. I was not alone anymore. These doctors were helping me on my road to recovery.

As the first couple of years of my diagnosis went by, I learned what company to keep and what company not to keep. Numerous people in my life left because I isolated myself from socializing. They didn’t know where the old Ariel had gone. As I dropped out of college several times over the course of four years, new friends became friends forgotten, friends who didn’t understand and who wished not to understand. My parents stood by me every step of the way, defending my diagnosis and my choice to take medications and see doctors that saved my life. Relatives and my own sisters accused me of just going through a “phase” and suffering under the hands of my doctors and the medications they prescribed. I not only had my own internal battles to fight, but also the battles with those who I used to trust in times of despair.

There were times when my mom would have to drag me out of bed while I was crying and screaming I wanted to kill myself before I would ever attend class. There were times where I would be sobbing on the phone to my dear family friend about how I couldn’t possibly go on for another day. But through it all, my parents, my family friend, my doctors were there for me no matter what.

Just this year at the beginning of my major manic-depressive episode, I began dating. Now that I look back on my dating decision, it was not the right time. But even though it wasn’t the right time, I did meet the right person. My parents and family friend had been there for me, trying to pull me out of a never-ending black hole of nonexistence that plagued my mind everyday; they didn’t know though what it was like to really be in my body with my sticky emotions and thoughts. This special person I met while dating this past March did understand. For once, there was someone I could spill my heart out to who would never leave my side. That special person is my boyfriend, who has now been with me for over nine months. He has loved me unconditionally with a love so strong, it could break through the screen of hopelessness and reoccurring ups and downs I continue to face. Because he has his own inner demons, my boyfriend can completely empathize with my condition and help me conquer it each and every day.

At the moment, I have a small support system, but it’s not the size that matters — it’s the quality of support. I have doctors who provide me with medications and therapy. I have my parents to help me with guidance and finances, and who give me a place to live. I have a few close friends who accept me, condition and all. But most importantly, I have my boyfriend — his support, his friendship and constant love. I feel blessed that these people are in my life, and it’s my hope that those who are struggling like me have someone or some people who also care for them just as much.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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