The Secret I've Been Keeping as a Special Needs Mom
The stigma of mental illness runs deep. While in recent years society has become more engaged in conversation about mental illness, the stigma remains — stigma I have lived with and hidden from for years.
With the premature birth of my daughter in 2012, I learned quickly how to be what others needed and expected, hiding deep within myself. With the addition of a not quite yet adopted son with extensive medical needs this past fall, I perfected my craft of illusion.
I am the perfect mother — a gift to two medically fragile children. At least that’s what doctors, nurses and family friends told me. But they don’t know the truth. For years, I ignored the mania, depression and post-traumatic stress, hiding it from those around me. For the past six months, I’ve ignored the importance of accepting and sharing who I am and what I need. I was, and still am, terrified of the stigma that comes with mental Illness. This is me finding acceptance and the strength to be more than what others need. This is my coming out, my destruction of the stigma surrounding mental illness. In December of 2014, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.
I’m what some would consider a two-sided coin. When one side is up the other is inevitably down, except on those rare occasions where the coin lands perfectly on its edge, leaving both sides exposed for the world to see. One side is manic; the other side, depressed. One cannot exist without the other, but rarely do the two sides of the coin meet. Except, of course, for today. Today, the day that I share with the world I am bipolar.
In the medical world I am bipolar. In my world I am simply me. In the medical world I need treatment for my dual states. In my world both sides of the coin are necessary for survival, for truth, for clarity.
For those who can’t imagine what mental illness looks like, or who can’t see anything more than a stereotypical stark raving lunatic, hell bent on self-destruction, this is for you.
I am mental illness. Mental illness looks like me. The educated, intelligent, medical mommy whose days are marked with appointments and therapies. Bipolar I holds a master’s degree, has published a book, blogs and articles, all while living in the rush of mania. Bipolar I is overly empathetic, impulsive yet deliberate. She is covered in scars and tattoos, with a slowly healing heart the size of the universe. Bipolar I is a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister and a daughter. She has never been hospitalized but has been, and is, treated with mood-stabilizing antipsychotics like quetiapine, lurasidone and ertraline. She is a mess of beautiful chaos wrapped tightly beneath the paper-thin emotions she wears on her skin. Bipolar I is me, and I’m proud as hell of who I am, mental illness and all.
I am the face of mental illness, the living coin. I am not the stigma of my illness. I’m the writer trying to meld the two sides of the coin into one glorious person she can show the world, finally not caring who sees her.