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When You Feel Pressure to Be ‘Well’

I struggle with bipolar disorder and anxiety, and while I’ve been managing my bipolar disorder, I’ve recently had a lot of problems with the anxiety. In my role as the Executive Director of a nonprofit peer-run recovery center, I feel like I have to be a prime example of perpetual wellness. Deep down, I know this is an unreasonable expectation of myself.

Even though I’m in recovery, I’m still going to experience difficulties at times. That’s what recovery is about! It’s not puppy dogs and rainbows 100 percent of the time, and what I’ve come to realize is that despite my leadership role, it’s still OK to struggle at times. I’m human. Although it feels like I’m failing when I experience difficulty, I have to remind myself it’s not failing — but rather means I’m a step closer to victory “once again” over this annoyance we call mental illness. When I say “once again,” I’m referring to the non-linear process of recovery.

For about the past two years, my anxiety has caused me to struggle intermittently with obsessive thoughts. My thoughts get stuck in a continuous loop and it’s like watching a never ending videotape reel in my head. Recently my medication has been adjusted, which has helped. I receive cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps tremendously. Peer support, of course, also plays an integral role in my recovery. I have one support person in particular who I know is always there. I also have a very supportive husband and family.

It’s challenging being in a leadership position and feeling like I have to maintain an image. I put unnecessary pressure on myself to live up to my own standards. Who am I kidding, right? The truth of the matter is, I need to be more open with my struggles. When I’m open I have the opportunity to help others by sharing my own experiences.

I have a condition that has to be managed just like the rest of my peers. But I’ve hidden my symptoms so well at work, most of our newer members seem shocked when they find out I’m a peer with a mental health issue just like them. While I’ve never hidden the fact I have bipolar or anxiety, I guess I’ve just never felt the need to discuss it often.

This article is the beginning of letting my authentic self shine through. Things are not always as they appear. When you see everyone around you leading happy, white picket fence lives, I’d bet it you dug a bit deeper, a different picture would be painted. Those living with depression, anxiety, etc. sometimes don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves. I think it’s important for more individuals to be open about their struggles so no one is left to feel alone. Even if you’re in a leadership role as I am, don’t feel like you have to hide behind a mask. Being open is how we’ll overcome the stigma of mental illness. We are in this together! It’s time to unite!