There Is Hope After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
I feel like there’s been a lot of attention lately on people with mental illness. There has especially been a focus on overcoming stigma in the world, to help people who are struggling feel safe talking about it. We all know the statistics. We know that because of stigma, people are less likely to seek treatment. We know serious mental illnesses can be lifelong. And we know that despite sensational media reports, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. These are sobering facts. Even with these sobering facts, I feel like there is still a disproportionate shortage of hope being spread about serious mental illness, and that’s why I’m writing today.
I have a serious mental illness. I’ve lived with it for most of my life. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I. I go through extreme mood swings, varying from periods of mania, where I’m euphoric and make really poor choices because I feel indestructible and on top of the world, to periods of severe depression, where I feel utterly worthless and think life is meaningless, and that my family would be better off without me. I manage to stave the worst of these highs and lows off with medication management and therapy.
What do I know about hope and mental illness? I was once a train wreck of a typical case. I was untreated, court committed, in and out of hospitals and well on my way to being another statistic. I hit rock bottom in my life about 10 years ago, right when I was first diagnosed, actually. It was about this time when I lost everything of value to me. I lost my car, I lost my apartment, I lost my job, my family shunned me and I lost custody of the one thing that meant the most to me, my daughter. I literally lost my will to live at this point. I earned myself a six-week stay at the local psych ward during this time, and I had a lot of time to reflect on just how much I’d ruined my life. I finally got out close to New Year’s, and as that year drew to a close, I knew without a doubt I was closing a chapter that had been the worst of my life, and I was never going to repeat it again.
I woke up to a new year, and I was a new woman. I was determined to get my life back together somehow. So I did. Very slowly. My family unwillingly had let me come home, and I had determined that the first thing I needed to do was find a job. I immediately stated putting out applications. Once I got my job, I got a phone. Then, a car. I also made sure my daughter was back in my life, too. After I got into the groove of working, I decided to go back to school. Now, I’m not saying this all happened smoothly, but it happened. I still continued to struggle with my bipolar episodes, but I had a lot of support from my friends and family to help me through them when they happened.
A few years after I had my epic breakdown, I met a really wonderful guy, who treated me amazingly, and we got married. He’s been a great support to me as I’ve had ups and downs with bipolar disorder moments. We have three kids together, in addition to my oldest. I may have bipolar disorder, but I’m doing something right by these kids. I send my kids off to school every morning, and not one of them will leave until they get a hug and kiss.
Now, here’s the important part — I still struggle. I’ve been hospitalized more times than I care to admit. I’m not perfect. I still have moments where I don’t know if carrying on is worth it. But I know I’m in a good place. I’m doing good things. I have a part-time job that I’ve had for over a year. I work at a place where I actually feel like I make a difference. I write articles I feel are helping people and have the potential to help a life. I’m constantly improving myself. I know myself, I watch myself constantly for fluctuations in my mood and I’m am on top of seeing my doctor if I sense a disturbance in the force. I regularly see my therapist, and I’m dealing with issues that have been holding me back all my life.
I may have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have me. I’m not defined by it. I have value and I see that. I may need medications for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t make me “less than.” Considering the weight gain it causes, it actually makes me “more than.” I jest, I jest. I like me. I’ve been told I’m an innately likable person. Being bipolar doesn’t take away from that. It doesn’t take away the fact that I’m a very authentic and real person, or that I love serving others or that I love writing and being creative.
There is hope after a mental illness diagnosis. I lost hope after I got my diagnosis, I think. I felt like I would just be a waste of space, and why try because I was just going to be a label no one would ever see past. I’m happy to say people all around me see past that label all the time. My boss sees past it. My coworkers see past it. My husband sees past it. My friends see past it. People who know me just see Tricia, not bipolar.
If you’re struggling to find yourself in the midst of an mental illness identity crisis, I promise you, you’re in there. There’s nothing wrong with needing help from a support person to find yourself, or perhaps needing help from medication to find your best self. Just keep reaffirming to yourself who you are, and keep hanging on.