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The Types of People I Meet When I Open Up About My Mental Illness

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It is hard to be diagnosed with mental disorders when people around you do not regard mental health as a critical issue. In my experience, there are commonly two types of people you meet when you discuss your mental illness.

First are the doubters. Everything for them is always black and white: either you’re just making it up or you’re utterly dangerous. When they find out you’re depressed, they’ll simply think you’re being dramatic. When you tell them you have a personality disorder, they’ll immediately dismiss it as coming up with an excuse for your naturally bad behavior. When they see you have fits of aggression due to an episode, they’ll say you’re a threat and single you out.

Unfortunately for me, even some of my friends and family think this way. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, with traits of borderline personality disorder. In other words, I was experiencing utter emotional instability. I have noticed the signs from years back but only mustered up the courage to seek professional help roughly two months ago. At present, I am regularly taking medications and undergoing psychotherapy.

To say the least, I am not ashamed of talking about it. Not really. But it does feel wrong that, when I learned about the diagnosis and told people I thought should know and who would understand, I have received more doubt than support. The past month felt more like a struggle with people who had the wrong idea about mental disorders, than it was a struggle with my illness.

I kept getting comments such as “it’s all in your head,” “mood swings are normal,” “everyone goes through the same thing,” “you’re just creating your own drama.” God knows how many times I had to restrain myself from just completely bursting out — and self-control is obviously not my strongest suit. Sometimes it feels as if there’s an entirely different entity pushing the buttons and controlling what I feel and don’t feel, what I think and how I react.

“Normal” people don’t frequently think of killing themselves even when they live a relatively comfortable life and have beautiful people with them. They don’t get sad and cry in a crowd full of strangers for no reason at all. They don’t physically hurt themselves in hopes of minimizing the emotional pain. They don’t feel the kind of emptiness people with mental illness constantly have to deal with. This isn’t being overdramatic. This is being sick..

The second type of people are sadly the harder ones to find. These are those who just sincerely sympathize or empathize with people like me, either because they are facing the same dilemmas or they just understand – or try to, at the very least.

I have a personal support group comprised of two close friends, both struggling with their own mental disorders. Usually, when one of us begins to feel uneasy or depressed, the others listen and are just there. We don’t exactly have the answers to each other’s problems, but we do our best to listen. Listening, having someone, knowing you’re not alone even when you feel really empty – it makes a lot of difference.

I sincerely wish everyone would try to be as understanding, and even though that might still be a far-fetched dream, raising awareness, and in my own way, writing about it, should be a helpful first step.

To everyone who knows someone going through something similar: just listen and be there for them. Try to be a little more patient even if you don’t understand where they’re coming from. This is a battle against a disorder, not against your friends. Help them win it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by m-imagephotography

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Searching for My ‘Normal’ in Life With Bipolar Disorder

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I was diagnosed with bipolar II a month shy of turning 23. I’m now well into my 37th year. I have lived with this disease for the majority of my adult life, and I realize I don’t know what it means to be what society says is “normal.”

What is “normal?”  When I was 13 in 1992, I remember one of my religious school confirmation teachers asking the class that question, and no one had an answer, not even my teacher.

She asked us this to get us to think. To think beyond the typical thoughts of being in eighth grade as we continue to transition into adulthood. To realize what we read in our teen magazines or what we watched on television wasn’t the whole spectrum of life. She wanted us to understand not one single person is “normal.” I’ve thought about that ever since.

One day in March of 2002, I woke up not feeling what I thought was normal. It was the last day of spring break of my senior year in college, and I realized I had been depressed for many days (after months of being on a manic high). Although I didn’t feel sad, I felt angry, and I knew something wasn’t right. I was throwing things around my apartment (mostly pillows so I didn’t break anything). I was blaming everything about me on the world, and I sat down crying in the shower for no real reason.

Something wasn’t normal. It was after this breakdown that I was diagnosed with my mental illness, and I’ve lived on this roller coaster ever since.

Up until recently, I thought I had only had one manic episode leading up to the depression before my breakdown. I thought I really must only struggle with depression because I never felt a manic high like the one I had the winter before the breakdown. Besides, this must be the reason I have only been on an antidepressant, and I haven’t been on a mood stabilizer in more than a decade.

I realized I was wrong. There were a lot of bouts of hypomania I thought were my normal self, and I never talked about those with my psychiatrist (which is a whole other blog post in itself.)

But what is normal for me?

As I currently feel myself slowly going into a depression (as I typically do right before Thanksgiving), I feel like I recently got to see a bit of normalcy. For a month, I felt like a happy person, without the hypomania symptoms. When I felt a little down, it lasted maybe a few minutes or an hour, and it was without my regular depression symptoms.

I felt positive and good about myself without the grandiose thoughts I’ve had so frequently before. I could go shopping without thinking I needed everything I saw and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time. My thoughts weren’t racing too much that I felt like my head was going to explode, and I could easily fall asleep without watching a rerun on television to distract me. In fact, I was sleeping a full eight hours without waking up, and I could easily wake up without being groggy or cranky.

I could even walk outside without my sunglasses on cloudy days because it didn’t seem like it was still “bright” outside. All the other symptoms of hypomania and depression didn’t seem to be there for once in years. Is that how “normal people” who do not have a diagnosed mental illness feel?

I think normal for me over the past 14 and a half years has been cycling from a depression (whether light or deep) to hypomania to depression then back to hypomania and back to depression. This is the first time in a long time I think I had a month of just being in the middle, and it felt great!

Is there such a thing as “normal?”

I don’t think so. I think normal is what you make of it. I realize normal for me has been cycling through my bipolar symptoms, and I understand that now. However, I’ve decided I want to feel the way I did this past month for a long period of time. I want a new “normal” for me.

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To My Husband, Who Is Living With My Mental Illnesses

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Dear Husband,

I know what you go through. I know how you must feel. Even though I’m not in your shoes, I can guess how difficult it must be to live with a wife who has a cluster of mental illnesses.

You haven’t signed up for this. Not today, not seven years back when we met. But you have not sighed once while I was busy making everything about me. You haven’t once told me you’re tired of my myriad of problems. 

I have lacked in decision making, being independent, being self-sufficient, being a good girlfriend, a good fiancé and now a good wife. I have also let you down emotionally because my brain undergoes so many changes in a short span of time. You didn’t want to live a life with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in a way you are living with it.

My mood changes from depression to mania to depression again, for which I have made some of the worst mistakes of my life. Things I do and then regret doing. And it involves you in every way. 

But you never complained, not once.

You have been by my side when I have curled up and cried without reason. You have been with me when I have been so agitated and irritated, I made unreasonable demands of you. You have calmed me down when I was choking and couldn’t breathe during a panic attack. You have held my shaky hands every time something triggered my PTSD.

So, in a way, you’re living a life with mental illnesses even though I’m its host. And you are living with it still without a single day of impatient disapproval. You have never missed a doctor’s appointment, even though you didn’t have to be there. You have got me medicines and kept a schedule of it because I’m so bad at it. 

Is it too lame to call you my knight in shining armor? Well, even if it is, that’s who you are for me.

I want to thank you, for being who you are and who you have been through the years. Without you, I would’ve withered, stranded on some lost island of hopelessness. Without you I wouldn’t be who I am today — relatively less negative, looking forward to life, an overall decent human being standing on both feet. Without your constant push I wouldn’t have had the courage to start hoping for good. But mostly, without you, I wouldn’t have been able to accept myself with my diseases and come out to the world. 

I know things are going to be the same tomorrow. I know I will make everything about me. I know you will go on living with my illnesses. I know I will forget to tell you how thankful I am, or how much I love you. I know things will be back to what it was.

But even if I forget to mention it, what you must know is this: I love you for the person you are, for the person I have seen you become, for becoming my strength, accepting me and treating me like a normal person. 

But mostly, I love you for just being there even when I’m at my darkest, and turning the lights on.

Thank you. 

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The Greatest Harm I Caused Myself Was Not Asking for Help

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Taking medications are perhaps the worst part of my mental illnesses. It also happens to be the best thing to keep my mind in control.

I have gone more than a decade without therapy and medication, which is probably the biggest self-harm I have done to myself, even more than the suicide attempts and cutting myself.

Why? Because I have betrayed my own self by not going to a good psychiatrist first, or seeing a therapist who understands my problems. If I did that then perhaps today I wouldn’t be this sick. I would have been able to cope with my 20s.

At least I owed that much to myself.

I wouldn’t say I never went out and tried to get help. Fact is, I did. I went to a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists, but they misdiagnosed me too many times, and I was given the wrong medications.

The medicines made me feel worse instead of better. My movements were robotic, I felt like a zombie. So I stopped my medications and therapy, because I lost hope in it.

This isn’t completely my fault though — the doctors who saw me misdirecting me. But why I blame myself is because I should have tried harder. If I did try harder then I might have met my doctor long back and my current mental situation would not be so hopeless.

I have lost my 20s in agony, self-hatred, guilt, anger, falling forever into the black hole of despair never reaching light.

Now that I’m 32, I realize how silly I was for not taking more chances, asking for help. I was so embarrassed of my disease that I let it grow instead of fighting it. I might have been able to see world a little clearly if I wasn’t struggling so much, I might have had a job, my life could have been a little better, I might have been able to take proper decisions and not regret them now.

I have lost almost 11 years of my life to my mental illnesses, to non-treatment, and things have only gotten worse. I regret that part of my life. It’s like my 20s didn’t even exist. It’s lost time in my entire existence, and I can never get it back.

I know sometimes taking medications can be upsetting, it is to me at least. It bothers me that I have to take so many pills in the morning and so many in the evening to keep my head straight. I feel angry sometimes, like why couldn’t I be just as normal as others, why do I need these medications.

But at the end of the day, these medicines are helping me have an almost normal life. So I’m also grateful, to my doctor, therapist and the medicine that helps me keep my mental illnesses at bay.

The point is to ask for help exactly when you need it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help for your mental illness. There is nothing wrong in taking medications for the mind. If you don’t do it on time, it might get worse and you’ll end up blaming yourself.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Grieving the Loss of My Mother Who Had Bipolar Disorder

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Therapist and author Brandy Lidbeck recently wrote that grief is never really “gotten over,” that it becomes a person’s “new normal.” She also states the feelings associated with grief often re-emerge during important milestones and the anniversary of the person’s death. In my experience, both of these things are true. As I write this, I am coming up on the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death from a terminal illness. There’s something about not having her in my life for half a decade that makes this anniversary more significant and possibly triggering to me.

When I first heard the term “grief,” I thought it only applied to death. But I believe grief can mean the feelings one experiences whenever they go through any form of significant loss. With that definition in mind, I feel I’ve been grieving the absence of my mother since well before she passed. My mother had bipolar disorder, and as a young child I was often present when she was symptomatic. I saw her risk-taking behaviors when she was manic and her hopelessness when she was depressive. She struggled so much at times it seemed hard for her to be what I needed — attentive, responsive, consistent.

Unfortunately, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and my age, it was hard for me to make sense of these behaviors. When my mother was feeling well, she was a great mother, but the things she did/said while symptomatic left me feeling anxious and abandoned. Looking back, I believe I was experiencing grief — I was in denial over how much control she had over her illness, and I was angry and sad this illness prevented her from being the mother I felt I needed. It took me years to finally somewhat accept my mother was doing the best she could.

And then in 2010, I learned she was ill, and for the next year I was powerless as I watched her refuse treatment and slowly deteriorate. It was like when I first started to become aware of her mental illness, like I was seeing her slowly slip away from me. My thoughts were, “I just got in a good place with her. I just started building a relationship with her, and now she’s being taken away from me again.” My feelings during her last year were a mixture of numbed denial so I could have the strength to continue to visit her in hospice, anger that she wasn’t adhering to treatment — which echoed the anger I felt in my youth when she stopped taking her mood stabilizers — and anger at myself for not spending time with her when I had a chance.

Lately, whenever I think about her, I feel a muted sadness. I’m sad she was unable to see me get married. I’m sad she was unable to meet her granddaughter. I’m sad we didn’t have more time and that she had to leave when there was still unfinished business between us. I currently cope with these feelings by making sure I honor her memory. I show my daughter pictures so she knows who her Nana is. I light a candle for her during All Souls Day services at my church. My career is actually inspired by her — I used art to cope when I was coming to terms with the impact of her mental illness on my family and myself, and I developed a passion for psychology in order to better understand her. This led to my decision to work on becoming a school counselor, a licensed professional counselor and an art therapist.

The death of someone in your life can be complex and hard. But honoring their memory and finding purpose in the situation, I’ve found, can help one cope and adjust, allowing these changes to become part of the “new normal.”

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When It's Time to Decide Whether or Not to Check Yourself Into a Psychiatric Hospital

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IMG_20161113_235326 There comes a time with mental illnesses when you realize that checking into a hospital is probably the “right” thing to do. Yet, as you sit there in such a state of despair, you’re thinking about the burden you feel you are and how much more burdensome you might become.

The thoughts I have at this moment, after I have successfully put a whole in the wall from banging my head against it several times, is that I’m definitely not OK. I definitely should not be alone. Yet, also, I’m thinking about how long it will take me to get better if I don’t go.

So here I am, lying on the bathroom floor at 2 a.m., vomiting with the only ounces of energy I have left in my body. Of course, it’s pointless because I haven’t eaten anything all day, but my body doesn’t care. As I lie here, slumped over like a rag doll, fighting for air and strength, my brain is telling me ugly things.

I realize if I were to check myself into the hospital, I’d be out of work for a while. What will they think of me then? I realize tomorrow is my husband’s birthday. How selfish would I be to do such a thing to him?

Besides, the urge to end it all is there, but my body won’t let it happen. My body fights it, even when I don’t have the mental strength to fight it anymore. My body reaches that breaking point and takes control, leaving me breathless and sobbing because I’m too weak to do it after all.

I’m in a state of limbo. Can I kill myself? Can I not? Can I get through this without intervention? Will it eventually lead to my demise?

I’ve never been in the hospital for my bipolar disorder before, though I am certain I’ve had times I should have been. I don’t even know what they’d do for me. It seems so pointless, yet so necessary all at the same time. This is what it’s like when “I really don’t feel good” turns into “I’m definitely not OK.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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