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What If the Key to 'Getting Better' Was Learning to Love Yourself?

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It’s quite eye opening to read my journals from 2000 onwards and witness the limited vision I had back then when I was first diagnosed with bipolar. Everything was about needing to feel better and medication was the only answer I understood at the time. I understandably just had to get “better.” I could not accept myself in the alternate, very dark reality I was living in. 

I’m extremely grateful for being “better” today. I’m saying this while recently going through some serious downs, but the way I journal and the knowledge I have about this topic is another story completely. I’ve explored, learned and experienced a ton over the last 16 years and have a lot to offer. A very key thought that has arisen over the past few days is how important it is to love yourself.  

Those words are not new. We hear this phrase all the time but I think many of us, myself included, need to truly reflect on this and pretend to hear it for the first time. There are so many messages we ingest in society today geared to make us second guess ourselves: Social media “likes,” societal status, advertising, financial success, fitting in, being popular, body image… the list goes on and on. We are literally trained from a young age to “need more” in order to love ourselves. 

For example, personally, I have been telling myself consciously and subconsciously that I “need” to be clear of depression, to have my projects completely succeed, to thrive and soar, in order to accept and love myself. Even if that’s not entirely the case, the point is that it’s at least somewhat true.  

How true is that for you? This definitely not a problem for everyone.  

It is however, a problem for many people struggling with a diagnosis or emotional hardship. A large challenge surrounding most “mental illness” is that it tricks you into turning against yourself. No matter what the cause: biological, spiritual, internal, external — it eats away at your core and tries every attempt in the book to turn yourself against yourself which can be a steep, slippery slope. You fall into a routine of being your own worst enemy because you’re not yet out of the darkness, which alone can then keep you in that same darkness. It’s a maze. 

For those affected, what if our top priority was to love ourselves unconditionally, with all our flaws, disorders, insanity and chaos?  What if that was its own currency? It’s own industry? Why aren’t we taught this as kids? It seems like this should be automatic, but that maybe that’s part of the maze. It’s as though we need to tell ourselves, “I love you whether you get better or not.” Screw the pressure. 

These days, it seems like a large part of humanity has collectively turned against itself. Look at our world. Look at the chaos that’s out there. I think it’s quite important to take a hard look at our species and say, we’re trying our best. We’re not perfect but hating ourselves for our faults will not accomplish anything.  Love, as many times as we’ve been told, is truly an energy with massive power.  It’s something I need to remind myself of consistently these days. 

Maybe I’ve had it backwards all along? Maybe I should have started with this simple rule:  

Love yourself first and everything else can be built from there

Watch Brooks’ short film “Rebrand Mental Health” below:

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Screenshot via Rebrand Mental Health.

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The Vast Difference 24 Hours Can Make With My Bipolar Disorder

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Beautiful morning ushers my eyes open. Sun shining bright. Heater running full blast to keep me warm and safe. Not to mention the big, strong man sleeping next to me. My husband holds me near, keeping monsters away. The depression of yesterday crept long into the night. The little clock reads 7:57. We slept in and it felt so good. Rest. Restoration was much needed. Yesterday was a rough day, but now a new day dawns.

Well, I missed the dawn. But I embrace it just the same. We listened for the coffee to brew. The signal to officially wake. The last spit of water and air was heard, and we jumped up as if it were Christmas morning. Energy filled my body and a smile graced my face. A real, honest to goodness smile. I love the man I share my life with! He makes me laugh, allows me to cry. Talks me through the darkness and the light. I feel blessed to have such a loving soul to hold hands with. We raced to the coffee pot. One grabbing creamer, one grabbing mugs. It’s not too often gratitude comes into my mind of its own accord, but this moment was an exception.

Warm coffee made its way to my belly. Perfect. He played my favorite record of late, Chris Stapleton, “The Traveller.” His gravely voice just reaches into me. We looked at pictures from our two-day excursion to the beach. Memories were made, and we were reliving them. Each push of the button reminded us of another moment in time. Surfers. Sea Lions. Waves. Portraits. The vast open space of the Pacific Ocean. Beauty. Our TV transported us back in time as I captured the journey with the click of technology. I could almost smell the ocean air. Feel the pebbles on my feet. Feel the sun warming my face. Behold the magic of water.

Steam was spiraling from my coffee, cats sleeping on the couch, music coming from the corner of the room. Couldn’t be more perfect. Hard to believe yesterday I had thoughts of suicide. Just yesterday, I wanted to give up. I felt I had no more fight in me. No more resilience. No more energy to carry on. Less than 24 hours has passed, and I feel like a new person. It’s amazing. I tend to curse bipolar disorder. It has caused so much chaos and havoc on my life. But today, it allows me to be grateful for the change in mood. For the time spent with my best friend home and away. For the little things like favorite records, hot cups of coffee, kitties on couches.

When you are lost in an inner world of voices and visuals, or steeped in a depression so low you can taste  the ground, or racing thoughts carry you from room to room, or agitation wraps itself around your body and mind, genuine smiles and appreciation are hard to come by. I am no stranger to sudden changes in mood. But I am not going to stand in my own way this morning. I am going to let the day unfold as it will. Worry will not keep me from visiting a friend later. Fear will not keep me from expressing myself. I promise myself to take hold and enjoy the grace that has been given to me, if only for today.

Image via Thinkstock.

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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How Carrie Fisher Taught Me About My Force Within My Mood Disorder

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“Life is a cruel, horrible joke, and I’m the punchline.” — Carrie Fisher, “Postcards from the Edge”

She may be best known for her role as a princess, but she was a warrior as an advocate for mental health. She tore down a wall, giving the world and the galaxy beyond a look inside the life of someone with a chronic mood disorder. Though she played prominent roles on the screen, told funny stories on stage, and even penned clever lines in books about her life, Fisher’s force in this world wasn’t just limited to entertainment. She was a relentless advocate for others who faced the terrors of addiction to the daily struggles of bipolar disorder. So, while legions of fans and fellow actors mourn the sudden life of a rare and witty talent, someone like myself with a chronic mood disorder also remembers her as my own beacon of hope.

Carrie Fisher was a riot. She could make audiences laugh with her stories in interviews and in pages of her books. She could give an entertaining show on stage, with those in attendance cracking up as she acted out and told her life story. But her ability to laugh at herself, the gift of laughter she brought to tough subjects, is perhaps what helped her break down barriers of the stigma saddled on those with any type of mental illness diagnosis. She taught those of us with a regimented routine of prescription medicine, therapy appointments, or addiction meetings that it was OK to laugh — in fact, it was probably the best medicine for us. Nothing was off limits for Fisher. In a time when it wasn’t as accepted to be someone with a mental illness, she boldly stepped into the spotlight and helped comfort so many who faced the same demons. Fisher had her share of demons, but her willingness to share that with the world helped keep them away and helped others realize they weren’t the only ones wrestling with demons, too.

Whatever role one remembers her for, I hope her legacy also includes being known as a “Mental Health Hero.” Just like a good blockbuster hit, Fisher’s openness with lessons she learned in life made us think, taught us tolerance, and even allowed those of us who also know this world so well to embrace our true selves. In her book, “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher writes, “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything… I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” Of course, the recognition from the mental health community wasn’t for having a diagnosis but rather for putting the spotlight on the topic for all those still struggling all alone for acceptance.

The most famous princess of the movies may have passed away, but her force will remain one that lives on. Fisher taught me that my diagnosis is merely a label. The real person behind the struggle and the story isn’t defined by just a label. Instead, thanks to Fisher’s contribution, I now know it’s still possible to be defined not by my illness but as a princess. And she taught us all, whatever the struggle, that sometimes the difficulty turns out to be a reward. Maybe we did not plan to go down this road, but in the end, it helps give us purpose. As she penned in “The Best Awful,” “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.” And what a princess, warrior, and gift she was. What a force she leaves behind for us all.

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Photo via Star Wars Facebook.

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How Carrie Fisher Helped Me Through My Bipolar Diagnosis

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Three or four months ago I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I have gone back and forth in my head about if I could continue writing about mental health and disclose this new diagnosis with anyone. Not one person in my family knows about this, and maybe three friends are aware of it. There is so much self-doubt, confusion, sadness, and a gamut of other feelings that come along with getting that diagnosis.

I have been agonizing these last few months and hiding my diagnosis from nearly everyone because I don’t want to be looked upon differently or lose any relationships because of it. I have been in this tug-of-war with myself; one side desperately wants my friends and family to know and thus be fully accepted for who I am, and the other side wants to conceal and hide it at all costs. The fear that people will think of me differently, treat me differently, or even cut off ties with me is real, and it is always present. I don’t want to be this afraid of it anymore. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide myself to be accepted by the people I love.

Because I am not different. I am me, and I am who I’ve always been. The only difference is that I have a name for what I have been living with and experiencing for the great majority of my life.

I am writing this right now to help break the shame and stigma I put upon myself, and to say I have bipolar disorder.

“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic… an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.” — Carrie Fisher

When I was diagnosed, I revisited and delved deeper into Carrie Fisher’s novels and explored her words and experiences in living with bipolar disorder. No, not just living with it — thriving, struggling, succeeding with it. She has been an open, fierce mental health advocate, and that is something I admire so much in her. She was unabashedly herself and was completely unapologetic about who she is. She was never quiet or shy about her struggles or her ability to overcome. She was a person who brought voice to countless people who were silent about their struggles and made people feel less alone. I sit here trying to imagine all of the people she has touched and inspired for this very reason, and I wonder what these people would be like if they didn’t have her example. She chose to embrace it and share it and to not live her life concealing her diagnosis and hiding.

Today, I choose to do the same.

Carrie Fisher is more than just Princess Leia to me and to many others. She was the first feminist heroine I was exposed to. Her words in her writing, candidly speaking of her struggles and her triumphs regarding mental illness have helped push me and kept my head up on the tough days of fighting mine.

Carrie, thanks for your refreshing candor, acute self awareness, sense of humor, and ability to never take yourself too seriously. Thank you for showing girls and women that we are heroes too. Thank you for being a brave advocate and example to so many people.

“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” – Carrie Fisher

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Photo by Gage Skidmore

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Carrie Fisher Epitomized What It Meant to Be a Mental Health Advocate

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Carrie Fisher dies at age 60.

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People Are Sharing Their Memories of Carrie Fisher and Her Mental Health Advocacy

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On Tuesday, actress and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60. Shortly after her death was confirmed, Fisher’s fans took to social media to share how the actress, who spoke candidly about her experience living with bipolar disorder and addiction, changed their lives.

Here’s what they are saying.

 

 

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