I recently had a blog published by the International Bipolar Foundation. The article was defined by a spirit of hopefulness after meeting my now new fiancé. I was struck by a comment which really saddened me. The post revealed that the reader had been instructed by her doctor to not try to become involved with anyone because “nobody likes sick people.” Additionally, just a few days ago, someone close to me, who deals with a dysthymic disorder, was called “abnormal” by a family member who he used to trust and confide in. With all of this stigmatizing talk surrounding us in our daily lives, it is a wonder why anyone recovering from a mental illness would ever even attempt to find normalcy in hobbies they may have once enjoyed, new opportunities in work, much less in the hope of finding a significant other or forming new friendships. However, as discouraging as this may sound, it is not only healthy but also necessary, to find a way to begin anew for those recovering from mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders, even if that means starting over time and time again and maybe on a different path than before. The time it takes will absolutely depend on the individual, and we must only take advice from the members of our support network who are genuinely supportive and credible. The most important part of answering any question of “when” is to be honest with and know ourselves on a very real level.
When I began recovery from a long manic episode, which cost me my job, friendships, and most everything I owned, as well as leaving me homeless, once I was stabilized and returned to treatment last year, I knew I was in for a lifelong rebuilding process. A myriad of mental disorders, including bipolar and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had stolen a good portion of my life, and I honestly, finally grasped that I had a major job ahead of me. The beautiful part is I found the patience with myself, which had long been lacking in previous recovery attempts. I had to learn how to live in the moment and reassess who indeed I am. I decided I did not like much of what I saw in myself and that even though tackling my issues was a challenge, it was well worth the effort if I wanted to salvage the life I have left to live. I do have rough spots, and I have had some minor setbacks dealing with depression and managing some medication changes, but I know the past eight months have been all about taking baby steps. I have become engaged, have done some traveling, and among other things, I am looking forward to searching for work in the next month or so. I no longer define success in the same terms, but for me, I have already won, and I love what is coming around the corner because I have a great support system. I am in great hands.
My most valuable assets in the world are definitely the people I have in my corner. From my parents, to the love of my life, my friends, my doctors, and even my priest. All have become invaluable. Another jewel is the wonderful people of the mental health advocacy community online — around the world. These are people who let you know you are never alone. They see the good in you on the days when all you can see or feel is bad. All of these good people are a reflection of the good I have been trying to become. It is often easy to be discouraged, but someone will always be there to give me a boost when I truly need one. The really good ones you hold onto for dear life because in them you can find an ear or a word which lets you know when you are truly ready to take on a big step. Their encouragement (or cautioning) can be vital in knowing when it is necessary to make a move or even slow yourself down in those instances you cannot see the forest for the trees on your own. Of course, we do not all have or at least are not aware of these “treasures” when we begin, but for all of the negativity in the world, I believe there are also equal numbers who would happily support us when we need it. The tough part sometimes goes back to that all-important measure of learning who we are and knowing who and when to ask for help.
Just like a New Year’s resolution, the important part is just that we start. There might be as many failures as successes along the way, but just as when discussing my desire to return to work recently, my fiancé expressed concern when he asked, “Do you think you’re ready?” I replied without hesitation, “I am not sure, but I am sure of one thing, if I don’t try…I will never know.”
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