hospital hallway

How the Psych Ward Gave Me Structure

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I’ve been hospitalized 12 times, mostly for depression or mania. Not only do I happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but I also have a mental illnessbipolar disorder.

I believe that some of my hospitalizations were not directly related to depression alone. But I think they were times in my life when the outside world was just too chaotic and I needed structure I was, at the time, unable to provide for myself.

Psychiatric wards can be disturbing in many ways, but I always found the routine and structure of daily life to outweigh the negative. I found the empathy of certain nurses to be comforting.

Structure and routine are very important to me, as is the case with many on the spectrum. I recently had a change in schedule and depression and confusion followed. I haven’t sought solace in the hospital this time around, but I have signed up to do some volunteer work with animals. Hopefully my new schedule will provide me with as much pleasure and sense of accomplishment as my old one.

Have you ever found comfort during a hospitalization? I wonder if I’m the only one.

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Thinkstock photo via Pixland

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Why I'm Afraid to Talk to You About Mania

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Why am I so afraid to talk to you about mania? It’s gotten pretty easy to be open about my constant bouts with depression. I mean who can’t relate at some point in their life? But mania? That’s when things get weird. That’s when things get “shameful.”

A month ago I had a manic episode. And not really the fun kind. I’m talking about the kind where you lose friends because of petty bullshit. The kind where you fear for your life driving because you might take some risk on the road killing everyone. I’m talking the kind where you actually understand the appeal of Trump because hey, he can do and say whatever he wants and people love him for it.

Yes, the euphoria was a relief from my seemingly endless depression but that quickly spun out of control. What started out as something I needed ended up as something I hated myself for giving in to.

And then I woke up the next morning. It was gone. It disappeared like it had grown tired of abusing me. I have zero clue how it happened. And that’s scary, not going to lie.

I often say that mania for me is believing I can overcome the disease known as society. That I’m the one whom the shackles cannot contain. And when it becomes all too apparent that I’m just some guy and I’m not immune to the disease… well, that’s when the bottom falls out and I crash right through it. And so on and so forth.

Everyone I know who identifies as bipolar wishes they could somehow manage one pole to the point where they can benefit from all its positive traits and avoid the ugliness of the opposite pole. If I ever write a memoir (don’t hold your breath) I’m going to call it “Working the Poles.”

Maybe by then I won’t be so afraid to be completely honest with you.

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The Diagnosis I Didn't Write About (Until Now)

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I started blogging in January and in the nearly three months I have been blogging, I have been very upfront about my chronic pain and illnesses and how they affect my life.

I have also mentioned — at least in passing — my long struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. Other than my Chiari malformation, which I was diagnosed with in eighth grade, my anxiety is the condition I’ve been diagnosed with the longest and I’ve learned to be open about it.

But there is one diagnosis I have not written about openly and that is my bipolar disorder II, a diagnosis I received late last August.

The more I don’t talk about it, the more my bipolar feels like this big secret, this heavy weight. But honestly, most of this is self-imposed. I was so afraid of all the “what ifs,” of all sorts of imagined judgments, that I did not allow myself to be an advocate for bipolar disorder like I attempt to be with my other conditions. I let it be the elephant in the room, something I let my doctors treat but never talked about.

But I believe it is something we should talk about. Mental illness is often comorbid with chronic pain. Me hiding my bipolar disorder diagnosis doesn’t help anyone. And if you’re afraid to talk about a particular diagnosis you’ve gotten, you’re not alone. But your mental health diagnosis is not shameful. It is not something that has to hold you back from a job or parenthood or a full life. It’s just something else that needs to be dealt with and treated, just like any illness.

My bipolar disorder, just like my Chiari malformation and other disorders, doesn’t control me. Sure, it is definitely hard some days and it is something I have to treat, but it is just like any other condition. By acting like it’s something shameful, I actually only hold myself back from getting good treatment.

I have found a good treatment plan for my bipolar disorder, thanks to my doctor and therapist. It didn’t come overnight and my fear of the stigma was a big reason why. I have never had a problem taking medication for my chronic physical illnesses, but fought having to take medication for my bipolar. I treated it like a personality weakness, something I could power through, rather than what it is: an actual medical condition. Finally, with the support and urging of my family and friends, I stopped fighting my need for medication and counseling. Thanks to them, my bipolar is incredibly well-controlled and my treatment plan helps me to be my best self.

I am finally sharing openly about my bipolar diagnosis because I do not believe it is a diagnosis that is shameful. If any of my friends were to share with me they had bipolar, even before I had gotten my own diagnosis, I would have accepted them fully, asked how I could help and not treat them any differently. So why would I not talk about it myself? I cannot talk about how much I value honesty and vulnerability — two things I value most in the world as a writer, minister, educator and person — if I am not willing to be honest and transparent about all the conditions I’m being treated for.

People with all sorts of chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, thrive in all sorts of professions. We are writers, teachers, business owners, scientists, advocates and much, much more. And if I believe that bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of — which I fully do believe! –then I need to practice what I preach and be open about my own diagnosis. It is a diagnosis I am happy I got, because it has led me to effective treatment which therefore helps me live a more healthy and happy life, where I flourish in all my roles.

Finally, I also believe, as a Christian and a Christian leader, that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, because we all are created in the image of God. Mental illness is exactly that — an illness. It is not a personality weakness or a punishment from God and we should treat mental illnesses like we do all illnesses: honestly, with dignity and respect for the whole person for whom our illness(es) is only a small part.

This post originally appeared on Writer Kat.

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What I Wish My Professors and Classmates Knew About My Mental Illness

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To my dear professors and classmates,

First of all, I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 with psychotic features. It is an illness I cannot just “snap out” of. I have extreme mood swings and my emotions are uncontrollable sometimes. I experience panic attacks. I am taking medication, but it doesn’t give me rainbows and unicorns. These medications just stabilize my emotions and help with my psychosis. I experience both visual and auditory hallucinations and no, I am not “crazy.”

Being a college student is hard enough. Being away from your loved ones with tons of work to do and trying to actually learn something that could potentially help build your future. However, it is much harder to survive college if you have an illness. The most important thing I have done for the past semester and this semester is surviving. My life feels like it is hanging on a thread sometimes. It feels sad and rewarding at the same time that the most important accomplishment of my everyday life is that I am still breathing after a long, tiring day. I never knew being able to last the day would be so tiring. I actually need to convince myself a couple of times a day I am loved and can get through this.

I am writing this letter not to make excuses but to tell you what I am feeling right now. I am ashamed, embarrassed and sorry. I am ashamed of myself for not doing a great job in class compared to the previous semesters you had me as a student and a classmate. I am ashamed that I already used all of my allowed absences even though the semester is not even half over. I am ashamed of myself because I cannot even finish a paper or review for an exam or a quiz without breaking down. I am ashamed because I am not the same straight A student I used to be. You barely see me in class and whenever I am in class, I’m either asleep or not focused. I am embarrassed of my poor performance.

I am sorry I fall asleep in class. I am sorry. My medications are making me feel sleepy. I try my best to focus but my mind and body won’t cooperate. I cannot focus in our lectures and I don’t think I am actually learning. I am embarrassed because I feel like I am being left behind. I feel like everybody in my classes is learning except me. I am embarrassed every time I suddenly walked out of our classroom. I am having a panic attack and most of the time, I go straight to the comfort room to cry.

I am sorry for failing to show up on exam and quiz days. I cannot help being anxious. I find it hard to get out of bed. I would spend most of the days sleeping and crying. I am sorry if I do not show up for class or if I show up unshowered. It is a marathon for me to get up and take a shower. 

I am sorry for the all the make up exams and quizzes. I thank you for your support and patience. I am sorry that despite your support, I still think of killing myself. I am sorry that one minute I am laughing in class with you and then another minute later I am bursting into tears. I am sorry.

What I am actually saying is this: I would like you to know I am struggling and every day is a new challenge for me to stay alive. I would like you all to know I am sorry for all my shortcomings but I am trying my very best, even though it may not look like it sometimes. I am asking you a favor. Please do not pity me, but instead try to understand me.

Thank you.

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

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

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What It Was Like Hearing Those 2 Words: Bipolar Disorder

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You thought it was just another appointment with your therapist. One that will consist of questions upon questions about your week and emotions. And for a time there, it was. Just like any other appointment. Full of the underlying diagnoses of depression and anxiety. Just like any other appointment. Then she says it. The words that will change your life. The words that will flip it inside-out. “I believe you have bipolar disorder.” Not just like any other appointment.

Your breathing starts to quicken. Your heart beats a mile a minute, like it’s trying to break out of your chest and run away. Run away from the hard reality of this situation. You want to run away with it because you definitely don’t want to be there either. Stuck in that tiny room with that diagnosis. Not just like any other appointment.

There’s a calm while you process the meaning of those two little words, bipolar disorder. Then all hell breaks loose as tears cascade down your face and you begin to hyperventilate. You don’t want this. You didn’t ask for this. You don’t even know how this could have happened. But you do see it. The signs that all point towards bipolar. You want to ignore it and protest. Surely your therapist has made a mistake. There’s no way you could have bipolar disorder. That’s a serious illness. All you have is a little depression and some anxiety. No big deal, right? Wrong. Every mental illness is serious and anyone could have bipolar disorder. It doesn’t save itself for a certain person.

You feel destroyed. How am I going to live now? My life is forever changed. Yes, your life is forever changed, but everyone goes through change. Your change just happens to be a bit different. This does not mean your change can’t amount to something beautiful and new. A diagnosis is just a diagnosis; and though bipolar is now a part of you, it does not have to define you. You’re the only one who gets to decide what defines you. You are still the same person you were before… with a few added adjustments. Your life will now hold some higher than highs and some lower than lows. Bipolar disorder. Manic-depressive disorder. You.

Medication is now your new best friend. You’ve taken it before for depression, but now it’s not just a sadness repellent. It’s a life saver. It saves you from all of those red flags. The impulsivity, the risky behaviors, the agitation, the poor sleep, the ascension into mania, and the final crash into depression. Though it saddens you to rely on them to function properly, you take your meds like clockwork. Every morning and every night. They are your life preserver. Without them you lose control, you are not yourself. With them you finally have a smidgen of clarity. This is not a weakness. This is you surviving. This is a strength.

Day by day you work on accepting the diagnosis thrust upon you. The one you never wanted but will forever have. You being to realize you are not alone in this. There are others who can relate and sympathize with your struggles and with your victories. Day by day you realize this is not the end, this is a new beginning. You learn bipolar, though daunting at first, can be managed. You don’t have to live in the uncontrolled world you have lived in before. Day by day you move forward. One awkward, uncomfortable step at a time, you move forward.

It’s been a year since that diagnosis. You are back in school, you have a job, you have people who love you, you have control. You finally realize, though you still have a long way to go, you can do it. No matter what obstacles stand in your way, you cannot only survive in this world, you can thrive in it. And that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

This does not depict everyone’s struggles with bipolar disorder. Everyone has different experiences. I have written about my own personal experience. But what I have written I believe to be true. You are not alone, you can survive, you are strong, and there is hope for a better future.

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I'm Not a 'Failure' for Leaving Jobs That Hurt My Mental Health

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Throughout my life I have endured fears, insecurities and self doubt. As a child I would run away from school, bail on trips that had been planned for months and constantly ask for reassurance over the most ridiculous things. I would ask my parents if they thought I’d eat my lunch the following day, whether I needed the loo and if they would sit and watch me until I fell asleep just to make sure nothing bad happened to me. Looking back, I like to think I had a wonderful childhood because that’s what your brain does – it picks out the best bits of something or makes the bad bits seem less so as a way to cope. I had everything I could want as a child – stability, a loving home, lots of attention, treats, holidays, so many fun times and a brilliant big sister to look up to and admire. There was no possible reason for my fears and yet I had them… every day.

As I’ve grown up and adapted to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I have begun to understood my childhood more and the warning signs that were always there but that nobody understood at the time. I look back and have so many regrets for the constant worry and disappointment I must surely have put my family through. The thing I have also begun to adapt to is the fact that my fears still exist, but I just hide them a lot more.

Adults who are afraid of things, especially things that might not even happen, are not accepted by the majority of people. It’s “not normal,” or so people who have never experienced it would like to think. The phrase I hear most often is “try not to worry about it.” Yeah, right… that’s like a red flag to a bull. You simply can’t tell someone who has lived with irrational fears for their entire life to “try” not to worry. What on earth do you think I’ve been doing for the past 33 years? There’s no way in hell I would choose to live like this if I didn’t have to, but I don’t have a choice and therefore, I have to deal with the hand I’ve been dealt and foster coping strategies.

In my more recent years, I’ve been in and out of jobs, mostly for the same reasons. My coping strategies can only take me so far, and maybe it’s the industry I work in, or maybe it’s because jobs are hard to find and keep these days. When you get up every day, put the fear (whichever one it might happen to be that day) as far back in your mind as you possibly can and go into a job you’ve earned the right to be at, and yet suddenly realize you’re working alongside people who have no concept of how to use tact and would most definitely stand on you if you fell so they could reach the next rung of the ladder — it is then you know that either your industry is not right or the whole world has gone to pot. It’s really hard to tell as I’ve had some awful experiences in my personal life too. However, what I do know is it isn’t weak to walk away from something or someone that exacerbates your fears. Maybe you had control of your fears for a moment, an hour, a day and someone has come along and ruined that for you. It isn’t losing face to walk away, even if most other people would have stayed. There are levels to this, of course, and I’m not suggesting you throw in the towel simply because someone was a little off-color with you or wouldn’t lend you their stapler. I’m talking about high-octane stuff — the kind of stuff you realize you’ve been taking for months and yet hadn’t noticed until you had a particularly bad day mentally and you realized maybe this wasn’t helping the situation in your poor, exhausted head.

There is that saying that you should be kind because you don’t know what some people are going through. It’s so true and yet so difficult to find people who will genuinely use this approach in life and especially in the work place.

My family are constantly encouraging me to “just stick it out,” “what about the money?” “it’s awful, but that’s life,” “be strong,” etc. I know they don’t want to see me financially bereft because they know that also exacerbates my mental state. They also know the routine of a job is great for me, as I like control and to not have too much time to fill, as this enables my fears to begin to take over. However, the way I see it, life is not about money and it sure as hell isn’t about taking abuse, back stabbing or any other form of disloyalty in any capacity.

All I do know is I’ve just walked away from yet another toxic work situation and am taking some time out to do the things I love, see the people I love and nurture the brave, good side of me that has been slightly battered and bruised over recent months.

Whatever your situation, if it doesn’t make you happy or it does, in fact, make you sad or exacerbate any mental health issues you may have, then you may need to walk away. Bravery has many different forms, but I see bravery every single day when I interact with like-minded people and hear about their stories and how they walked away to survive.

I’ve been suicidal in jobs before, cried in the loos loads and spent nights on end tossing and turning in bed trying to figure out what is so “wrong” with me that this cycle keeps repeating itself, and people, yet again, seem intent on trying to destroy me. I’m having a lucid and good day today so I can actually say with genuine feeling that there’s nothing wrong with me and everything wrong with them. Whether it is because they’re jealous, threatened, just unpleasant people or completely unaware of how they are making someone feel, there is absolutely no loss of dignity from bidding them adieu!

I feel glad I’ve walked away over and over again. OK, so I’m not the richest girl in the world as a consequence, but I have pride, a good heart and a much deeper understanding of myself and my needs than many other people. When it comes down to it, you need to self-love and nurture to survive. Being in tune with your mind makes you an inimitable force and can help you to keep going, even when some people really want to see you fail.

Be brave, in whichever way you can. It’s one of the strongest things you can be and something nobody can take away from you.

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