Everyone I know has someone in their life who has been stuck in dark places and needed help to get out. I never dreamed I would be one of those people, until I was. For the majority of my life my first impulse when I heard that someone was mentally ill was to imagine that person in a straight jacket in a padded room in some dilapidated hospital where the exact location was somewhat unknown. Crazy is what I thought….so and so is crazy. In truth, having a mental illness is just that an illness that needs treatment.
Those of us who suffer from mental illness find ourselves feeling guilty. Why? Why should we feel guilty? Would a diabetic feel guilty for needing insulin to live? Suffering from a mental illness requires that you spend a great deal of time on yourself, nurturing yourself, learning new behaviors, new ways to cope, teaching yourself to become rational again. When the world at large can start seeing mental illness for what it is, an illness that needs treatment just like any other, than those of us who suffer can stop hiding.
For 37 years I knew I was sick, but I didn’t know with what. I assumed my anxiety was a product of my abusive marriage. I thought my lack of interest in making friends was simply because I was a tired mother of three. I laughed at my OCD tendencies, at least my house was always clean. My children thought my standards were impossibly high, I thought they didn’t try hard enough. I stopped making plans to visit family…too stressful. I refused any new relationships. I had no idea that I was teetering on the edge of a massive shift in my carefully constructed routine. A shift that (thankfully) brought everything I thought I knew about myself crashing down in a matter of days, and would take months of intensive work to see the daylight again.
I thought I was self aware, I was wrong. I decided I was frustrated with my family doctor prescribing my ADHD, anxiety, and migraine medication, month after month year after year without so much as a blood test. With this frustration I went to our local mental health hospital to be voluntarily evaluated, hoping I would leave with the name of a good psychiatrist to start anew. Instead I found myself inpatient on Unit 2 for five nights. Unit 2, for those who wanted to die. I never said I wanted to die, simply that as early as age ten I remember wanting to isolate, and I often thought of the world being a much lovelier place without me in it. I hated my counselor, because when she announced to the group that I needed to forgive myself or I could never move on I knew she was right. I left the inpatient program to spend five weeks in the partial inpatient program. Six days a week from 9-3, I checked in talked about how I was doing and remembered things that had happened to me that thankfully until that point my brain had allowed to stay hidden. I left with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Migraines, and significant outside stressors. I transferred to the outpatient program which I was to start the following Monday. In the course of two days, I had a complete breakdown and upon check-in to the out patient program found myself being involuntarily admitted to the hospital for another three night stay.
This time was different. This time I knew I couldn’t rest on my laurels. This time I knew I had to be persistent ask the right questions and find out what I was really suffering from. I left the hospital after three days ready to fight really, ready to not give up, ever. I learned I suffered from Bipolar 2 Disorder, Depersonalization Disorder, PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder marked by significant panic attacks. I soon found myself carrying around a small pharmacy of medications that I could hardly pronounce. I committed to take my medication as ordered, only then did life start to become a life worth living, a life of meaning, a life with happy moments and memories being created almost daily. I figured out that self concern does not equal selfishness. For those suffering from mental illness a lack of self concern can equal things far worse that hospitalizations. I learned to stop focusing on my idea of reality and start being comfortable with my own perception of that reality. I learned that thought and action have a lot more to do with my actions than the original event ever did. I learned balance, and that I may never perfect the art of having a balanced life, I could try. I learned that my fight or flight response is normal, it is how I react to this sometimes over active part of my brain that is what matters. I have learned that for those people I have had a hard time communicating with I schedule time to discuss issues without distraction and with a time limit set in place. I learned that no matter how good I am feeling I will never skip my medication, the results could be catastrophic and I am not just living for my illness any longer.
Most importantly I learned to let go of the hurt, the pain, the abuse, and the guilt. The past is just that the past, and it can’t be changed, but a bright future is much easier and exciting to create.
My name is Valerie Wade I am NOT Bipolar II, I HAVE Bipolar II. This life won’t ever be easy, but I know it will be worth it.
Join & share your views, experiences, and insights @MHChat every Wednesday 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM EST / 12:00 noon PST. This Wednesday (30 January 2013), we’ll talk about “Mental Health Diagnosis & its effects & implications” and look forward to seeing you there @MHChat.