Today is the start of my Support Series – a series of posts that are here to share stories of struggles and how people are overcoming, or have overcome. They are all true stories given to me to use with permission. Some of the posts are from fellow bloggers and will have links provided, and some are from people I know in my daily life.
Today’s story is written by Jennifer and focuses on mental health, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Looking back, from a young age, mental illness was a part of my day to day life. Even as a young girl, I remember calling out to my parents at bedtime asking “is anything bad going to happen?” I always got the same response that no, nothing bad would happen. I needed that reassurance to ease my anxiety to be able to sleep. Presently, I have not been diagnosed with anxiety but it is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. I sometimes have panic attacks as well. The condition which I was diagnosed with about six years ago is bipolar disorder.
Unlike the anxiety which was present since an early age, the signs of bipolar disorder did not start appearing until between the ages of 15-19. The first symptoms that were noticeable were periods of depression in which I would become very down emotionally and isolate myself, including withdrawing from friends and family. Usually, this would only last for a few weeks and then it would pass and my moods would normalize.
However, as I got into my late teenage years these cycles of depression would last for months and become more severe, including very negative thoughts about myself and at some points suicidal thinking. In contrast to before, after the cycle of depression ended, I began to transition into a manic phase which would also last a few months. During manic phases I became full of energy, overly talkative, “high on life” and extremely impulsive, even getting a tattoo (which is something I never would have considered or desired to do otherwise).
Much of the reason I was able to get diagnosed as early as I did at 19 years old was due to the support and advocacy of my mother. She also has bipolar disorder and it was her ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and mania in me that she encouraged me to seek medical attention. Through my doctor and subsequent referral to a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed fairly quickly and luckily stabilized on medication within about a month. However, getting this diagnosis was likely the hardest thing to overcome in my life. There is, unfortunately, a huge stigma attached to mental illness and I do feel the weight of it on a daily basis. But, I have learned to accept my diagnosis and adjust my own perspectives in order to live a full life despite it. It has taken me some time to build myself back up and feel confident and worthy of good things/happiness, but that is part of the journey and it does come with time.
Following my diagnosis, I continued to see my doctor on a regular basis for check-ups and I have my blood tested to ensure the level of the medication in my blood is within a therapeutic range (not too little or too much) as the particular medication does have a toxic potential. While many people I know have utilized psychiatric consultation or counselling services as part of their mental health treatment regimen, I only had the initial consult with the psychiatrist. I consider myself lucky to have become stable as quickly as I did and to maintain that for several years now.
As I mentioned, my anxiety affects me personally on a daily basis – I have a tendency to overthink things and to worry about things. Depending on the day, my anxiety can become overwhelming and cause havoc, making daily activities extra tiresome and seem like more of a chore. On good days, I am able to completely overlook these anxious thoughts that I have and function next to what I would consider normal. As far as whether the bipolar disorder affects me daily, this is harder for me to determine. I am fortunate that the medication regimen I am on allows me to live a fairly stable life with balanced moods. But that is not to say, that from time to time, I don’t feel that my response to something may be exaggerated compared to others. For instance, feeling really down about something that would seem minor to others.
On a professional level, my mental illness does come into play when I am feeling overwhelmed. Which at present, is more often than usual as I have just begun a new job and there is lots to learn. I find that I need to keep my emotions in check, and this has come up in my new job. For whatever reason, I am very responsive to the feelings of others, If a co-worker is upset or frustrated, I take that on. The same goes for the clients which I talk to, the majority of them are cancer patients and caregivers and they are often experiencing a lot of strong emotions.
To stay balanced, I am sure to get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. It sounds simple but I have found it goes a long way as far as keeping my moods balanced. I also try to talk to someone when I am upset or overwhelmed rather than internalizing negative or distressing thoughts.
I guess I would say I am open to sharing my mental illness experience to an extent and to a certain audience. While it is easy enough to talk about it with a few close friends and family members, it is not something I would fully share with coworkers. There are a few people in my life that know everything, and there are others that know the basics but not the in-depth details as it is quite personal and not something I am comfortable with everyone knowing everything about it.
My advice for those facing mental illness is to talk to someone about it, it really does help to get some validation for your feelings and your experience. Don’t face it alone and don’t let the stigma keep you from reaching out and sharing your experience. One thing that has helped my perspective and my ability to move forward and live happily is the mindset of identifying myself as someone with mental illness. Instead of saying/thinking “I am bipolar”, instead I say/think “I have bipolar disorder or I live with bipolar disorder.” This is the same as a person with cancer would not say “I am cancer” but instead “I have cancer.”
My Support Series is going to run every Monday for the next little while until I run out of people who want to share. If you want to contribute to this series by sharing your own story, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org