I Live with a Mental Illness…OK?

I want the day to come when it’s completely acceptable to say I live with a mental illness.  It’s ok with me that I say I live with bipolar disorder, but what about all the people out there who have preconceived notions about what bipolar disorder is?  What about those who think having a mental illness makes me “less than?”  What if I lost my job because I said I have a mental illness?  What if I was ridiculed for identifying myself with a group that is so entirely discriminated against?

Well it’s just not ok to say you have a mental illness.  It’s as if you are putting a Scarlet Letter on your forehead that opens you up to judgment and ridicule and ultimately “what will they think about me.”  Or am I being the one who is carrying self-stigma to the party?  Is the fact I know stigma exists one of the reasons why it has any power over me in the first place?

I don’t know all the answers to those questions.  What I do know is that my confidence and self-esteem have been affected because I have been sick and had to recover.  In that recovery process I have chosen to redefine my life into two separate lives—1) before the illness and 2) after the illness.  The hard part was coming to terms that my life changed so dramatically after being diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.  Even more specifically, my life did indeed change because I became ill and there is no way to sugar coat it.

As I go through the various stages of recovery and acceptance for “what is,” I often look for perspective—ways I can compare my onset of illness and the way perhaps a physical illness might have effected someone I know in a similar fashion.  I know of a man who goes to the gym I work out in and he was left partially paralyzed after a stroke.  He used to be a fitness buff and still finds the strength to come to the gym several times a week.  Even though he is physically disabled I am still amazed by his inner strength.  And yet I see the sadness in his eyes as he struggles to ride the bicycle, something that is relatively easy for me to do.  His physical struggle is obvious.  My mental struggle is something I can most often hide or at least I think I can hide.

What we have in common is the ability to remember what it was like before an illness came into our lives and changed the course of our life.  Yet I know comparing life before and after gets to a point where making comparisons are no longer helpful, they are counterproductive comparisons and only hinder recovery.  At the same time, it is helpful to be brutally honest about where you are on the road of life.  I’ve decided that it was time to reinvent myself by making new dreams and focusing on goals that I can achieve.  Basically redefining my life in the present with all my circumstances considered.

So that leads me to where I am…blogging about mental illness.  Hoping for a day it becomes socially acceptable to say “I live with a mental illness” and that does not make me any less of a person, if anything I’m a stronger person because of all my experiences.  But I’m not going to wait until someone says it’s ok to talk about it, I’m going to talk about it long before the general population agrees with me.  The truth is eliminating stigma does start with me and knowing that answers a lot of my questions.

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