All of us are on a journey in life and none of us get to choose what our challenges may be. One of the things I have learned along the way is that sometimes when I share I have struggled with mental illness people feel much more comfortable telling me either their own challenges or that of their family. It is as if by sharing I am releasing a pressure valve allowing people to let out their story and feel understood.
This is something I have found so critically important. All of us have a desire to feel understood. Yet those of us who live with a mental illness can sometimes be the most misunderstood primarily because of stigma. All those myths and misperceptions create a boogey man and then the person who lives with a mental illness is isolated or excluded.
Well this past weekend I was neither excluded nor isolated. I participated in a reunion with my old work colleagues of more than 20 years ago. I will admit I was at first very reluctant to attend. Not because I felt totally uncomfortable about having bipolar disorder, more so because I had gained 50 pounds from medication side effects. I completely consider that frame of mind progress. Here I am after all this time worried about weight gain when I have overcome so much to be mentally healthy. There is a bit of irony in all of this for me.
The beauty in my visit really came down to reconnecting with people who I have not seen in a long time. As in all relationships some people you connect with better than others, but I have uniquely found when people have been touched by mental illness we automatically have a kindred spirit connection. Most people are thrilled that I have become a mental health advocate and have been extraordinarily supportive.
However, there are others who continue to deny or feel ashamed their family or themselves have been affected by mental illness. These are the people who touch my heart in a piercing kind of way. I just want to reach out and touch them and tell them it is going to be okay. But all I can do is observe, listen and keep steadfast to my mission of raising awareness.
Everyday I take another step out into the worlds I used to walk in, I am taking a step forward for mental health awareness. People need to know someone can recover from a severe mental illness and I am living proof it is possible.
Oh and as for the weight…it’s next on my recovery journey list. I worked on my mind, I continue to work on my spirit, and now I turn my attention to my body. My mission now is not only about Mental Wellness it is about Total Wellness and that is truly a lifelong journey.
Five reasons that demonstrate I am a mental health advocate:
1). You write a blog about mental illness
2). You share your story with others in hopes you may help someone
3). You teach Mental Health First Aid
4). You do a video at church that talks about mental illness labels
5). You do a Twitter chat #chat4mentalhealth while on a plane
Guess if I had any question about my destiny I have my reassurance list now.
A common theme in my life has been overcoming adversity. Over the years those obstacles have been in many shapes and signs. But I have learned to persevere and most often beat the odds and silence the critics.
I have taken on the challenge of writing a book. I expect it to be available sometime soon. Hope you will follow me on this journey it is going to be a fun ride!
Coming Soon – “Triumph Over Adversity: An Olympians Journey with Mental Illness.
Have you ever stopped to think what it may be like to live with bipolar disorder? Probably not, unless you have a loved one who is impacted by it or you are personally affected. So I want to take a few minutes to describe what living with bipolar disorder is like for me.
First of all, living with a mental illness affects your self-esteem and confidence. There is not many things worse than getting a psychiatric diagnosis by our cultural standards. This is why I get so passionate about mental health awareness. You cannot receive treatment for something if you don’t know what you are dealing with and yet the moment you get that “label” it can change how you think about yourself and how others see you.
Second, treatment is available and in most cases it works. The downside is that it can take ten years to find the right combination of medications that work for each person. Now for a moment imagine what it would be like to constantly change medications. I believe I have taken more than 30 different meds before finally finding the right combination. It is a long frustrating journey.
Third, medications have side effects. It takes time and sometimes learning lessons the hard way before you understand for most people you can never stop taking medications for the remainder of your life. No matter how many articles I have found where people say they get along great without medications, in my experience it is never an option for me not to take bipolar meds. Even though the side effects of weight gain and slow metabolism feed into that whole idea of lack of confidence and self-esteem, it is still far better to be overweight than mentally unstable.
Finally, once you have recovered no one would ever know you live with an invisible illness. You cannot see bipolar disorder and unless I hadn’t told the world I live with it you would never know. This is one of the many benefits of recovering and that I can attest is something you can do!
Living with bipolar disorder is just a fact of life for me. But the journey was long and arduous before I could get to this point. If you are a family member of a loved one who lives with bipolar disorder keep the faith your loved one will get better. And if you live with bipolar disorder keep on fighting it will get better.