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.