I have been putting the final touches on a book I am writing, “Bipolar Disorder My Biggest Competitor.” It has made me look deeply into myself as a character in a story. It is the strangest thing reading about this character and knowing it is me. But this experience has had a profound impact on how I see myself–sometimes victim, sometimes hero, and yes sometimes villain. But always strong.
If you live with a mental illness you know exactly what I am talking about. The times when you lie in bed feeling miserable and wish the depression would stop haunting you. And then you do it–you make yourself get up and get out among the living. In that moment you beat it. You won.
How about the times when you thought you might never get well again, but kept battling and recovered? Even in those darkest moments you found the beacon of hope glaring through the fog.
Then there are those times when you get “the look” from other people who know you live with a mental illness. It strikes the chord of paranoia and you wonder, “What is she thinking about me?” But you coach yourself through it and tell yourself, “It is okay. I really don’t know what she was thinking.” You overcome the negative thoughts. You beat “the look.”
What about those days when the trusted family member makes a joke about your mental health? You feel horrible but can’t get any compassion from the people closest to you. But you hang in there and keep fighting. You hope tomorrow will be better.
Believing mental illness makes you strong is opposite of what people have told us about it. Remember every battle you have had to fight, every bit of shame and guilt you have faced head on, and every medication you have to take just to feel somewhat “normal,” these are the things that make you strong. Stronger than you may think you are.
Serious Mental Illness Baggage
Serious mental illness-depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD-come with a great deal of baggage. It does not mean that people can’t recover and go on to lead healthy, happy and productive lives. What I mean is that if we aren’t careful those of us living with a SMI will start to have a collection of negative past experiences that when compounded make it difficult to deal with.
This collection of baggage is something that usually begins with the onset of illness. It can include a negative experience from a hospitalization or with providers, it can be with a pile up of personal and financial losses, it simply can be an interruption of everyday life as we once knew it. One of the problems with all these things is how we cope and deal with it affects our mental health and we are already dealing with illnesses that impact our mental wellness.
My Experience with Bipolar Depression
I have a major bipolar depression problem that I have been fighting since I was in high school. It has taken me years to finally understand how the symptoms of depression manifest in my brain. Only within the past year have I been able to identify the negative thought process that often comes from the Lies Depression Tells You. But the reason I bring this up is to say that having depression makes it even more difficult to deal with the baggage. Sometimes it is just flat out more difficult to cope.
How I Cope
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how losses have affected me. It wasn’t until today that I read an article that stated how difficult job losses are that I realized the impact my job loss had on me. I took some time to let the article digest and then I did a little exercise where I wrote down on paper all the things that happened as a result of that job loss.
For some reason writing things down seem to help validate the importance of them. It also has a way of releasing some of the negative emotions that come from holding it all in. It’s a coping strategy I am using more and more everyday.
In a time when politicians are trying to figure out what kind of changes they should make to the mental health system, I just get stuck on one fact–serious mental illnesses are difficult to live with but the point is many of us are living with these illnesses. We might not all be working in high paying jobs but many of us are dealing with the everyday baggage that has been left on our doorstep while maintaining our responsibilities as parents, caregivers, employees and as independent adults.
My hope is that we collectively will continue to share our thoughts and feelings about mental illness and in that sharing we can continue to find a peace of mind. At the end of the day it’s not going to be any one thing that helps us manage, but a collective number of things we do to help us live our lives. After all we deserve to have a life too!