Nine years ago I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for the first time and diagnosed: Bipolar Type I. I was 29 years old, had led a highly successful life regardless of my impulses and lack of self-care. I had a large community of friends, in various groups of co-workers, social clubs and barflies. Until the moment the doctor spoke the words, “she has Bipolar Type I,” the only time I’d heard the term used was in negative media references. What was he saying? What does any of this mean?
The doctor told me I would live with the disorder—most likely caused by genetics, but hard to pinpoint the trigger—for the rest of my life. People diagnosed with Bipolar Type I have a hard time holding down a job, deal with depression and are often suicidal. I would need to file for social security disability, be on mind-altering medication and dependent on governmental resources and family support—forever.
I sat in a plastic elementary school stacking chair, in a room that mirrored a grade school classroom, with my parents, the doctor, and a social worker as they discussed my health plan. I had no clue how hard the road ahead would be. At the time of my diagnosis, I’d been committed for nearly ten days and was released four days later. The mania during the first episode lasted until March 21, 2011. I left the hospital with a plethora of medications and a pocket full of sand on a road to so-called nowhere land.
How did this happen to me? What had I done to deserve this destiny? Who am I now? I didn’t feel ill; no, I was feeling the greatest I had in my whole life.
Those questions would haunt me for the next five years. Here’s what I do know: I had recently quit a high demand job where I’d spent two years working my brain over capacity and hadn’t allowed time for rest. Sleep was secondary. I self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana. Both sides of my family had hereditary depression and anxiety.
For the first time, I had free rent in my headspace to think and identify with my true self. I wanted to change the world through love, light, color, music, art and acceptance. I had a heightened desire for others to be happy, feel loved and realize it is okay to be their unique selves. I attracted positivity in humanity. I was happy.
I was also sick, and the only one who didn’t know it.
My first episode was beautiful and each one after, over the next two years, would shape who I am today. After four attempts, I never was approved for social security disability. In each episode I persevered to find work and eventually found my dream job. I woke up and got out of bed every day. I tried to plan for a future. I dreamed, manifested self-love, and forgiveness for myself and others. I survived.
Episode-free since December 26th, 2012, I’ve learned a few things about humanity, time, healing and acceptance.
I’d like to offer some takeaways from my journey.
Love Yourself First
We are taught through example, observation and environment to be who we think our audience wants us to be. Often we as humans forget to love ourselves. Spending time taking care of others, slaves to a corporate machine, putting everything else before ourselves. We pursue perfection, trying to live up to the expectations of others. No one is perfect. We all have flaws. You can’t help anyone, love anyone or change anyone unless you love yourself first. We all have a thing. Accept yourself and love it. It is okay to be “just the way you are.”
Forgiveness is not for anyone but yourself. To forgive something or someone, they don’t even need to be present. Recognize it happened, acknowledge you can’t change the past and you are the person you are today because of it: stronger, better for it. Why carry the weight of what we cannot change? If you were hurt mentally, physically or emotionally by someone, forgive them. Wipe your hands clean and clear your conscience of negative energy.
Empathy is my greatest strength and biggest weakness. I believe empathy is a rich character trait for those with a bipolar diagnosis.
We carry a lifetime in the backpacks and cardboard boxes of our mind. We spin on a carousel wondering when it is our turn to get off, losing control of our thoughts, compulsions, and anxieties. Let it go. No decision has to be made now. No fear should be so great that it defines you. It is okay to put it on the shelf, think about it tomorrow and then let it go.
Let Friends Come and Go
Not everyone can handle mental illness, especially when they don’t understand it. Don’t hold it against them. Dispelling the stigma of mental illness is why I do what I do. I had hundreds of friends before being diagnosed. Only a handful stuck around post-diagnosis. I had to accept that it is okay to move on. You’ll meet new people who will accept you for who you are. They’ll love you regardless of your past or the daily obstacles you overcome. Be happy for the experiences, past and present, but don’t spend too much time grieving those who you’ve lost touch with along the way.
Don’t Give Up
It can get worse before it gets better. Don’t give up. Hang on. It will get better. The road to mental health, clarity, and understanding is a long one. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time. My journey from acceptance to recovery took years. It took a village. I didn’t do it alone. Seek professional help. It is okay not to be okay. Lean on your close family and friends. Yes, they want your burden when it means your life. Take rest and breathe. Everything will be there when you are ready to pick it up again.