It’s been while I’ve written about mental illness so I figured it was time for an update. In previous posts, I’ve not disclosed my diagnosis. It is Bipolar. Whenever I share this, some people are shocked and others respond with statements like “Oh yeah, I can see that about you.”
I haven’t shared this diagnosis because I found it overwhelming to think about the negative ideas and images associated with mental illness. Let’s face it. Many, perhaps even most people, think having a mental illness means the person is “crazy”. This is understandable. Oftentimes when we first learn of or directly experience mental illness, it is after it has gone undiagnosed or untreated. Any illness, mental or physical, can look very scary when not properly understood and managed.
So, what is Bipolar disorder? “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks” (The National Institute of Mental Health). The symptoms of the manic and depressive episodes present differently from person-to-person. Factors such as personality, temperament and environment are a few things that shape how a person behaves when experiencing the poles of this disorder. For me, manic phases begin with extreme difficulty sleeping or frequent overspending. On the other end of the spectrum, my depressive episodes present with excessive sleeping and lethargy. Simple tasks, like bathing, become major events that I have to force myself to perform.
At first, it was hard to accept that I had a mental illness. I held negative opinions of people with mental illness because I ignorantly believed it was just bad behavior. I held this opinion because I had most often seen mental illness through the lenses of being undiagnosed and untreated, or undiagnosed and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, or diagnosed and refusing treatment, or diagnosed and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. I attempted to cope without the assistance of medication. My psychiatrist would write a prescription, but I would either not get it filled or never pick it up. I wanted to overcome through the tenets of my faith and self-discipline. You see certain statements, I’d heard in sermons, indicating that bouts of depression were a sign of a lack of faithfulness, left me quite confused about what I was dealing with. I began believing that depression was proof that I lacked appropriate degrees of spiritual dedication and self-discipline.
As time went on I continued to struggle. I would go from feeling completely fine one moment to having a full-on anxiety attacks the next. Weeks would go by, and I would only two or three hours each night. Once your body is fatigued, it becomes nearly impossible to function normally. Due to the lack of sleep, I had begun having low-level hallucinations. One day, while out walking, I passed this lady carrying a small child. Nothing strange other than the baby appearing to be on fire. I needed help so I set down my ego and began TRYING medications to assist me with stabilizing my mood and sleep. I’m emphasizing the word TRYING because treating depression/anxiety can often require trial-and-error to determine which medication/therapy provides the best outcomes. I recall TRYING up to eight medications to regulate my sleep. The process of identifying the right treatment requires patience. Sometimes a drug that works well in the beginning becomes less effective over time so you find yourself TRYING something new.
While I believe in medication if needed, I also believe in the body’s ability to heal itself. Long before being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I made some major lifestyle adjustments by changing what I eat and exercising consistently. I made it a goal to be in great physical condition so that any illness that might ever arise would be easier to treat. Friends, in the medical profession, taught me that treating one issue becomes far more complicated when there are additional diagnoses or limitations. I also believe in God’s healing power, and I make it a point to seek God’s wisdom about managing my condition. As a result, I’ve learned that sometimes the healing I need may be in a capsule whether a supplement or prescription. At the end of the day, I consider it God’s healing, regardless of the method.
As of last year, I’m listed as being in remission. This doesn’t mean there are no symptoms. There are days when I feel the shadows, but I’ve learned how to pull open the blinds–to push past the darkness–to open my arms and let the sun shine upon chest. I am so very grateful for this resolve. I know what it is to feel lost, afraid, alone, hopeless.
I think one thing that can help us begin better understanding mental illness and removing the stigma from it is to disassociate mental illness with the word “crazy.” Crazy means mentally deranged or insane. Insanity is not a psychological term. It’s more often a legal term used to determine culpability. Mental health professionals do not use the term as a diagnosis, and it does not appear in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). There is no crime or shame in having a mental illness. Like other parts of our bodies get sick, so do our brains.
I believe the most dangerous stance we take when dealing with mental illness is denial. Denial keeps us from seeing the symptoms and from seeking help. It is denial that derails and destroys lives. Denial is crazy. I had to stop denying that something was wrong, and I had to go all in from every angle to get better. Mental illness doesn’t have to look like a mess. If you need an example, I’m here.
What I Was Listening To
Main Photo by: In God's Image