One in Four
Personal fear of judgement held me silent and almost debilitated my management of Bipolar I disorder. For 18 years I bit my tongue.
But after almost two decades of fear and embarrassment, I publicly introduced myself with my full name and the mental health challenges I have worked so diligently to overcome. I openly stated at a national press conference that I manage my Bipolar I diagnoses successfully. Frankly, I expected confetti and balloons – but in reality no one was shocked by this more and more commonly discussed global epidemic.
Remember one in four manage a mental illness.
Having been diagnosed in 1997, life wasn’t as open to discussing these realities. I lived almost two decades fearful of being excluded from society by something being “off”, but still dreadfully alone due to the self-loathing and paranoia that came with the fear of someone “finding out”.
But through those silent years I learned that asking for help from your closest community pays off. I grew to know myself as Kate – not Bipolar Kate.
I’ve always vowed to be compliant with my health regime. With humility I can confidently say I’ve grown to thrive. Blessed with a full life complete with family, friends, a strong community and furthermore my own little family with my supportive, loving husband and our little bug of a five year old son, and I’ll say it again: “I’m living a life I never dreamed possible”.
Don’t get me wrong – my life can be sloppy and there are many tangled lines in my web – but that’s me being Kate; not a Bipolar psychosis shining through. When I talk fast, I know it’s because I harken from the Northeast. When I don’t get enough sleep, it’s typically because I haven’t exercised or am managing too much stress.
My medication regime does its job. I feel no shame. I tell my story. I keep the conversation alive in the hopes that maybe one person will relate and maybe better manage their diagnoses for themselves and the people around them.
All that said, my story is too rare.
I spent the past year working for a coalition of churches who worked tirelessly to feed the homeless and those chronically in need. I learned a lot. I’m not a doctor, but many of those I met throughout my time helping the cause taught me some truths about mental illness.
Remember one of the first statistics I learned when first talking out, blogging and being an active mental health advocate is that one in four people manage – or should be managing – a mental illness.
Think about it: Maybe it’s you or the person next to you selecting their tomatoes at the market that manage a serious mental health diagnoses. We have no bandages, wheelchairs, casts or shaved heads to signify a medical health struggle. Those fighting mental illness blend into our society without notice or aplomb. Our Band-Aids are camouflaged by hard-to-muster “normal” emotions in a not so normal world.
Many of the one in four are not treated as they’re scared to ask for help – usually due to the mountainous but subtle effects of stigma. Others are on a flight to Mars while literally living behind a strip mall without anyone to offer support or guidance. And despite the stigma, I learned these aren’t those who meet the stereotypes by being violent or suicidal.
Thriving is possible, but it’s not easy. This is why we need to reach out and talk – not only to eradicate judgement and stigma but also to provide aid to the many, many hopeless patients who don’t have day-to-day support to separate themselves from their diagnoses. It’s heartbreaking to think there could be help but it won’t be accepted or behavior doesn’t warrant an escorted trip to the hospital.
This is why government mental health regulations need to be managed by mental health wellness experts – not government employees without the knowledge to be of true assistance.
This is why we need not necessarily be grouped into a classification of “disabled”. I know folk managing a Bipolar diagnoses, for example, who are educators, senior management in the corporate arena, high level staff at non-profit organizations – essentially the throngs who have stopped, listened and obtained a regime to find compliancy and ultimately contribute within our society.
I’d hope so: we’re one in four.