Blogging and serving as an ambassador for the Bring Change 2 Mind community has been an honor and a privilege. I am more than thankful for this evolving transformation of growth and education. The experience has changed my life—and mind — for the better. Here’s a new year’s reflection on my advocacy thus far:
I “came out” of the bipolar closet and publicly told my story. After 18 years of fear and shame, this was a distinct game changer. Letting go of stigma has helped me realize the magnitude of my fear since being diagnosed in 1997. After forgiving myself for managing my diagnoses of Bipolar I, my dignity has been fortified with a sense of pride, not self-loathing.
Shame is unnecessary. In fact, I’m humbled by and proud of the hard work and support I’ve garnered to live my life – a story I never dreamed possible. My loving husband, a healthy, sweet son and many supportive family and friends both near and far bolster my spirits and provide confidence in what I can do if I continue maintaining complacency and focus. Upon telling my story, I felt like a healthy dose of contentment whisked away insecurities and anxieties. Liberation from managing my illness with acute concern and fear has been extraordinarily rewarding. Especially as I get older I have grown to understand that living life to the fullest is more important than ever before. One in four people manage a mental health diagnoses. Seriously – there’s no reason to carry a burden of shame.
My diagnoses doesn’t own me. I live at “baseline” – which is “me”. If you don’t care for me, that’s cool. But I know it’s me, not my disorder at work, and that’s refreshing and helpful to understand. Knowing I no longer need to be tethered or defined by my diagnoses has opened many doors and bolstered my integrity. My life successes and how I manage the pitfalls – for better or worse — keeps me standing strong. To stop and know the voices are at bay — and that my complete landscape is within my well defined, healthful reality makes everything that much easier to manage.
Experiencing emotion is okay. My long bout with acute Bipolar made me fearful to be myself – someone who experiences the same range of emotion most people know. I now allow myself anger, fear and sadness, joy – and even euphoria and faith-filled hope. Being labeled with a mood disorder and the shame therein often keeps people, it seems, from allowing their own humanity. For example, after a long history of “faking it” so people wouldn’t see me as I saw myself (awkward and fearful of my plight), coming out and being me – complete with foibles and skills; humor and anger and sadness and anxiety — didn’t and still doesn’t mean I’m off the charts or that people need to read me as symptomatic. Experiencing full blown mania is something I know and can still keenly recall. Reverting to that horrifying place is an option I’m prepared for, but hope will never happen again.
From my perspective – a patient’s perspective — this is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp while recovering from a mental health diagnoses. Sometimes during a stressful moment I’ll even say to myself – “you’re reacting within your range of normal, Kate. It’s okay to trust your instincts and thrive”.
But going off the charts can be a concern and something to be observed by both myself and my support system. When my family and I moved to a new city after having been established in our life-long community, managing new practitioners, for example, became a personal trial. Obviously everyone’s care is different. For me, letting go of comparing my Virginia practitioners to those I worked with for almost two decades in Massachusetts has enabled me to listen and learn. Considering our massive transition to Virginia, I’m setting goals and moving forward. I continue to manage my diagnoses by following a well-established medication and talk therapy regime. It’s a quality cornerstone to maintaining a place where “recovering” as opposed to “symptomatic” consistently bubbles to the top. My husband and life partner Christopher has never known me symptomatic. His observations and patient reassurance brings me solace and comfort.
Understanding the bipolar landscape “beyond” me has been both gratifying and extraordinarily trying and scary as well. I’ve grown to learn how a patient willing to recover can become squelched by the wet blanket that is the public health system. The fight to overcome mental illness can be overwhelming on disparate levels. Once without insurance and battling the system to obtain my medications and treatment, I realized those in a less supported, learned environments may not be able to fight the fight. How is a member of the homeless community supposed to get their rapid cycling under control while hungry, tired and most likely suffering from myriad other ailments? How can you access the computerized health system from a tent in woods? A few baby steps have been taken, but our legislators should be educated to better understand reality as they build the prospects of a public health care system.
My advocacy work is often daunting but extremely rewarding. I’m proud to tell anyone who asks why I advocate for mental health awareness and the end of stigma. As someone close once noted: “You’ve found your passion. This is your calling”.
For all these reasons and much more, my heart is filled with anticipation and hope. There’s much to learn and much to do.
Let’s Bring Change 2 Mind together.