Upon being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder, I was prescribed a life-long regime of medication and talk therapy.
Swallowing this prison sentence was difficult at the time. But accepting the best medication cocktail from my dedicated psychiatrist — and learning life skills for re-entering the world from my therapist, means demons now rest.
I don’t miss mania, which I understand is the common rationale for dropping ones’ medication regime. My manic self is someone I don’t want to revisit. At baseline, I have a fairly hypomanic -like personality, so why not adjust my sails to who I am as Kate – not Kate with an untreatable disease?
I’m compliant, which means I effectively manage my bipolar illness as prescribed. Today, this calls for monthly therapy sessions and managing five medications.
First diagnosed, I avoided the articles and publications; put aside the discussions about side effects and whom to trust. I threw myself at the mercy of my medical team and supportive family. Many years later, I’m alive, healthy and thriving.
Like most, I have anxiety, stress and emotional reactions — for me, these are baseline personality traits I know well and manage without much fuss.
Clinicians of all brands read diagnoses and of course make innocent presumptions. While going over my medication list with a nurse recently, I was told: “you seem great”! “Gee, thanks”, I thought sarcastically. Why wouldn’t I be after all? I’ve been managing my mental illness for going on twenty years now. While it does make me smile with pride hearing affirming words, it also helps better highlight what people “see” when they hear or read “mental illness”. Lately I feel I’m not the image people seem to picture, which makes me less angry for myself and more defensive for the bipolar “norm” clinicians must see.
The overarching health care system is too often an art to manage. I often feel guilty for my wellness as many go without treatment for ill-bred reasons. Part stigma — part medical system — and access to mental health care unfortunately becomes a chore that requires reams of documentation to obtain. Mental illness is an illness of the brain and should thereby be treated no differently than someone with a “physical” brain illness.
If you manage a mental health illness, I urge you to be patient and understand why many often have an ill understanding of mental health — and how it can often be well treated with compliancy.
One step at a time – subtly and when appropriate – it’s important to educate and help eradicate stigma. There’s nothing more powerful than telling our stories and putting the “picture” of your mental illness in better light.