It took me ten years to walk into a doctor’s office knowing I had a problem. I was twelve when I had my first episode of mental illness and though my grades slipped and I withdrew from sports and friends, my family seemed not to notice. I learned to bear it on my own, not knowing what it was, and self-medicating with alcohol along the way.
At 22, I had a name. It was called bipolar disorder. To me, this was a death sentence. I thought that, because I would have it for the rest of my life, that I was doomed to a life of pain and misery. But I was wrong. Yes, I have battled bipolar disorder ever since, even as we tried medication after medication and therapy after therapy. Yes, I lost jobs and had broken relationships and struggled to make ends meet. But I benefited as well.
I know today that through my struggle with bipolar disorder that I’ve become a better person. I’m more compassionate, more empathetic, more willing to help others. Through disability, I have grown to become the person I was meant to become—an advocate for those in need of help.
I do service work in this arena now, facilitating bipolar support groups, writing guides for the local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter, and organizing a suicide prevention walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This willingness to make a difference didn’t come accidentally. It was by design. Through the pain that I went through, I wanted to help others going through that same pain.
I still struggle with bipolar disorder, and anxiety, and sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder. My alcoholism is in remission. On May 2, 2015, I celebrated five years of sobriety. These illnesses make things tough and it always seems to be a grind. I’m in crisis every so often and have had three hospitalizations in the past four years.
But while I don’t have much money or my own place, I know today that I am blessed. I don’t take the small things for granted like others do. Sunshine, fresh air, the ability to walk and talk—all that gratitude makes a difference. I hope you too find hope in your struggle and a sense of purpose. We are not our illnesses but through trials we can grow from them and become the people we are supposed to be.
Get help, reach out, and take care of yourself. End the stigma.