Fourteen years ago when I was 24 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar I, and it saved my life. Slowly, the pieces came together and the many years before that came into focus. There was a reason for all of the madness and the pain and confusion. And there was finally a reason to want to get better. Finding out I had bipolar was the first time I felt like I wasn’t crazy, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes that’s what it’s all about, this life where I work hard to overcome my mental health challenges and blend into the fabric of life. This is where I need to remember that I can advocate for myself as well as others, that we all can, and that the future of how we’re perceived rests solely on our will to be understood and accepted on equal ground.
Change is often an agonizingly slow process, but from this side I can say it truly is worth it. While I continued to struggle with self-harm for three more years eventually I developed a support system that helped me to achieve my goal of sobriety—11 years now.
To this day I live with reoccurring episodes of depression, but even that has changed. I am quicker to recognize the downward spiral, quicker to seek the help I need. I have learned to say on the good days and on the bad, “I am lucky to be alive. “
Is there any other symptom of mental illness more commonly ridiculed than the hearing of voices? I can’t think of an equivalent in the medical world that garners the laughter and demeaning cruelty of auditory hallucinations. Do we universally laugh at a concussion? Does hilarity ensue at the mention of cancer? Absurd to consider, yet we don’t think twice about giggling at a person beleaguered by voices.
Often, I treat the bed as if it were a life raft, and the floor an ocean, teaming with sharks. It is laughable how safe the world I create really is. My little life raft. I line up my meds, my remote control, my phone, my laptop and my coffee on the night side table. This way, I am only an arm’s reach away from my survival gear. This is not the way I always live, but it is my default-mode when depression is particularly strong.
So sure, it’s okay now that people are open now about being depressed, or bipolar or having any mental illness. As long as we don’t discuss the details that could make other people uncomfortable. Most companies are required to provide the necessary legal measures for people with mental illness. While friends and family hold your hand when you cry and understand you don’t want to see them for months at a time when you’ve locked yourself in your house. But nobody wants to hear the true details of the horrors behind the illness. And everybody with a mental illness has a book chock-full of these details from the depths of depression to the pure insanity of mania and everything in between.
I have to remember to be kind to myself. Navigating the so-called real world takes more for some than it does for others; each case is as individual as the person experiencing it. No two are alike. If I can get through any one thing with some semblance of grace, then I deserve to pat myself on the back for have completed a job well done. And that includes a moment out for tears in the washroom.
Our culture is changing in regards to its view of mental illness, but we have a long way to go. There will be people who don’t understand. People who say the wrong thing whether out of spite or malice. If you let fear of what they will say dictate your life, then in a way stigma wins. I will teach my daughter that it is the people who love you that matter. The people who are there for you when you feel empty and tired are the ones who have earned the right to speak to your heart.