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.
I can no more escape the effects of schizophrenia than I can escape being surrounded by air. We share the same space. It is symbiotic. Acknowledging that fact gives me the upper hand. It’s taken me years to surrender to this truth, and through acceptance I have afforded myself the necessary tools to survive.
I have been told numerous times that recovery from mental illness is never straight forward, that there will be plenty of ups and downs. There will be days in which it will feel as if you have conquered Everest, but there will also be days in which you cannot scrape yourself out of bed. What we need to remember is that this is all okay.
A child with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder lives with emotions that play tricks and surprises on them. A panic attack comes on without warning in the middle of recess; the crushing weight of depression makes getting out of bed impossible, much less going to school; mania shows up without warning in the form of extreme irritability and anger that is targeted at friends and family.
As a registered nurse of 17 years I have worked with many patients who had a mental health diagnosis, but had I not looked at their chart I would have never known. I cannot even count on my two hands how many patients I have cared for whom were struggling. The fact of the matter is they are out there and by being silent we close a door that needs to be open.
I started speaking openly about depression and anxiety the moment I realized that sharing my experiences would help others in the same boat. It was important to me that they know that they’re not alone. If I had someone that talked to me when I was a youngster about his or her own encounters with despair, suicidal ideation and worthlessness, I believe I wouldn’t have white-knuckled my way through life, anticipating a tragedy every moment. I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself if I’d known I was dealing with a real illness, not something I conjured up.
Having taken steps to improve my wellbeing through therapy and medication, the purchase of a medical bracelet and wallet card felt like the next appropriate move. I doubt that few will notice the eighth-inch high font at my wrist, but to a person trained to look for it, those thirteen letters engraved to the right of the Rod of Asclepius just might save my life.
I’ve retooled a few coping skills for managing my currently stressful, topsy-turvy life. A diagnosis of bipolar doesn’t own me – it’s something in my life that I manage carefully. In this new frontier, it’s my responsibility to put this transition in perspective, keeping stress at bay and watching for telltale signals that my disorder could rear its ugly head again. Every day is different, but understanding how enormous change affects me is critical to maintaining my health.
My husband and I raised a seemingly happy, healthy, and talented son, who flourished throughout his childhood until his freshman year of college. Beneath his tall, handsome, athletic, easy-going exterior was constant emotional turmoil. To everyone else, he was called the “golden boy” and it seemed like he had it all, but inside he was struggling with crippling swings of anxiety and depression.