The attempt to break the stigma of mental illness is a hard-fought battle, with, at times it seems, no end in sight. March 30th was World Bipolar Awareness Day, a day to educate people on the illness itself, but to eliminate the stereotypes that come with it. The illness affects nearly 27 million people worldwide with five and half million in the US alone.
According to an article a South Dakota newspaper about breaking the stigma, changing the way of thinking is the key in helping people seek treatment for mental illness. When there is a negative reaction to anything the number of people who will seek help is dramatically less than if there was an open conversation available.
While I could spout statistics and words of wisdom from the best doctors around the world, it makes more sense to me to have this post be real and personal and tell my own story and the battles I have faced when it comes to “coming out,” to the public about who I am.
I was diagnosed in 1996, just before my 30th birthday. Wasn’t exactly how I had I planned on celebrating my birthday, but what can you do? I knew there was something not quite right, so I finally made an appointment with a therapist to try to understand what was happening. All I knew was that I was happy one minute and depressed the next, five minutes later I would be elated again. Sometimes it would last for days or weeks, but more often than not it was minutes, and I was not OK with it. The therapist, knowing what was happening, sent me to a psychiatrist and the challenge of finding the right medications began. It is important to know that medication is not the answer to controlling bipolar, it helps of course, but it takes a combination of drugs and therapy and self-exploration to find your way to living.
As my luck would have it, the medication part process was not so easy, it seems my body is very sensitive when it comes to medication and nearly everything we tried was not good for me, I was having side effects of the worst kind. It took an extremely educated and patient psychiatrist to find a combination that worked for me, by going back “old school,” as he called it and using drugs that were uncommon.
My diagnosis is actually a complicated one, Schizo-Affective Disorder is the official name. A combination of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia is the easiest explanation, or Bipolar with psychosis. (Scary, I know)
I tell you all this to show the favorable side of mental illness, it is possible to live a “normal” life, be functional and sane. While, all is good now, the early days brought a lot of anger, and I ruined a lot of positive things in my life. It showed me; however, that people can forgive and who I want to be in my life and who I don’t. Most of all it showed me; it is the media and people’s misconceptions that lead us down the road to silence and embarrassment.
There are people in my life, who know of my illness, that hesitate to bring up certain subjects with me so as not upset me, or worry if I get “to happy." I try to understand their point of view; they don’t understand and how can they really? I simply smile and reiterate, again, that I am a regular person with an illness, please don’t treat me like a child.
Through all of this, I have learned a lot, and I hope you, after reading join in the movement to banish the stigma of not only mental illness, but all stigmas.