If the teenage Sarah knew what 27 year old Sarah knows now, I believe this bipolar journey could have been a lot less painful. But when I’m tempted to dwell on how much farther ahead I could be had I been more prepared to live life with a mental illness, I remind myself that I doubt I would have the same ability to empathize with others that I do today. I had to fight this battle one step at a time, and had I been initially aware of all the secrets to success, I don’t think my story would have the same power to encourage those around me. And if the lessons I’ve painstakingly learned over time can resonate with people and empower them to press on, then I’m glad that I didn’t take any shortcuts. However, there are still a few lessons I would absolutely share with my younger self. I wish I had known these three things from the very beginning.
1. This is NOT your fault
When I was hospitalized for the first time at 17, the therapist on staff actually told me that I was a “bad kid”. She chalked up my behavior to a disrespectful attitude and placed the blame on me. I carried that burden on my shoulders for far too long. No one chooses to be bipolar. No one acts out on purpose. I should have been told from the very beginning that I do not need to feel guilty for my symptoms. Everyone needs to recognize that mental illness is not a character flaw. Do not fall for the lie that responsibility for developing a disorder resides with you.
2. Be honest about your disorder and let people help you
In college I didn’t want anyone to know that I had bipolar, so every day so much of my energy was consumed by attempts to cover up my mental illness. I simply suffered in silence. Looking back, I would tell myself to swallow my pride and admit to my friends that there is an issue I struggle with. My pain may not be the same as the next person’s, but I should have realized that no one lives a perfect life. Had I trusted my loved ones to accept me bipolar and all, I could have had the support I so desperately needed. I still cannot always tell when an episode is coming on. But because those closest to me are aware of my triggers and symptoms, I am so much more likely to get help in a timely manner. I encourage you to be brave enough to be vulnerable, and share your secret with a few people. Let them rally around you. You will be stronger and more able to handle whatever bipolar throws at you because of it.
3. Our worth is not measured by our pain
For so many years my sorrow and agony over the fall out of bipolar episodes were all consuming. I let the pain of bipolar define my entire life. Yes, I was hurting and it was valid to let myself feel that weight. But I would tell my younger self to not determine the value of my life based only on unfortunate past events. Maybe this part of my life was hard at the moment, maybe it would take a while for my heart to heal. But I wish I would have understood that I’m worth so much more than a pile of bad memories. There were still areas of success in my life, there were still activities that gave me joy, and people who loved me through it all. Today, I find value in all the pieces of the puzzle that make me who I am. We all need to remember to see the whole person, not just the bipolar and the pain it sometimes causes.
I desperately wish my younger self could have fought the battle of bipolar armed with this information. Wherever you are on your journey, do not let one more day go by without finding hope in these truths.
Read more of Sarah's posts here.
Learn more about #DearTeenageMe and #SayItForward at http://sayitforwardcampaign.org/