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My Personal Journey Bringing About Mental Health Awareness to the World

By: John Poehler

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 back in 1999. I use this as the official date to the start of my journey. Before then, I was just treading water to try and keep afloat. My symptoms actually began in the early 1990’s.

My diagnosis took a large weight off my shoulders. You see, I was incredibly happy to find a name detailing my experience. Up until that point, I felt like an outsider. I did not fit in anywhere and I felt like no one ever understood me.  

It really opened up my eyes too. An illness is something you do not have control over. You will have the same success “willing” away bipolar disorder as you would cancer. Meaning, it is just not going to happen.

Most people I have found try to deny that anything is wrong when they are diagnosed. I always want to be educated about what is going on with my body and mind. If there is something wrong, I want to do everything in my power to fight it!

After my diagnosis, I told a number of my friends and a handful of family members. I thought everybody would be supportive, give me a hug and we would move on. It did not go near that smoothly.

The majority of my friends slid out of my life or just stopped talking to me.  

I feel now more than ever, that this is a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to bipolar disorder.

Mental health awareness month is the time to educate and spread the word about mental health. Actually, we need to be advocating everyday, but it is fantastic to have a month specifically catered towards our cause. 

Each individual person has a degree of mental health, but they do not necessarily have a mental illness.  The English Oxford Dictionary defines mental health as “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”.

A person whose mind is not affected by mental illness has a different degree of functionality compared to an individual who does suffer from a mental illness. There are countless ways to improve your mental health, but very specific modalities to treat a mental illness.

I suffer from bipolar disorder type 1. Specifically, I have extremely psychotic manic and mixed episodes. Bipolar disorder is an illness of the mind. So, it does fall under the category of mental health, based on Oxford’s definition above.

Mental health awareness is so important because mental illness does not present like a physical illness. It is easier to understand something that you can see and touch than it is to take on faith alone. I think that is one of the reasons there is such a huge stigma about mental illness.

There are so many misconceptions and myths related to bipolar disorder. To really start moving forward, we need to dispel some of the common myths. Before we go further, please realize I am not a doctor and the information presented is not intended to diagnose or treat.

Myth:  “Bipolar disorder is not that serious”.  

Fact:  Bipolar disorder is a very serious and complex diagnosable illness. The fallout includes relationship difficulties, financial troubles, issues with law enforcement and in extreme cases, death.  

Myth:  “Everyone has a little bipolar in them”.

Fact:  Every person has the normal ups and downs in life. Someone experiencing bipolar disorder has these ups and downs to the extreme. The spectrum goes from depression to mania (hypomania for Bipolar disorder type 2) and everywhere in between.

Myth:  “You do not need medication to treat your bipolar disorder”.

Fact:  When I was first diagnosed around 1999, I received this comment countless times. Bipolar disorder is an illness. Just like other illnesses, you need to manage bipolar disorder by taking medication. Medication helps to decrease the severity and frequency of my episodes.

Myth:  “I can treat my bipolar disorder with only exercise and vitamins and minerals”.

Fact:  As much as I would like to believe the above statement, I cannot. You know why? It isn’t true. I know there is quite a bit of hype in the mental health community right now about natural remedies. I can understand the appeal. My treatment plan is based on scientifically backed evidence. This puts medication management at the foundation of my plan. I have read research, papers and spoken to countless doctors and nurse practitioners about possible natural remedies. Some of these remedies can be used as a part of your self-care and overall treatment plan.

When it comes to Mental Health Awareness Month, I believe we not only need to educate the masses, but our own mental health community as a whole.  

To move forward, we need to be united and not divided.

I see this quote all the time and I am not sure who said it, but remember this about bipolar disorder:

“It’s a disorder, not a decision”

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