It took me a few years to figure out just what I need to stay mentally healthy with no risk of relapse. I had been on the road to recovery so long that I forgot how important all the things I do every day are. I learned the hard way that I need to stay on my plan indefinitely or it will be very difficult to get back on track.
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I like referring to mental illnesses as mental health challenges. This is because it is more inclusive of people who may not have a diagnosis. It reminds us that there are many related challenges and it offers hope that the challenges can be overcome.
I recently read an article written by a person who is tired of people like me talking about recovery from psychiatric disorders. She wanted us to “stop talking about recovery and start using a more useful and less stigmatizing word: hope.” I am not sure what she wants us to have hope of. Stabilization? Maintenance? Better medication? Better therapy? My hope is that I can have a full and meaningful life despite the fact that I have bipolar disorder, mild PTSD, panic attacks and an eating disorder.
Spotting Icebergs From Miles Away: How to Use Early Warning Signs in Bipolar Disorder Relapse Prevention
This is the first part in a 3 part series. We recommend reading them together.
What is ‘stable’? After 6 years of constant ups and downs I wouldn’t know what euthymia was like if it slapped me in the face.
I was diagnosed with unipolar depression when I was 20 and up until 22 (when I was re-diagnosed with bipolar), I thought I had been cycling in and out of depression and euthymia on a yearly basis.
I just finished filling out a WRAP plan with the help of my therapist. WRAP stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan. The plan can be found at mentalhealthrecovery.com and is free to print out.
This isn’t the first time I’ve filled out the plan. Years ago while I was in an acute treatment unit for severe depression (before my bipolar I diagnosis) I half-heartedly filled one out as part of a recovery exercise. The plan has you list things to do that will help you maintain your wellness and what happens if things start breaking down.
A little backstory: I was diagnosed with bipolar type II disorder in January and started taking medication then. I am still on the original medication I started with, because it seems to work well for me, and have since added a second medication to the mix to help keep me even more stable. I have experienced one depressive episode since my diagnosis due to forgetting to pack my meds when I went on a weekend trip. But other than that brief hiccup in the spring, I have been more stable for the past ten months than I have been in a very long time.
Five years and five months ago I heard the word “bipolar” for the very first time. Honestly, I did not know what it meant nor what it would come to mean to me and my life. I learned pretty quickly that it meant I was very sick and that I was self-medicating an illness I had no idea I had and that unless I sought and accepted treatment, my life would not be as happy and productive as I had planned or dreamt it would be. I also learned very quickly that bipolar disorder was not an “acceptable” illness to have … and soon found myself alone, deserted by my family, my friend
I’ve had episodes of depression throughout my life, but it was only seventeen years ago that I realized I had a mental illness. Up until that time, I blamed the episodes on circumstances of my life like being away from home my first time, escaping from Vietnam in ’75, my husband becoming seriously ill, him dying, my daughters going off to college, etc. Some of the episodes were so severe that I seriously considered suicide, but I still didn’t think I had a mental illness.
When I’m high, I can fly. When I’m low, I sink into the deepest, darkest place. I keep wishing I could change this.
One of my medications in particular gets me through the day. It’s actually supposed to help with anxiety, but it sort of has the opposite effect on me. I’ve realized that without it, I am worthless. Less than worthless. I just want to sit there. To merely exist. I don’t want to rely on pills to get me through life, but I know I have to. I know because I’ve gone off my meds. Many times. I felt better, so I thought I didn’t need pills.