Author: Ann Marie Elpa
Like many others, when I first heard the word, ‘bipolar’, I associated it with rapid mood swings and instability. I didn’t have a proper understanding of what the disorder encompassed as someone who grew up in a household that seldom discussed mental health and wellness. On the rare occasion that we had these conversations, it often ended in a lecture about the significance of needing to ‘pray more’ or to simply ‘not think about it’.
It wasn’t until I had my first episode that I decided to take the reins and see a psychiatrist about mental health symptoms I’ve had for the past few months. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II last April and prescribed mood stabilizers to prevent future episodes. At first, I felt a sense of relief having a diagnosis for how I felt and finally being able to take care of myself through the right medications and regular therapy sessions. By naming my mental health disorder, I had control over my own body and mind, something I haven’t had in a while. However, knowing that this is a lifelong journey is something I would take some adjusting to.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how the disorder can be isolating at times, especially when trying to explain your experiences to someone without the disorder. There were things I’ve done out of character that were difficult to justify from losing motivation for hobbies and a career I loved to locking myself in my room one week and suddenly socializing the next. Intruding, fast-racing thoughts were difficult to explain much less shut off. I felt as if I was alone in my own experiences, that no one could truly understand what it was to lose sleep, go through a hypomanic episode.
It wasn’t until I wrote about my own experiences and shared them on social media that I felt less alone, connecting with like minded individuals who also have bipolar, educate and shed some light on the disorder to loved ones and friends, and use my passion to further navigate my own mental health.
I fell in love with writing when I was six-years-old because at an early age, I believed that words have the impact to inspire the change you wish to see. Words have meaning and can be used to start conversation on important topics such as destigmatizing bipolar disorder. I wrote about my experiences navigating my personal life in my early 20’s in an op-ed for the CBC. What started out as an 800-word piece turned into an international conversation starter. Since the piece’s publication, I’ve received multiple messages from individuals around the world about their own experiences with bipolar which has made me feel validated and connected with my mental health journey.
If there was one thing I could tell others to help individuals living with bipolar feel less alone, it would be to listen. Having someone opening up about their bipolar disorder is a big thing, knowing that they trust you with their experiences enough to listen. Have patience and let them know that how they feel is valid. As I mentioned, words can be a very powerful thing, and saying something validating and kind can have an impact on someone’s mental health journey.