Author: Jessie Bucci
Feeling alone and even misunderstood can be one of the hardest realities of experiencing a mental illness, and living with Bipolar disorder. I remember driving somewhere with a friend and passing a psychiatric facility which prompted her to make an offhand comment about it. I can’t remember exactly what the comment was, just that it was something pretty insensitive to say, especially in front of someone who had just spent a month in a psychiatric hospital (me). In her defense, I hadn’t yet disclosed this information, however, in my defense, I don’t think I should’ve had to in order to avoid such a hurtful comment. Vocabulary and mindsets surrounding mental health and mental illness are evolving, however, there is still a lot of work to be done.
I think it’s important to describe (at least briefly) my experience in the hospital. To be completely honest, it was terrible. While it was necessary in my recovery, this particular hospital was not the best, and I had some traumatic experiences because of undertrained and even negligent staff. This is not to discourage those needing inpatient care to seek it out, it’s just to address the reality that not all facilities are equal. After my month-long stay which ended in a Bipolar 1 diagnosis, it was suggested that I continue in an outpatient program for 4-6 weeks. 4-6 more weeks of my life spent in a sad building, surrounded by other people who were, in a way, in the same boat as me. Not necessarily with the same destination, and not for the same reasons, but at least in similar boats.
My outpatient experience was not as bad as my inpatient, but it was still mostly bad moments sprinkled with moments of hope. I was allowed to go outside when I wanted, allowed to eat what I wanted and, most importantly to me, I was allowed to have iced coffee again! I put myself out there, and started sitting with a group of people during lunch. After a couple weeks, I decided to have lunch alone (I can’t recall why) but maybe it was overload from spending 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, surrounded by others. After that lunch, when we returned for group therapy, the therapist who was facilitating the group asked if anyone had anything to share. A guy I had been sitting with at lunch for the past couple weeks raised his hand and said “I’m not sure why you didn’t sit with us today Jessie, but I missed you and I thought you should know that”. I truly believe that in that moment, I began feeling again like I mattered. Like I fit in somewhere and there were people who understood me. It was a simple comment, but I wish I had told him that he helped me see myself again as someone with value, and not a burden to be around (as I had started to feel like in the early days of recovery).
Jumping forward eight years, I posted on Instagram for World Bipolar Day. This post prompted the beginning of a friendship which is now filled with mutual respect, making light of our mental health struggles, and a very specific phone call that I am so grateful for. I had been having a rough morning, I couldn’t stop crying and I was so angry. Angry that I felt I couldn’t regulate my emotions after years of practicing mindfulness, and angry with my diagnosis for making one day perfectly average, and the next day filled with so much rage seemingly from nowhere. By the time I picked up the phone, though, I was the most angry with myself. I self-harmed that morning, and it was something I hadn’t done in a very long time. It’s also something I am very proud to say that I haven’t done since. To my friend that I called, thank you for answering, listening, and being someone who I didn’t have to censor myself for. Although I had tear-stained cheeks, shortness of breath, and embarrassment surrounding my self-harm, what I had most importantly in that moment was an ally who had been there, and reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
Bipolar disorder can be ugly, but something that people on the road to recovery should note, is that itis manageable. I am engaged to the love of my life, I have strong relationships with my friends and family, I have a Master’s degree, and I have Bipolar disorder. Ask for help when you need it, and work hard everyday to ensure that you are ready to fight. Ready to fight to keep your relationships strong, fight for your recovery, and fight for yourself. For me, this diagnosis might be a lifelong battle, but it’s one I’m determined to win.