When I think of myself 10 years ago, I am embarrassed and quite frankly shocked at how judgmental I was towards others who were different than me.
Ten years ago my mood fluctuations became unmanageable and anxiety and depression left me paralyzed. I resisted as long as I could, but my husband finally insisted I get professional help.
I was referred to a local mental health clinic. I showed up for my intake interview and parked as far away as I could in hopes that no one would see me at the clinic. I live in a small town and I believed it would be disastrous if anyone knew why I was there.
I was assigned a counselor and she encouraged me to attend group therapy. Again, I balked and again, my husband pointed out that my life was becoming unmanageable. We had two young children that meant everything to me and caring for them was becoming difficult. I went to the group. I was angry and terrified at the same time.
“I’m not like these people,” I thought to myself about the other group members. “I’m not crazy like them.”
I was also afraid of them. You fear what you do not know.
I am ashamed to admit that I thought these things. Ten years of living with my own mental illness has taught me to think differently. It has forced me to think differently. And you know what? I’m thankful that I was forced to think differently.
In the past 10 years I have been admitted to a locked acute treatment facility at least eight times and I spent five weeks at a residential treatment program where I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The people that I have met in those places are the strongest, most resilient, amazing people I’ve ever met. And, meeting them in some of my worst times and being accepted by them meant everything to me.
I admit it’s hard to imagine someone thinking of me the way I thought of others with a mental illness 10 years ago. It’s hard for me to imagine someone being scared of me or judging me. Unfortunately, I’m sure those people are out there. Those people have not been educated about mental illness and have only been taught to fear what is different than them.
Because I was so ignorant about mental illness before my crash course in it, I feared it. Now, I consider it my mission to teach people that anyone can have a mental illness.
I have chosen to be open and honest with people about my mental illness. It’s not the first thing I blurt out when I meet someone, but if it’s appropriate I share my struggles.
I recently had to miss a meeting for a school committee that I serve on. It was actually the second meeting in a row I missed because of mood issues. I hadn’t known the committee chair for long, but I decided to be honest with her about why I was missing meetings. I sent her an email explaining that I have bipolar disorder and I hadn’t been feeling well. She replied that she had some experience with bipolar disorder in her family as well.
At the next meeting I attended she pulled me aside to ask how I was feeling and then shared with me how her family was having a hard time with her brother who has bipolar disorder and wasn’t taking his meds. They desperately wanted to help him, but didn’t know how. I didn’t have an easy answer for her, but I think it made her feel better having someone to talk to.
This illness is nothing to be ashamed of. This is nothing to hide. This is your life and others care about you more than you know.