What I Wish I’d Have Known When I Was Diagnosed With a Mental Illness

It’s been over eight years since I was first diagnosed with mental illness. I have bipolar disorder type 1 and have been blogging about living with my condition for three years now. As a mental health advocate, people who are in the exact same place I was years ago sometimes email me asking for help. What would I recommend to help them get better? 

Every person’s situation is unique, every story is different. But there are many similarities and I can almost always see myself in their words. Looking back on my journey to wellness, I’ve learned so much about mental illness and what helped me to learn to live in harmony with my condition. Here’s what I wish I would have known when I was diagnosed. 

That the devastating news of my diagnosis would feel like a death sentence and I would contemplate suicide because living was too painful and I didn’t want to keep going if all I had to look forward to was sadness. This would prove to be my turning point. The suffering came to a head and in turn pushed me to want more for myself. I wanted to experience real happiness again, not fake smiles because I was ashamed of what I was feeling and scared my friends wouldn’t want to be around me if they knew the truth. I had to hit my rock bottom before I found the momentum in my soul to change my life. 

That anxiety is a condition which can tear apart a person’s soul. In the midst of my worst anxiety it felt like a parasite had taken residence within me. I feared it would never go away. I thought I was destined to be a prisoner of my anxiety. I thought I’d never wake to see another sunrise without anxiety staring me in the face. I was wrong. 

That the tiny journals my dad encouraged me to keep ended up telling the story of recovery. Each day I’d take a minute to jot down how I was feeling, the medication and dosage I took that day, and any side effects I experienced. Something so simple as taking three minutes to write down those three things helped me work effectively with my doctors to adjust my treatment plan until it worked. 

That at nine weeks pregnant with my daughter, four weeks after my fourth hospitalization for mania, I’d somehow find the strength to call my doctor when I could barely string words together into sentences. After being released from the hospital on a new medication, I suffered in silence for four weeks. I was still in shock from the trauma of the experience and the med had brought me down from mania in the hospital, but using it on a continuous basis didn’t turn out to be a good thing. The neurons in my brain felt like they weren’t firing and I could barely talk, write or sit still due to the constant agitation. Being able to pick up the phone and call the doctor to tell him I needed to go back to what had worked for me in the past was a huge accomplishment and proved to me that I had learned to manage my illness. 

That once I was able to pinpoint my triggers that lead to mania, I had the upper hand when it came to fully controlling my mental health. Getting quality sleep each night, taking my medication religiously are the critical components for me to stay balanced. Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, eating a whole foods diet, and exercising regularly are habits I’ve incorporated into my life which I believe have also benefitted my mental health tremendously. Input equals output is a pretty simple equation. 

That dancing in the throes of mania and drowning in the torrential downpour of depression was the greatest roller coaster ride of my life thus far and in turn all the ups and downs shaped me into who I am right now. Someone who wants to try to reach as many people as she can because the power of storytelling is life-changing. And we could all use positive change when it comes to mental illness and how to take hold of our mental health.

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