What would I say to the younger me about being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder? This picture was taken 13 years ago. I was 28 and oh so manic, but had no idea. This was pre-diagnosis. I traveled to two continents, several states, and multiple concerts on this particular U2 tour…something I had always wanted to do. (It did pay off. I finally met Bono and shook Edge’s hand.) This was probably at the height of my unknown mental illness, but I was flying high…as you can see from the picture. I had waited 20 years for that moment. Aside from my wedding and the birth of my children, this was the happiest moment of my life. It was also the Christmas card picture that year.
Anyway, I chose this photo because this is the me I would want to talk to. This is the me that I would I want say, “Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. You’ll end up okay, but it will be a HUGE learning curve for you.” I’ve been through so much and done so much in my life, many of which were done under the influence of mania. I don’t regret anything, even the bad. But that is something I have learned to do…I’ve learned to accept the things that have happened. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that all of the experiences I have had and will have will help shape the person I become. That they are a part of me and not anything to be ashamed of or feel guilty for. Guilt and shame seem to go hand in hand with mental illness. We tend to be our own worse enemies.
I would also tell myself: when it’s time to find a new psychiatrist, give that doctor a chance. No, she won’t be like the one you had for 10+ years, but it’s a change and sometimes change can be good. It can be scary and uncomfortable, but it can be good. I would also tell myself: STAY ON YOUR MEDS!!!! Even if you think they aren’t working, stay on them until you can talk to your new doctor. If you go off of them, you will go for one heck of a roller coaster ride and not the good kind.
I would also tell myself to be patient with myself. This is a life long journey and you won’t become stable overnight. It will take time, maybe even years…but it will happen. There will be snags, triggers, upsets, etc., but that’s all part of the process. Be kind to yourself. Help others on their journey to stability as you are able…it will help you too.
When family life gets a bit rough (and it will…the children will become teenagers!), remember to breathe. They are struggling right along with you only they don’t have the benefit of knowing you’re having an “episode” (because they’re not in your head). They have to guess and try to deal with it as best they can. Remember they love you.
There’s so much more I would love to have known before I truly started this journey, but that’s not how it works. We have to find our own way and what works for us. Right now, for me, it’s helping others and doing advocacy work. I’m trying to find that delicate balance with medications, but we all know that it’s not an exact science. It’s a lot of trial and error, but when we do find that right combo…well, you know… So I still search for that, confident that it will happen…eventually. Until then, I try not to dwell on the negative. Instead, I look towards the future and the endless possibilities it has. Thank you for reading!