This story is part of a blog series called, “Your Story: a conversation on mental and emotional health and disabilities.” Please read with a heart open and understanding – free of judgement.
Please be aware, that, within this interview, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, manic episodes, and being hospitalized are brought up. If these topics affect you in any way please stop reading, talk with a someone you trust, or contact a mental health professional immediately. You may also call the Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255).
A Note On Editing
Minor changes were made to help make the interview easier to read. I have also made a few remarks within the interview that are clearly noted in italics.
Defining Mental Health
Bipolar Disorder – “(formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypo-manic episodes.” – from the National Institute of Mental Health website
This story is about a woman who struggles with bipolar disorder. At the end of her interview, she shares very honestly that, while anxiety and depression are more widely and openly discussed in society, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other “extreme and altering” mental health illnesses tend to freak people out.
Now, I can understand how manic and psychotic episodes might be freaky or frightening. I worked as a housekeeper in a behavioral health hospital for almost a year, and we regularly treated patients with these mental illnesses. It was almost like night and day working around these individuals. The first time you interacted with them, they might be completely “normal,” and then, the next day, their personality and behaviors might change – almost like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. This extreme and fast changing personality and/or behavioral change can be alarming to someone who has never witnessed it. BUT!!! As with any other mental or emotional health challenge or disability, these individuals still deserve love, respect, and a safe environment to find healing.
They are not freaky terrifying monsters. Their mind and body is under attack from an invisible source, and consciously or unconsciously, this is the only way they know how to cry out for help.
When did you realize there was something mentally or emotionally wrong? And what did you do about it?
I knew that I had mental health struggles ever since my early teenage years — anxiety and bouts of depression. By the time I was in college, I had mostly accepted them, but I kept that acceptance to myself. I didn’t want other people to know I struggled. When I had my first bipolar manic episode my first year of college, I didn’t even see it coming, nor did I know that I had bipolar. The only preparation I had was a few teenage therapy sessions specifically related to anxiety and depression, but nothing close to what I needed for dealing with a full on manic episode.
Are there/were there moments in your life where this mental/emotional struggle becomes more present and you’re more aware of its existence?
Trigger Warning: this answer contains details about her first manic episode and hospital stay.
My first manic episode was like jumping into the deep end and not knowing how to swim. I did not have any idea how to navigate what was real and what my brain was telling me was real. My mental state was so altered and shaken that I struggled with many concepts of reality. During my time in the hospital, and for months afterwards, I really struggled to stomach the fact that I do have bipolar disorder, and that, it isn’t something that will go away. My second manic episode was another time where, even though I still hated it, bipolar disorder made itself very well known, and I, again, couldn’t escape its existence in me.
How has this experience affected your relationships with others?
In most all my relationships with family and friends, having bipolar disorder has, in time, strengthened them. In any relationships that weren’t strengthened, I realized later that it wasn’t a relationship worth putting effort into. There were definitely strains put on my closest relationships during my manic episodes, but because of the support that I so desperately needed (and thankfully was given) in those times, the relationships are stronger than they ever were before.
What methods have you found are beneficial for your treatment and healing?
Getting out in nature, finding ways to create instead of consume, spending time with great friends, making memories with family, making and eating really delicious food, being on and especially staying on the right medication, having amazing psychiatrists and therapists, and remembering to be grateful for all the good.
Medication is not a sign of weakness. It is a way to bring your body and mind back into homeostasis – balance! Just because a medication worked for one individual doesn’t mean it will work for all individuals. Medications are part of the trial and error process in the art of healing and restoring the body to it’s proper working order. Medications, dosages, and the duration a medication is taken may change throughout one’s lifetime. It is not the one size fits all cure all and should never be taken as such. It is only when medications are taken regularly and as directed by a medical professional with the authority to prescribe them that they are effective. More importantly, medications function the best when they are coupled with a healthy lifestyle – adequate sleep, nutritionally dense foods, appropriate hydration, regular physical activity; loving, supportive, nurturing relationships, mental and spiritual stimulation, and quality time spent in nature are all equally important in creating a healing environment.
What keeps you from receiving or accepting treatment and healing?
My own stubbornness.
What symptoms or behaviors of your mental/emotional health experience are the most difficult for you to handle? For example: self harm, disordered eating and sleeping, suicidal thoughts, loss of motivation.
Looking back at the trauma of being hospitalized for a total of 19 days between the 2 manic episodes and remembering all the ways that my mind was trying to warp reality… It’s when I reflect back on those difficult moments (without giving credit to how far I’ve come since then) that I start to have real difficulties with it all. When I dwell on things from my past that can’t be changed, I miss out on the things I can do today to continue to be healthy.
Have you shared your struggles with family and friends? If yes, what have their reactions been? Are they supportive, or do they wish to keep your struggles hidden?
Most of my friends and family are, and always have been, incredibly supportive and allow me to be open about my mental health. There are some that are still uncomfortable acknowledging mental illness, but they show support in the best ways they know how, and that’s good enough for me.
What inspires you to stay hopeful through this experience? Or how do you find hope during this experience?
Prayer has, undeniably, been the biggest source of hope through my mental illness. Feeling close to God inspires and instills hope within me when it’s needed most.
If you could travel back in time and visit yourself just before or just after recognizing there was something amiss, what would you tell yourself?
I’d tell myself to trust the people who weren’t going through a manic episode who were really there to help me. During my time in the hospital, trust was something I felt I was missing, but there were SO many trustworthy people there who wanted to help me.
If you met someone else going through a similar experience as yourself, what advice and words of courage would you give them?
Manic episodes don’t last forever. They really, really suck, but thankfully, there is an end to them. Breathe, find something that will ground you, and take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself and others, and trust those who want to help you.
Is there any final part of your story or thoughts of encouragement you wish to share with the readers?
Depression and anxiety are becoming more widely accepted as part of many people’s lives, which is a GREAT thing. People still kinda freak out when they hear about bipolar, schizophrenia, and other more “altered” mental illnesses. The reality is that mental illness is mental illness and humans deserve to be treated like humans. Our job is to love, listen, and lift each other no matter what the label or stigma is.
Thank you for bravely opening up about your mental health journey.
Continuing The Conversation
The final question I asked as part of this interview was whether she was willing to connect with others about her story. She agreed and said that she would be willing to talk with those interested over email. To continue to protect her privacy though, I will not disclose her email in this post. If you are interested in connecting with her, please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will forward your message to her directly.
Feel free to continue the conversation on mental and emotional health in the comments below. But please understand that your comments are being moderated and will be deleted if they are hurtful, hateful, or inappropriate in any way. This is a safe space to share your story about mental and emotional health and disabilities. Please do what you can to keep it as such.
A Note For Readers
If this story has inspired you to share your own story, please click here to be taken to the introductory post where you will learn where the inspiration for this blog series came from as well as how to participate.