Why don’t you ever have more than a couple drinks? What is that doctor’s appointment you go to every Friday about? Why are you so sensitive to jokes about mental illness? Why can’t you pull an all-nighter or two to study for the exam? Why’d you leave at 2 AM and drive all the way home?
The answer to all of these questions is the same; because I have bipolar disorder. More specifically, I have type 1 bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Without effective treatment I will have drastic variations in mood – in brain activity – ranging from severe depression complete with suicidal attempts/ideation and physical symptoms, to manias involving psychosis; paranoid delusions, losing touch with reality. Type 2 bipolar is equally as serious, but in different ways. I’ll write more about my particular experiences later, but for now here’s an article on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website that explains bipolar & its various types fairly well.
That guy you see on the street, dirty and deranged, yelling about some invisible conspiracy? That could easily be me, without the right medication and/or care. In fact, it has, and could be again. That’s why I have to not just take my pills every night (even if its 2 AM and I forgot them, miles away at home), but also take a number of measures to ensure I’m mentally well and staying that way. The biggest part of that puzzle is medication, but there are several other things which factor into mental health. Some of the most important involve diet and exercise.
The reason I’m writing this blog is not just for my own good, though it will be convenient to be able to simply send someone a link that explains so much. It will also be to stick up for those who don’t yet have the courage or ability to do so for themselves, but especially for those who may be suffering but have yet to be diagnosed.
There’s so much more to tell about my experiences, past and present. To put it very briefly; I was diagnosed in 2000 with bipolar when a mania complete with paranoid delusions followed a suicide attempt some months before. Both involved hospitalizations, the first voluntary and short, the second involuntary and several months long. It was hell. Entire weeks of it, I can’t even remember.
Since then, over the course of about 15 years – between 2001 and 2015 – I had relatively little trouble. But when in 2015 and 2016 thanks to insurance and prescription issues when moving between states, I relapsed, twice. the first relapse was relatively minor, but was exacerbated by a toxic work environment. The second, in 2016, was a bit worse but I managed to recover fairly quickly.
These recent experiences have led me to focus more intently on managing my health, as well as getting involved in advocacy. I attend support groups and volunteer on a regular basis, and will be writing a lot about my experiences, here. One major change I’ve made, which has been a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated, is that I don’t keep my diagnosis secret any more. We face a ton of discrimination, as I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve lost jobs, housing, friends, girlfriends, over the mental illness stigma and ignorance it perpetuates. But while a lot of people may remind me to ‘choose my battles’, I would remind them that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight. If you choose to fight no battles, you lose the war. Read; you lose lives. My cousin Kevin, for instance, at 19 began experiencing the same symptoms I experienced around the same age, but he was too embarrassed/indignant to seek help. Unchecked, it spiraled out of control, and on April 4th, 2002 at 4 pm he threw himself off of a ten story building, to his death.
No one should feel ashamed to seek treatment for an illness which affects that most vital of organs; the brain. If our cautionary tales can lead to just one person picking up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment, or checking themselves in at the ER, if need be, then it’s worth whatever prejudice and fear I may face by making my condition known to the general public. I’ll put my name behind it.