How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Explained My Bipolar Diagnosis

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Handled My Bipolar Diagnosis

{Ben and I on a vacation in St Thomas, 2 months after my illness emerged.}

Looking back on my bipolar diagnosis nearly eleven years ago, there are many ways my doctor(s) could have handled explaining the news to me. Only now am I able to clearly see the advice and encouragement which would have made my recovery journey a little easier.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a life sentence.

When I first heard the words “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Bipolar Disorder” I was devastated. The doctor may have well handed me a slip of paper that said: BROKEN BRAIN and MENTAL PATIENT, because that’s how those labels made me feel. Instead, I was given a diagnosis and left to figure out what that meant. I wish my doctor would have taken the time to assure me that yes, I may have bipolar for the rest of my life, but that it was treatable and manageable and that I’d be able to have a full and rewarding life despite my diagnosis.

Keeping a journal or mood chart would help me reach a recovery path sooner.

I wasn’t introduced to the concept of the mood chart until several months into my diagnosis. My dad was the one who from the beginning encouraged me to keep a small journal where I could jot down the date, the meds I took (and dosages), how I felt that day, and any side effects I experienced from the meds. It was a simple activity that helped me to get a handle on my illness and I encourage everyone to utilize it no matter what type of diagnosis you encounter. Looking back at my old journals sometimes makes me sad because I remember how sick I was back then, but I also realize how far I’ve come.

You may have bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have children.

One of the things that most devastated me when my mental illness first emerged was an intense fear of not being able to fulfill my dream of one day becoming a mother. I don’t remember many of the doctors I saw during the first year following my diagnosis ever broaching the topic of motherhood, except for one. The consultation with the doctor who listened to my concerns over not being able to have children provided me hope for the future. He assured me that wasn’t the case, and that by working closely with my doctors and putting a support system in place, a family was indeed something I could have. Within eighteen months after that consultation I was pregnant with my first child.

Learning to protect your sleep will be your greatest advantage next to your medicine, for managing your condition.

I am a night owl. I’ve tried to flip my preferences, by forcing myself to go to bed earlier in order to wake up before the sun. But I just love the way the house gets quiet after the little ones have been tucked in. There are plenty of nights when I have the motivation to keep burning the midnight oil, but experience has taught me that I will only pay for the lack of sleep in the days that follow in the form of erratic moods. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern has been crucial to my long-term recovery and I wish I would have known this earlier.

The sooner you begin talking openly about your struggle, the sooner your true healing will begin.

I hid my struggle for many years because I felt so isolated and embarrassed. I was convinced that none of my friends or extended family members would understand. I thought everyone would think I was “crazy” for having suffered the number of manic episodes I had endured. The feelings of shame were so intense that I began searching for stories of other people who had made it out of the darkness. I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to start blogging about my experience and then write a book, and she immediately discouraged me from disclosing. I’m glad I didn’t listen to her advice. The point at which I made the decision to write openly about my mental illness was the beginning of a better life. One in which I didn’t need to feel ashamed about a condition that affected my brain.

 

What do you wish your doctors would have told you when you were first diagnosed?

 

Mental Health Stories in the news

We’re seeing more and more stories of individuals overcoming mental health struggles in the news. Stories of resilience and pride are emerging, as we work to educate society about the battles in our heads, these invisible illnesses that so many Americans live with. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the work I get to do each day because I know that by putting our stories out there, we’re slowly and steadily giving permission to so many others who haven’t yet exposed themselves for fear of being judged.

The climate is changing, although we have a long way to go.

Mental Health Stories in the news

More and more we learn about people who have lost their battle with mental illness, and the family members who are telling the truth rather than covering up the fact that they lost the person they loved to suicide. Task forces are being created, families and communities are coming together to force change when it comes to mental health awareness. It’s an uphill climb, but we’re clawing our way up the mountain.

A few months ago I had the privilege of sharing my story with an incredibly thoughtful and engaging writer. The story came out on June 2nd, on the front page of the Washington Post.

The support surrounding the release of the article was outstanding and so positive.

A month later, This Is My Brave was featured in a 4-page article in O, The Oprah Magazine. Once again, the support flowed in, and tons of interest from individuals all across the US and Canada for hosting new shows for next year.

Mental Health Stories in the news 2

It’s been a busy time. As I work with my volunteers and Board members to make the best decisions for strategically guiding our organization forward, I’m also trying to stay aware of my own mental health. I am learning to say “No” to certain opportunities simply because I cannot do it all. Even though I want to be able to get involved on so many different levels with the initiatives being created, I have to protect my health and emotional wellbeing.

When we take care of ourselves first we’re able to focus on the important things and tough stuff doesn’t feel as heavy.

I make sure to pay attention to signals my body sends me. If I’ve been at the computer too long, I get up and out of the house. Lately this has been taking the kids to the pool to enjoy the sun and fresh air. I find time each day to turn on an at-home workout DVD and get in 30 minutes of yoga or cardio (just ordered a new Beachbody program that I’m really excited about – Country Heat!). And am counting down the days until our beach trip next week, trying not to stress about the fact that we get home on Sunday and the kids start school the next day.

Life is good.

I will not hide the fact that sometimes I do feel nervous about what the future holds. I can only live in the present, plan for the future, and stay true to what I believe. That our stories provide hope, and by helping to bring these stories into the light we can hopefully be the change we want to see in the world.

image-11

Clarity. We all need to talk about mental illness, celebrity or otherwise

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post I published yesterday about my inability to relate to Kristen Bell opening up about her anxiety and depression.

I don’t know why it struck me to write about my feelings, but I wrote them out and put it out there, and the more I thought about what I wrote, the more I began to disagree with myself.

Sure, it’s hard to relate to a celebrity because their lifestyles seem so dramatically different from the average person who struggles to pay bills or isn’t able to get appropriate mental health care because they don’t have insurance. But this lack of being able to identify with a famous person shouldn’t have any impact on my appreciation for their ability to share their story about overcoming mental illness and stigma.

I’m sure it took a great deal of courage for Kristen to open up in that interview, the same way our This Is My Brave cast members conjure up a certain amount of bravery to audition for, and then share their stories on stage through our shows.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I think what I was feeling had more to do with envy than of not being able to empathize with a famous person sharing their story of mental illness. I’m envious that a celebrity has a much bigger platform than we do, and therefore when they share their stories they immediately garner a TON more attention than we’ve seen for all the hard work our organization has done over the past three years.

One of my favorite writers once wrote about envy, and I found myself re-reading her words today. Glennon reminded me today that: Envy is just unexpressed admiration. It’s respect holding its breath.

I constantly need to remind myself that we need to focus on the important work we do and that when the time is right, I’m confident our organization will attract the attention of national media. In fact, it may begin happening sooner than we thought.

This is my life’s work now, this work of storytelling. My organization encourages individuals to share their stories to end the stigma. I have no right to say that a celebrity sharing her story is any less impactful than a member of my own community.

Kristen, blog reader Jill, and anyone else I may have offended from my post yesterday, please accept my apology. Thank you to all who join us in the effort to end stigma, celebrity or not.

Clarity. We all need to talk about mental illness, celebrity or not.

On relating to Kristen Bell’s mental illness disclosure

Last week Kristen Bell became the latest Hollywood star to mention that she’s not ashamed for taking medication for her anxiety and depression, and the news of her mental illness disclosure went viral. I’m grateful she used her fame to bring awareness to an issue that touches so many of us, but at the same time felt like I couldn’t quite relate, even though I’ve been affected by the same disorders.

Listen, I’m all for celebrities sharing their stories. They have platforms much, MUCH, bigger than mine, and the more people who open up, the better. The more attention we can draw to the cause, the better. The more we normalize mental illness, the better.

I guess I just can’t really relate to a celebrity. I’ve never met one myself, although I’d imagine most of them are down to earth. They are human, too, after all. Albeit humans with seemingly endless streams of money, and access to practically any doctor they would ever need to see. They experience mental illness the same way the rest of the population does, only with privilege. Many of them receive the proper diagnosis, effective treatment, and manage their conditions successfully.

On the flip side, no matter how much wealth and access to care they have, some we lose to suicide, like Robin Williams.

Now let me back up for a moment and acknowledge the fact that when I experienced my most serious battles with my mental illness, it was partially my privilege which allowed me to be able to get well. I recognize this.

What I’m trying to say is that to me, when a celebrity goes on camera and talks about having gone through a mental health issue, it’s not nearly as impactful as when regular people I meet through my advocacy work share their stories. It’s also not the same as a celebrity figure who has made a commitment to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness by continually sharing her story – the way Demi Lovato has. There’s a big difference between mentioning the fact that you take medication for anxiety and depression, and making it part of your purpose in life to educate people.

Also, last time I checked Psychologists weren’t licensed to prescribe medication.

When I started this blog my goal was to simply inspire one person not to give up. To let her know that there is life after a mental illness diagnosis and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. That the months spent crying and sleeping and barely eating because you’re so nauseous even the thought of toast turns your stomach, that all those months and maybe even years spent suffering could come to an end.

I truly believe finding other people’s stories online helped me to find my recovery path. Which is why when I found the right time to begin writing out my own story, I went for it. I knew that being anonymous wasn’t the answer. But at the time I felt a responsibility to my family when making the decision on whether or not to use my real name in my writing. My disclosure would affect them, too, after all.

Then, after eighteen months of blogging, I reached a point where my anonymous writing had reeled in a regular paid blogging gig for WhatToExpect.com, and I wasn’t willing to go on without receiving recognition for my work. I wanted to do my part to stand up to stigma, and I knew the best way to do that was come out of the closet about my mental illness. So I did.

And none of my fears came true. The fear of losing friends, of being discriminated upon, of being looked down upon. None. Instead, the response was the complete opposite.

Which is why I am such a strong believer in the power of storytelling. Yes, I come from privilege. But in our This Is My Brave shows there are plenty of people who have come forward to share their stories and they didn’t have the same access to care that I did. They still made it out of the darkness. Their stories are extraordinary.

The power behind sharing our stories lies in the ability to comfort others. In our country alone, one in five adults is living with a diagnosable mental illness. We are all affected by it, whether we realize this or not. Mental illness is mostly invisible, and because of both internal and external stigma, and the fear it instills in people, those suffering often times do not reach out for help. They feel isolated, like they are the only one who has ever dealt with that condition.

It’s not true. When we share our stories openly, people suffering in silence realize they are not alone. And they see that if someone like them was able to get well, they can too.

Which brings me back to my point about celebrities. Celebrities are people just like you and me. They’re human. But given the world they live in, my guess is that it’s hard for an average American to relate to their stories.

I urge you to visit our This Is My Brave YouTube Channel where you can view over 100 true, personal stories of overcoming mental illness from regular, everyday people. Teachers, students, small business owners, stay-at-home-moms, community service workers, and the list goes on.

This month, for Mental Health Awareness Month, we have five all-new This Is My Brave shows on the schedule. Our Greenville, South Carolina show was this past Thursday night and it was incredible. Our Iowa City show is this coming Friday night, the third annual DC-area show is this Sunday. And finishing out the month on the same date, May 19th, are our Chicagoland and Denver shows. All our new shows will be added to our YouTube channel this summer.

Deciding to share your own struggle with mental illness is a personal choice. It’s This Is My Brave’s goal to inspire people to #LiveBrave which means when you’re ready, and you find the right opportunity to share your experience with someone, whether privately or publicly, you will. Your ability to be brave will give the other person the comfort and solace they need to feel understood. We’ve seen it happen through our guest bloggers and our live show presentations. It’s life-changing and extremely powerful.

Whether you get that feeling from a celebrity talking about her experience, or someone you know and love in your life, the point is that together we can dissolve the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our stories.

LiveBraveIf you decide to #LiveBrave with us, we’ve designed an overlay you can add to your Facebook profile pic and Twitter profile pic. It’s easy, simply follow the instructions here: http://twibbon.com/support/live-brave