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.

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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.

Bringing Mental Illness into the Light

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Rejection hurts. It stings my heart and crushes my soul. When it happens more than I can count on one hand in a matter of three days, well, it makes for a shitty week. Makes me wonder if it’s worth all the effort.

This morning I unconsciously pulled a teeshirt out of my dresser drawer. I was immediately reminded of what drives me as I pulled the shirt over my head, stared at my reflection in the mirror. What pushes me to continue on through the no’s, the unreturned phone calls, the doubts in my mind.

I’ve heard these doubts whispering in my head before. They were gossiping amongst themselves, loud enough for me to overhear, when we launched our Kickstarter in 2013. Even when we surpassed our goal, they still kept on chattering through our auditions, rehearsals, right up until I walked on stage with my cast for our debut show. Once our cast took to the podium, one by one, we finally silenced those doubts.

So they’ve returned, and I’m not surprised. I have to once again focus on our mission, why we came together to raise our voices for the greater good.

The gray tee with maroon block letters I was wearing today is one of my biggest reminders. VIRGINIA TECH. We will never forget.

I often wonder what would have happened if one person would have been courageous enough to have been the net that could have prevented the awful tragedy of April 16, 2007. One person reaching out. One person noticing. One person providing help.

I know it’s so much more complicated than that, believe me.

I remember when the news broke, where I was, what I was doing. Shaking. On the phone with my brother, a VT alum. Then my husband,  also an alum. Staring at the TV in disbelief.

The power of This Is My Brave lies in the vulnerability of the people who decide to stand up on stage and tell their story through a microphone, or publish their words to our community’s blog. We’ve been through the unthinkable. But we’ve made it to the other side. We’re stronger, better equipped to continue the fight. Ready to make a difference.

We all have our struggles in life. What if, instead of pushing those issues and problems and fear of being judged down deep inside of us, we made a bold move and opened up?

I used to be afraid of people finding out that I have bipolar disorder. But ever since I stopped hiding, I’ve noticed something huge. The vast majority of the time, the person on the other end of the conversation says, “me too.” Or, “someone close to me is suffering from depression,” or “my mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/cousin/etc./etc./etc. has a mental illness.”

It’s everywhere.

Which is why I won’t give up. I won’t stop talking about mental illness because we’re all affected by it. And I want to change lives by continuing to bring true stories into the light. If just one person is helped by this work, it’s all worth it.

Move over insecurity, I have important work to do.