The Time to Talk Openly About Mental Illness

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Photo Credit: Thomas Rousing Photography via Compfight cc

 

When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, I usually find myself explaining that I have Bipolar Type 1, since most people don’t realize there are different types. When asked about what I do for work, I tend to mention that I live with mental illness since my story led me to create This Is My Brave and they’re both so tied together. I take it upon myself to educate them because the more people who understand that my condition is treatable and manageable, the more accepting our world will become, one person at a time.

How I got to where I am today

I wasn’t always so confident when talking with people about mental illness. In fact, I remember quite vividly how terrifying it used to be to attend social gatherings after my illness emerged. It was as if embarrassment oozed out of me because of having to quit my job to take care of my mental health. I knew the small talk would at some point gravitate to conversations about work, and I often had to leave the room so that I wouldn’t start sobbing right there in front of my friends.

This went on the entire year following my diagnosis. I eventually learned how to skirt my way around the career discussions, simply suggesting I was taking some time off to regroup, a “sabbatical” of sorts. No one really felt comfortable inquiring about how I was doing otherwise, and I wasn’t in a position to be able to talk about it. Not yet anyway.

Even once I had found a medication that was working well to stabilize me, I still wasn’t ready to talk openly about my condition. Looking back now it’s apparent that my heart hadn’t fully accepted my illness as the life-long condition it is. A part of me was holding out for my bipolarness to go away after a few months of medication. The medication worked, and I was willing to take it. Until two little pink lines showed up on a white stick.

Throw in pregnancy and new motherhood

Bringing a new life into the world was a big decision. My fierce determination to have children without psychiatric medications in my system was not met with success. Yes, with my first pregnancy I was able to maintain stability until four weeks after my son’s birth. But the trauma of postpartum psychosis was a horrific price to pay.

Attempting to remain drug-free during at least the first trimester of my second pregnancy was also met with a less-than-desirable outcome. I never intended to be hospitalized at 5 weeks pregnant, forced onto antipsychotic medication to bring me down from the mania radiating from my every pore. But it had to be done. My mental health had to be put before the baby, as difficult a decision that was for me to have made for me.

Six years + stability = my turn to open up

Six years isn’t a magic number, but it was the amount of time my story needed in order to reach the point where I was ready to share it. I began blogging here, and even though I started anonymously, my gut told me soon my mask was going to be removed. Shedding the shame and embarrassment was easy. Today saying, “I live with bipolar disorder,” is like telling someone what I ate for lunch yesterday. It just is something in my life.

Staying committed to my medication, healthy sleep, and my doctor’s appointments is a promise I do not intend to break. My family is way too important to let my mental health slip.

Getting people to listen is a lot harder. But each time the door opens for me to tell someone I live with bipolar disorder and I’m okay, you can bet I’ll take advantage of it. It’s my hope that by continuing to share my story, others will be able to find the voice inside them telling them it’s okay they share, too. Collectively our voices are changing the way society thinks about mental illness and mental health. So let’s keep the conversations going.

 

Comments

  1. EVERYTHING YOU HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT HAS RESONATED with ME AND INSPIRED ME. I HAVE JUST SPENT FIVE MONTHS IN HOSPITAL AND SO OFTEN I FIND IT DIFFICULT AND *SHAMEFUL* TO TRY AND EXPLAIN MY ABSENCE. I TOO HAD POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS AND WILL HAVE TO MAKE THE DECISION ON HOW TO DEAL WITH MY BIPOLAR 1 DISORDER FOR OUR NEXT PREGNANCY. THANK YOU FOR BEING SO HONEST AND CANDID. I HOPE, AS THE YEARS GO ON, I CAN FIND PEACE WITH MY ILLNESS.

    • I ALSO APOLOGISE FOR EVERYTHING BEING IN CAPITALS. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW OR WHY THAT IS happening!!

      • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It sounds like you’re on the road to recovery, which is wonderful. Take care of yourself, and don’t feel the need to explain until you’re ready. The years are a gift and they do bring peace. {no worries about the all caps. I think I need to update my comment form and it’ll correct the problem!}

  2. Thanks for being brave enough to share and for encouraging the rest of us. I was diagnosed with bipolar just under a year ago. It was the most devastating news I could have gotten. Being a therapist myself I knew about the stigma of mental illness and so I was and still am so ashamed of this that I have only told a couple of my closest friends. I think my mind should be strong enough to overcome this and not succumb. I feel responsible for how unhealthy I am. I had my first psychotic episode in 1999 but wasn’t diagnosed until last year. Since the diagnosis I have been weighted down and in a really dark depression thinking I will never function like everyone else does. I know I need to be honest and open up but I am so afraid of people judging me and looking down on me. I need to do something different, something that i haven’t tried yet.

    • Hi, Kathryn. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, that’s for sure. My year spent in clinical depression was the hardest year of my life. And I feared the same thing: that I’d never be a valuable member of society again. But with each day I grew stronger, even though there would be setbacks, I just kept plugging along, desperately seeking recovery. The length of the road to recovery is different for everyone. You can get there. Thank you for coming here to read. Keep putting one front in front of the other, make small goals for yourself and eventually you’ll reach a point of comfortable acceptance with your diagnosis.

  3. Thank you, Jennifer, for speaking out, for This is My Brave. I can identify only too well with your experience. We stand stronger together.

  4. Maureen O'Malley Butler says:

    I truly admire how you are able to open up so freely. And to be honest; I thank God that my sudden Manic/depression didn’t “hit” me until my children were older and I, like you unfortunately, didn’t have this fear throughout my pregnancies. You are absolutely remarkable!

    • Maureen O'Malley Butler says:

      I just have to add that I am a believer in God, in Faith, and in the way that God and Community brings us together. After posting my last comment and saw that Kitt and I share the name O’Malley, not only did I “chills down my spine” but I KNEW that this was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer, and to all of you for being kindred spirits.

    • Thank you so much, Maureen! It’s a beast, but thankfully I am able to successfully manage it every single day. We can overcome our illnesses, for sure.

      Love the O’Malley connection here! :)

  5. Good morning jennifer, i must tell you how i admire your strength, courage and determination. i have been reading your wonderful blog through the last two years, and anxiously await your book. THANK YOU FOR SHARING yourself SO CANDIDLY, YOU ARE A LIGHT OF HOPE FOR ME. GOD BLESS YOU, YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR ADVOCACY WORK. NAMASTE.

    • Thank you SO much for reading and for your kind words! The book is a work in progress, as my work with thisismybrave.org takes up so much of my free time that’s left over after taking care of my kiddos. I appreciate your support!

  6. I want to be open about my anxiety disorder with my extended family but I feel it’s hard to bring up. Any tips for starting the conversation?

  7. Bravo to you for being open about your illness. i’m not there yet, hence the anonymous blog that I just began. So you being “out there” about it is an inspiration to me. thank you!

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