In a few (since deleted) posts I’ve shared on my blog, I alluded to the fact that the past year and half has been a tough time period for me. I struggled for a while with whether or not I should share what’s been going on, but I feel that not talking about this has created a bit of a writer’s block for me. In the spirit of unblocking myself, here’s the truth of what’s been going on in my life.
I was diagnosed this past year with bipolar disorder. For me, this manifested itself in a mental breakdown that culminated in a very public psychotic episode, which resulted in lots of rejection and shame. I lost a lot of relationships, mainly with people who took personally things that I said when I was in this state or who misunderstood what was going on.
Unfortunately, only a few people in my life were gracious enough to take the time to understand what happened, or to acknowledge the pain that this experience caused me. I think that was the most difficult part. Imagine being diagnosed with an illness and during this time, people back away and believe that they are doing the right thing by “giving you space”. I was going through the worst thing I’d ever experienced — something that would have been difficult to deal with on its own. And during this time, people who were supposed to care for me turned their backs. My eyes were opened, not only to the world of mental illness but to the deep misunderstanding of it that still exists.
I was fortunate to have a few wonderful, lifelong friends who went the extra mile to care for me during this time — you know who you are. Thank you to the friend who took my frazzled phone calls from the hospital, the friend who researched bipolar disorder to gain a deeper understanding of what I was going through, the friends who, when I was at my worst, were able to recognize something that not everyone in my life was able to see: that this diagnosis doesn’t define or change who I am as a person.
Mental illness has a way of challenging your identity to the core. There’s the embarrassment of knowing that I ran around with my brain on drugs. There’s the fact that despite many people being unable to remember actions they’ve committed during an incident of mental illness, I can remember the whole. Freaking. Thing. There’s the fact that in my case, I happened to be surrounded by people who didn’t understand what was going on and who jumped to some pretty hurtful conclusions.
If I’m being honest, I don’t totally understand my own diagnosis. I will say that taking the time to rest has given me so much mental healing. I don’t have any symptoms of psychosis right now (doctors would credit meds, but I think that rest and making some key life changes deserve a lot of the credit). I have experienced an occasional slight depression, which I believe is natural for someone who experienced so much loss in their life at one time.
For the most part, I’m happy and healthy and doing what I’ve always done: working on my relationship with God and working on becoming the best person I can be. I’m trying not to lean too hard into my diagnosis, and by that I mean that I don’t want to just chalk up my symptoms to being part of a disorder and not work on improving them through a more holistic means of rest, forming healthier relationships, and exercise (which I’ve been told over and over is a great anti-depressant).
The great struggle I experience now (that I alluded to in the first paragraph) is with being open about this incident in my writing. I’ve gone back and forth in this internal debate. On one hand, I want to talk about my feelings because I know that others have gone through the same thing. I’ve read posts by others in similar situations, and I’ve found having someone else to identify with is a great comfort. I want to write about how confusing it is to process my diagnosis and how to support someone who is going through a mental health crisis. I want to discuss all of the unanswered questions that have been floating around my mind since I got diagnosed.
But then I worry about my job — am I okay with my employer reading these posts and knowing that I’ve dealt with mental illness? And since other people and their reactions to my illness are such a crucial part of my story, I often imagine my old friends reading my posts and having a negative reaction to seeing my perspective of their actions.
I have had to stop worrying about what people will think of me. The more that time passes, dulling the pain of events that took place, the more truth settles in: if I continue to fear what people will think of what I have to say, I’ll stop doing something that I truly believe is a part of what God created me to do — and that is to write.
Here’s something that’s for certain: if I write about bipolar, it won’t be for the purpose of venting my frustrations at people that I was hurt by (though I will probably discuss people’s reactions in general terms, for the sake of discussing the ways that mental illness is misunderstood). And you most likely won’t find me sharing the details of what happened during any of my episodes, because I don’t enjoy revisiting those memories. But this is my resolution: I want to be even more open and honest than I’ve been in the past. I want to discuss the questions I’m wrestling with so that perhaps, even just one other person wrestling with the same thing can read what I’ve shared and feel like they are not alone.