The third installment of January guest blogs: “Your scary, crazy, amazing goal you would accomplish in 2015 if you could do absolutely ANTHING!” If you would like to participate find me on Facebook– I would love to share your story!
January 3rd: Anonymous: Mental Illness
These words together probably conjure up images of school shooters, uni-bombers, and raving vagrants. However, 42.5 million, or 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. Most of those suffer in silence because of these iconic images. I am one of those. It is rare that I share my diagnosis with anyone for fear of “the looks” – the “are-you-going-to-flip-out-at-any-moment” look, or the “but-you-seem-so-normal” look. I’m even writing this guest post anonymously for fear of being “exposed.”
The scary, crazy, amazing goal I would accomplish in 2015 if I could do absolutely ANTHING is to take control of my mental health. Diagnosed at the age of 16 with manic depression, later known as bipolar disorder, I have not received regular treatment for almost 20 years. When my symptoms would get particularly bad, I would find a doctor to prescribe something for me, usually an anti-depressant, only to stop taking the medication once I felt better. This pattern continued until very recently when I began to take a more proactive role in the management of my disorder. You see, much like addiction, you can’t get help unless you are ready to accept help. And admitting you have a problem is the first step. Until about six months ago, I wouldn’t even say “bipolar”.
As defined by the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute for Health, “Bipolar disorder, also commonly known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can result in damaged relationships, difficulty in working or going to school, and even suicide. There are generally periods of normal mood as well, but left untreated, people with bipolar disorder continue to experience these shifts in mood”
My manias are generally characterized by nearly paralyzing anxiety, racing thoughts, rapid and forced speech, overwhelming feelings of dread, and panic attacks. I have extreme irritability, frequent outbursts of anger, and almost uncontrollable rage. To counteract these symptoms, I border on obsession: if I can’t control my thoughts or my mood, I can control my environment. I make sure my appearance is “put-together”, I stay busy and volunteer for extra projects I can’t handle, and I always have on a happy face. My depressions are often hopeless, helpless, seemingly bottomless pits. When I start having thoughts about death and dying is when I seek help. For years I was “comfortable” with this cycle.
But then I started to see how my family was being affected. My poor husband never knew what he had done to make me mad, or why I was so withdrawn and disinterested. I almost destroyed our marriage because I had a hard time asking for help. My kids didn’t always know what “Mom” they were going to get for the day, what might set her off, or what she would say or do. I have never harmed my children, but they were scared of the seemingly random outbursts and screaming.
I felt so alone and was struggling with what I thought was an inner conflict; I couldn’t see that my family was suffering with me. One day I saw my daughter flinch, and I knew enough was enough. I followed my usual pattern of finding a doctor to prescribe me something to get me “over the hump”. She saw something more going on. She told me I needed to get more help and referred me to a specialist. I’m glad she did. I may never have had the courage to break the cycle had she not been honest with me.
I’m still struggling with finding the right provider, the right combination of medications with the fewest side effects, and the best treatment plan for me. Since August, I have tried 9 different medications in various combinations, at one point taking 12 or more pills a day. I’ve seen three different doctors. Providers are either not accepting new patients, not accepting my insurance, or not accepting my diagnosis. Essentially, no one is making this easy. I’ve started attending a support group regularly which helps me feel less isolated and gives me an opportunity to talk with people who can actually relate. I’m still working on not caring how other people “look” at me and staying focused on doing the right thing to get healthy, for me and my family.
PLEASE – If you or someone you love is struggling, get help. There are many organizations dedicated to getting help to those who need it. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has an information helpline that can point you toward resources in your area. Their number, 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), is answered Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. central time.
For immediate emergencies call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).