Monday, March 18, 2013

The faces behind mental illness!

Behind every mental health diagnosis is a beautiful human being, an individual who has so much to share and who has fought so hard to get to where they are! Behind every individual’s fight is a story of their own. Behind every story of mental illness is a face that tells part of that story. There are many faces of mental illness, many stories of mental illness, millions upon millions! Showing the world that I am not just a mental illness but I am an individual with a story, a struggle, a fight but even more importantly so much potential is so important to me. Having a mental illness doesn’t set me apart from the rest of the world. Here is the story that tells the brief version of my fight and the face that lies behind it all, one of the millions of faces behind mental illness!

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15.  I was initially given a misdiagnosis of clinical depression and was treated solely with an antidepressant.  This course of treatment kicked me out of depression and right into the hands of full blown mania. This mania ultimately landed me in the hospital after an intentional overdose of over the counter pain medication. I received the diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder while in the Emergency room which was then followed by a 2 week stay in a psychiatric unit in the hospital. Those 2 weeks were the very beginning of a journey that forever changed my life; the journey of living with and overcoming a mental illness! This is a lifelong journey for me and so many others!

I definitely did not leave the hospital at 15 thinking, alright, I’ve got this mental illness and I’m going to take medication every day and everything will be alright.  In fact, it was just the opposite. High school was a time of complete turmoil for me. The addition of the onset of bipolar symptoms to the already difficult time that high school brings to everyone did not bode well for me.  I really can’t even begin to put into words how treacherous that time in my life was.  It is a time I try so hard to forget. It was in my senior year that things began to turn around. At that point I was finally faithfully taking my medication every day.  The change in me that accompanied my medication compliance was truly phenomenal.  It was like night and day, two totally different individuals.  During my senior year in high school I was able to take half a day of classes in high school while taking a college course at the Community College in the afternoon. I had hated school so much during these years and was able to discover through taking college courses how much I actually love learning. It was a fantastic discovery to have made at a point in which I thought I completed hated education.

Let’s fast forward 5 years from my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder to my 2nd psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 20. I was experiencing a very severe depressive episode during this time period and was feeling suicidal. I locked myself in the bathroom with the intentions of taking an overdose.  My dad came to the rescue by literally banging the door down before this could fully occur; I had taken a few pills but not enough to cause any damage. I was hospitalized psychiatrically at Sheppard Pratt for 6 days inpatient followed by a week in the day hospital.

I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2007 and went out into the full time workforce. Two months after graduating college I went through the scariest experience of my life.  I made a suicide attempt that I am extremely lucky to have survived.  I spent quite a few days in ICU and managed to come through it all! I am so thankful to be alive!

Since that event in 2007, I have been through a subpar marriage (which is an understatement), a divorce, a series of increasing intensity in my bipolar symptoms requiring medication adjustments and an onset of a psychosis like I’ve never experienced before.

On the other hand, since that scary event in 2007 I have overcome the psychiatric symptoms that I have dealt with on various occasions, I have changed my outlook on life and on mental illness, I have taken a stand to fight the stigma of mental illness and most recently I graduated with my MBA degree!

In between the major events that I have mentioned I have experienced many rough patches throughout my life. I have experienced times of severe mania and times of severe depression.  I have also experienced times of mania and of depression that were much less severe yet lingered over time before I achieved a successful medication increase or change. Finding the right mix of medications hasn't always been easy.  In fact it has often times been tiring and cumbersome. There have been obstacles to overcome through every step of the way as a result of my Bipolar and I am happy to say that I have successfully done so. Bipolar can’t and won’t stop me from anything! I proudly take the 3 psychiatric medications I am prescribed and stand tall for all that I have accomplished despite having a mental illness!

Bipolar has knocked me down temporarily but I will never let it keep me down!  The stigma of bipolar kept me from ever discussing that I had an illness until recently.  At the beginning of this year, I went from hiding my bipolar in the back of a closet like a big dark secret to telling the entire world that “I have Bipolar Disorder and I am just like you”. I started a blog called Kissing Stigma Goodbye dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, fighting the stigma attached to mental illness and providing hope, encouragement and a sense of belonging to individuals living with a mental illness and their families.  I also developed a Facebook page with the same purpose.  These pages provide me with the chance to use my experiences to help others and to show others that they are not alone in this fight! I hope to dedicate my career to raising awareness, fighting stigma and providing a sense of hope and belonging!  My bipolar disorder and my experiences have given me the gift to help others!  I call it my beautiful madness; I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

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