I’m not sure how familiar you are with mental ‘illness.’ Although I majored in Psychology in my undergrad, have an MSc in Social Psychology and am now over two years into a PhD in Applied Psychology, I, myself, was ignorant about mental illness until my own diagnosis two and a half years ago.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with ‘bipolar disorder.’ I put ‘bipolar disorder’ in quotation marks because I am not happy with the current definitions we have for mental ‘illnesses’. I prefer ‘manic depressive illness’ to ‘bipolar disorder.’ But, I don’t like the term ‘illness’, because it does not encapsulate the full spectrum of the ‘disorder’. And ‘brain disease’? Ugh! Plus, don’t even get me started on ‘Abnormal’ Psychology… I took a whole class on that subject and I don’t remember any useful information that has helped me cope with my own illness. (But, probably because I didn’t think that I would be affected personally). So, I am going to use the term ‘Stress Related Illnesses’ or ‘Invisible Illness’ because I think those two better capture the essence of the ‘disease’. (Better watch out, I’m contagious!)
If you’ve kept up with my mental illness blog or if you know me well, then you already know about my first severe manic episode in 2010. I was hospitalized for mania with psychosis and had delusions that I was the second coming of Christ. Yes, I know. It freaked me out too– but if you start reading more about bipolar disorder and mental illness then you’ll find that most people that have delusions have religious delusions. It IS weird. My psychotic self creeps ME out and EMBARRASSES ME. But, it’s NOT me. It’s the ‘ILLNESS.’ And I am grateful that I have counselors, psychiatrists, doctors, and family and friends to remind me of this when I easily forget. But, in all honesty, I was hoping that my first experience with psychosis would be my last.
Well, it wasn’t…… Bipolar disorder and most mental illnesses are CHRONIC illnesses, meaning they never ‘really’ go away. Medicine and counseling are there to try and keep them at bay, but there are many ‘triggers’ that can prompt an episode. A couple of weeks ago I was hospitalized the second time for mania with psychosis. I again thought I was the second coming of Christ. But this time, it was scarier. This time, I took two week’s worth of sleeping pills because I thought I had to die to go to a pub quiz (because the pub quiz was heaven on earth and all my family and loved ones were going to be there)….. It doesn’t really matter what I thought, except that it made sense to me at the time and I FULLY believed it. The real me would not have overdosed. The real me does NOT think that I am the second coming of Christ (I barely think I am capable of doing a PhD!) Nor do I think that a pub quiz would be heaven on earth…. Although I have found a new fondness for them, the only quiz topics I excel at are American pop culture and dog breeds. As you can probably tell, these won’t win you many quiz points.
So, what DO I know? Well, I do know a lot about mental illness through lived experience and I feel passionate about informing people because I am at the point now where I know more than most doctors (Except mine, mine are superb!) So here goes, listen up!
- I have a STRESS-related illness (I got overstressed this past couple of months, I need to learn how to take care of myself)
- Mental illness IS invisible. Although there are signs that you can look out for (signs for depression and mania) there are things that you would never know unless I told you. And if you want to know more about bipolar disorder, I have stories for days…. some are pretty funny.
- At the moment, although I am better, I am RECOVERING. It is a long process that involves getting the medicine right (which unfortunately is a guessing game full of side effects) and a lot of resting (which is hard because I feel better). My body and brain went through A LOT.
- The people that I know that suffer from mental illness are some of the SMARTEST people I know with the BIGGEST HEARTS. Try not to judge. I’ll try not to too.
- I could not have gotten through my two hospitalizations and my countless depressions without the love and support of my family and friends. I can NOT say THANK YOU enough. Thank you.
- Mental illness SUCKS and the hardest part for me (and I am guessing most of us who suffer from the disease) is that there is a cloudy line between myself and the illness.
With that said, I think I’ve ‘found’ the real me from the ill me. I’m pretty sure I’m the fun, sassy, sane one. At the moment, I have my mom to thank. She came to visit me so that I didn’t have to stay in a Psych Ward for that long. Thank you Mom.
Lastly, if I look on the bright side of this rough experience, I could say that this could NOT have come at a more opportune time- Thanksgiving. Ironically, I am thankful that I have a stress-related illness. It has forced me to take time out to get BETTER and to reflect on what is important in my own life. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.
With that said, I hope all you readers, can take some time to think about all the things you are thankful for. If you are not struggling with a mental illness, there’s one to start!