Personal Stories


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Learning How to Be Open

When I was twenty years old, I spiraled into a tremendous depressive episode after a traumatic breakup. I spent three days in bed and didn’t want to get out. I finally reached out for help; my swinging energy, persistent anxiety, depressions and self-medicating had already been disrupting my functioning, even as a bright student at an elite prep school and university, for four years by then. In truth, I had already experienced paralyzing anxiety and loss of motivation my senior year of high school but never considered it could reflect anything except my failure to thrive in response to stress. I blamed myself and continued to do so for many years.

Receiving a diagnosis that year when I was twenty was, unfortunately, not the beginning of a complete recovery. I didn’t feel better and only two years ago, six years after that initial diagnosis, did I summon up the courage to fully address the issue. I was already ashamed of having depression, and I just assumed my innate weak character was the cause of my perceived failure in life. I later realized that these beliefs about emotional difficulty being due to weak character were culturally learned, and fully treating my mental health would mean an acceptance of my condition, something I wasn’t yet ready for. I stayed on ineffective medication, suffered gravely and self-medicated for five years. I was suicidal many times, dealing with thoughts of harming myself or going to sleep and never waking up. The thoughts terrified me, but they also comforted me with the idea of not feeling the pain any more.

In fall of 2013 I went to a counseling and psychiatric center with my concerns that maybe it wasn’t just depression, as antidepressants weren’t working. Not to mention that I wasn’t attending therapy. Making that move was the best decision I made in my life. My diagnosis was reassessed and I am now receiving effective treatment for bipolar disorder and anxiety. Since addressing this and beginning to accept it, also with help from an amazing day treatment program, I have stopped self-medicating and have been stable and pursuing my goals whole-heartedly for about a year and a half.

It isn’t always a rosy picture, but I have learned what I need to do to keep me healthy, not some idealized version of myself who is exactly the same as her peers. I know that I need balance in my life and that I need to take time to care for myself. I have learned the importance of sleep and diet and exercise especially for those dealing with bipolar disorder. I have learned that I am not personally responsible for my disorder, but that I am responsible for how I react to it. More importantly, I am responsible for my own attitude toward it, and today, I choose acceptance. I don’t want to be ashamed and hide. I don’t want to be worried that people will think I’m crazy and distance themselves from me. Those who do aren’t worth having around, anyway.

Too many people live in shame and fear and avoid seeking help because they are terrified of being different, terrified of being cast out. Well, having a mental illness can be tough, but more often than not it can be manageable and you can thrive, as long as you address it, accept it and don’t shy away. Perceived and ill-informed connections between violence and mental illness that are heavily publicized often deepen this stigma. Issues of stigma are especially prominent in the South Asian community (which is where I come from - I am a first generation Bangladeshi American), where character judgment is a natural pastime and people’s reputations and obligations to family and society are more important than their own lives. They are also prominent in religious communities where emotional and psychological struggles can be seen as spiritual possession or trials from the devil or from God.

Everyone should learn more about clinical psychology and mental illness, especially about the broken system here in the U.S. that is as much an exacerbating factor as a reflecting result of stigma. People shouldn’t have to suffer unnecessarily and it is likely you are close to someone who is dealing with some form of mental illness.

I have bipolar disorder, and I am going public. I’m daring myself to not be ashamed. True to its name, my bipolar is a gift and a curse - the connection between bipolar and emotional energy and creative genius is evidenced by the incredible people who have lived in the world and contributed to the arts and other fields – just look it up.

You are amazing and you are a gift.

 


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