Keep Holding On | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Keep Holding On

By Yesenia Castillo

I was 24 years old when I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. My mother had been telling me for years to go see a therapist, but I always shrugged off her suggestion. Looking back, as a maternal community health worker learning about traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences,” it all makes sense. Our childhood has a profound impact on our well-being in adulthood.

My childhood was full of violence, which led to binge eating — and by sixth grade, I was at my heaviest weight. In retrospect, I understand that dealing with bullying and harassment because of my weight, enduring physical abuse from my first-grade teacher and living with a parent battling depression are all adverse childhood experiences. 

My treatment began in September 2021. I finally took some initiative and decided to seek support. Making that appointment with a therapist was one of the best decisions I have ever made. A month after my sessions started, I began a medication regimen. Finding the right medications was a long process. The first medication I took, a mood stabilizer, made me feel "zombie- like." I would even fall asleep at the wheel. My next medication combination was another mood stabilizer and an anxiety medication. The mood stabilizer worked for a couple of months, but the side effects I experienced with these medications got out of control. I gained 20 pounds, experienced extremely painful menstrual cycles and always felt exhausted, despite my normal sleep schedule.

I recently started a new mood stabilizer and have been doing well so far. I’m keeping an eye out for triggers that will make my illness worse. I’m vigilant about monitoring symptoms: excess sleepiness, compulsive behavior, impulsivity, irritability, mood swings and anxiety, to name a few. I also pay attention to my daily routines to see if patterns emerge that coincide with depressive episodes. During my last episode, I realized that something was way off. I kept to a strict schedule but was unable to do anything besides the basics: going to work, coming home, going to bed.

Since starting the new medication, I have been able to go to the gym and add more into my daily schedule. I am seeing physical progress, which makes me so happy! There is still a pervasive stigma when it comes to addressing mental health. Too often, it is put on the back burner. But maintaining your mental health is crucial.

Raising awareness is imperative. There is help out there, you don’t have to do it alone. Not all mental health conditions can be cured, but they can be treated. Take the time to focus on yourself and check in on your mental health. At 25 years old, I finally found the support I needed years ago. It is never too late to start. As Avril Lavigne so wisely said in one of her many hit songs, "Keep holding on / ‘Cause you know we'll make it through." My diagnosis does not define me. I am Yesenia.

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