I saw a post today whilst scrolling through Facebook from a guy I never knew suffered from depression. I honestly considered the guy a typical Dallas dude, showy and ridiculous. Shame on me right? His post actually surprised me: he asked how many people who have admitted to or shared their depression whether or not they’ve been labeled by others as dramatic, lazy, attention-seeking, selfish, OR to “man up,” get over it, “other people have it worse,” “but you have a great life?” This really struck me because it brought me back into my own head and things I’ve heard along the line of my own mental health journey – and then it made me ANGRY. Angry that it’s 2019 and we still live in an age where mental health is swept under the rug, ignored, or even attacked. If there is anything to learn from the many broadcasted deaths by suicide of public figures – it is that mental illness does not discriminate. Not by race, age, religion, and definitely not by social class.
I’ve been really open about chapters in my life, good and bad, but haven’t been comfortable enough (well, until now) to fully divulge all of my struggles. So why now? There are some really amazing people in my life who suffer from what I suffer from and have shared their struggles with me, including the backlash and non-supportive things people have said or done to them. It gave me strength enough to start giving voice to this and not be afraid of my imagined consequences. So let’s put it all out there … and then let’s examine your reaction, shall we?
I’ve told you all countless times now that I’ve suffered from major depression and a nasty history of gripping eating disorders. What I haven’t shared with you is the diagnosis given to me a little less than a year ago now: bipolar II.
HOLY SHIT I said it – for all the internet to “hear” and see! There’s no going back now.
I say it was “given” to me because to be completely honest, it was an answer I never knew I needed. For years and years I’ve been on and off of COUNTLESS anti-depressants, most of which made me feel so much worse than I already did. Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Elavil – all garbage (for me). Prozac made me physically ill nearly every single day. Combine that with depression and feeling doubly unable to go about your day and I was quickly headed in very, very dangerous territory. That’s when I hit my lowest low in about a year – which seemed odd because I had just moved into my dream home. Everything is supposed to be amazing and brand new and full excitement, right? Wrong. So wrong.
I felt unable to physically get out of bed much less leave the house. I felt dumb for feeling so out of whack, for seeming so “dramatic” and unable to properly function. I even told myself to get over it, snap out of it, and buck up. I cried for what seemed like a week straight or more, hardly ate, hardly slept, and knew I needed serious help before bad things happened. I went back to my psych and told her what was happening – how the latest med we tried was another failure – and how suicidal thoughts had started to resurface.
She looked at me and said, “you know, I think it’s time we consider bipolar.” I swear my stomach literally fell out of me and my heart completely stopped. WHAT THE WHAT?!
I then immediately felt hot, red-faced shame for even reacting the way that I did. I’m a freaking master’s/partial doctorate educated nurse who advocates for mental health and my personal reaction was fear and loathing?! I was so disappointed in myself. But the word bipolar strikes such fear and terror in just about anyone, like the person is so unhinged you never know when they’ll strike out at you or what they’ll do. (Total crap but I’m exaggerating the thoughts here so you can recognize those thoughts in yourself and how other people react in the face of misunderstood mental illness).
She started talking to me about the differences in bipolar I and bipolar II, which I had never realized there even were differences! She diagnosed me as bipolar II and explained that’s very likely why anti-depressants alone never worked with me. I went home that night, researched the $%@# out of the disease, and hour by hour, day by day, started to feel more at ease with the entire situation – BECAUSE IT MADE SO MUCH SENSE. Insert illuminated light bulb moment!
Bipolar II is characterized more by the depression side of the spectrum than the mania. People suffering from bipolar II are often only seen in treatment scenarios because their depression has become so problematic. They also tend to channel their “mania” into their jobs or personal situations (school, projects, and the like) making them seem like go-getters, overachievers, and insanely driven and/or dedicated. A little tidbit about me: I completely absorb myself into new things like a new job or school or even this blog. I focus intensely on becoming the “ideal” and the best – so much so that everything else kind of falls to the wayside. I’m REALLY good at doing that with multiple things at once, like combining school and the blog. The chaos of my mind running a million miles per minute keeps me fueled, inspired, and energized. I cannot ever do anything in a mediocre way, it has to be amazing and it has to be mind-blowing, or I won’t rest until it is.
I’ve always been moody and super irritable but had attributed it to being an older sister, then a teenager, then PMS, and then working at night, and genuinely not having a tolerance for ridiculous people – always something, always a reason. I noticed it becoming more severe, however, with each passing birthday. Yes I am and always will be bold and assertive, but my moodiness usually ends up channeling itself towards Charlie (bless him) which is never fair. Impulsive …. is an understatement, especially with fashion, always has been. It is nice, however, to be able to channel that adoration and interest into this blog and use it in a constructive way (looking for the silver lining here). I do tend to avoid most public outings associated with “bloggers” because it sparks my irritability beyond control. I’m not saying all bloggers are loathsome or stupid (I rather like quite a few of them), but holy smokes there are a LOT who are. Some bloggers, like some people, can be so painfully vapid and unaware of themselves or the things they say and I just can.not.deal.with.it.with.out.getting.ragey. And to be clear, I’ll never use my diagnosis as an excuse to lose control or just be mean, but I do love that it gives me even more courage to be bold and stand by my convictions.
Once all of this made sense to me and my newly adjusted medications started to sink in – I cannot emphasize enough the overwhelming relief and newfound freedom I felt. I was a slave to my caging emotions, feeling a sense of (chemical) balance that began to blend with a new life balance was like coming up for air. I’m not saying you can’t beat mental illness without medication; I’m saying when you’re in the place I was in and have been, it was the right answer for me. The key was finding the right doctor, the right diagnosis, and the right combination of medications.
Lifting My Stigma
Although I had come to terms with who I am, I wasn’t ready to share any of that with anyone outside of my family and very select friends. I thought I was doing that as a method of privacy, but what I was unawarely contributing to was my own sense of mental health stigma. What would they think of me? Will people whisper about me behind my back? Will they call me crazy.. or worse? Will they think back and say, “oh that makes total sense!?” All of these things were running through my mind, terrifying me to admit to something that isn’t shameful. Of course we all deserve our privacy, but I have always prided myself on being completely transparent with my audience.
As a healthcare provider it’s also scary to share anything aside from being completely okay, particularly in positions of leadership. You making a mistake becomes a mistake because of your disease rather than just because you’re a human being who makes mistakes. Job applications ask you to check a box if you have major depression or bipolar – but does that ultimately take away your chance of securing that position? It shouldn’t, but who really knows? Personally I think it’s none of their damn business anyway! Then I started to consider the real truth – I would never want to work in a place that held that against me, treated me differently, or didn’t want to afford me a job I sure as hell would be competent enough to land (and rock!). And that bit of knowledge in itself is liberating – because you know what you will and won’t accept.
Same goes with my audience – they deserve my truth because they share their truths with me, very personal and raw truths. That is one thing I can whole-heartedly be proud of, my audience shows me so much love, acceptance, encouragement, and trust. What a true privilege that is to have accumulated a community of such truly wondrous individuals.
Checking your Stigma
So now that we’ve discussed everything, how did you find yourself reacting to all of it? Did the word bipolar scare you? What is the first word you think of when you hear bipolar or manic or mood stabilizer? Because my first reactions shocked the hell out of me; but I found an opportunity for growth embedded in that reaction. I learned that I had some growing to do, found an opportunity for a little self improvement, and that I was subconsciously holding onto stigma I didn’t know was there.
Then I boxed it up, sealed it shut, and kicked it out to the dang curb.