There are five stages of grief. The last one? Acceptance.

This has been a theme in my life as of late. Starting with a conversation I had with my therapist, bleeding into my yoga practice, and seeping back into my therapy sessions. There have been quite a few things I’ve had to accept–and some that I just am not quite ready to.

One of the things that’s weighing on me right now? My illness.

I have bipolar. I am bipolar. It is not all that I have and it is not all that I am. I have to remind myself of this constantly.

There are days where my diagnosis consumes me. There are days where all I want is to let it finally win. To let it take me and devour me. These are the days when I just want to give up and give in. But I don’t.

I don’t like to acknowledge or accept the fact that I’m probably going to be on mood stabilizers for the rest of my life. Colors get duller when I’m on my meds. My happiness is muted, my sadness subdued. I feel like I lose a little bit of my “creative mojo” (to adapt a phrase recently used by a coworker).

I can function like any other person though. I can sit on crowded trains a little easier (that will never be fun or easy to do for me). I don’t get as irritated by the catty gossiping women that sit around me and I don’t get as annoyed by presumably Swedish tourists congregating all in one place. I can get my coffee at any time of the morning rather than timing it almost to an exact minute, like coffee acquisition is a science, and be absolutely fine.

And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve had considerable trouble writing lately. In all honesty, I’ve had trouble doing much of anything lately. I’m still probably considered to be “highly functioning” as all of a sudden, I’m able to get myself to work on time–the bare minimum for neurotypical folks. (Glad that something that is so average, so mundane, is so absolutely mindbogglingly difficult for me. Debilitating anxiety can do that, I suppose.)

Admittedly, I’m off my medication right now. It’s hard to admit that after three years, I’ve finally completely gotten off them. And I don’t want to admit or accept that I need them. I want to rebel against the muted tones and subdued creativity of my medicated, yet stable life yet without them, I teeter and totter toward a treacherous area… One that I never wish to see again.

I’ve written about my bipolar in various forms, in various states of medication. Right now, it’s really difficult. Bipolar makes everything difficult. There are days where I wish that everyone in the entire world could understand what it’s like to have bipolar–to experience the mood swings, at least at their euphoric high level. There are days where I wouldn’t wish this experience on even my worst enemies, for it is just so painful and so goddamn annoying that I wish those enemies a slightly softer fate.

I’ve had difficulties accepting this diagnosis for a little over three years now. I don’t think I will ever fully accept it. It’s difficult, it’s challenging, it’s painful as all hell. But, someday, it will be okay. I will be okay.

Another Post about Bipolar Disorder and Media

I spend a lot of my time engulfed in media. I get paid to social media (and it’s awesome and I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.) It could be argued that I never leave it–considering I fall asleep with the radio tuned into my favorite station from back home.

One of the things that startles me the most is reading about or watching portrayals of mental illness; specifically bipolar disorder. I struggle with the illness myself each and every day. I’m medicated, I go to the psychiatrist every three weeks and I’m currently shopping for a therapist that I can become comfortable with and not feel like I have to hide things from. (I’ve had therapists like that–I’ve seen quite a few in the last three years.)

I watch a lot of crime shows–Law and Order, specifically–that tend to blame crimes (violent or unviolent–doesn’t matter) on mental illness, including but not limited to bipolar disorder. While away in Michigan for work (a post about the crazy things that happened there is forthcoming) I watched a particularly grating episode from 1997 (fun fact, I was in Kindergarten when this episode premiered) that included a young boy that set fire to his home and killed his sister because he was jealous–complete with a wealthy, also-afflicted-with-the-disease, political backer grandfather.

Some people are predisposed to these things, sometimes it’s the environment. It is not the disease. Bipolar Disorder does not cause anyone to commit arson or other violent crimes. Not being treated, being isolated, being stigmatized–that is what causes these outbursts of violence. 

Being “out” about mental illness is not easy–telling people you have a mental illness is not easy. I struggle with it every day. I have to get to know you, to see if I can trust you, before I go telling you. And I always get looks of “wait, really?” “No way, that’s not you…” because I’m treated. I treat my illness and I have very slowly come to embrace it. It is not all of who I am, though it is a big part. That was an issue in this episode that was addressed properly–many successful people are not open about disease. That’s what killed Robin Williams, who was also bipolar. There is shame in being bipolar, shame in needing help.

The reason I’m actually writing this is because I just read that Ms. Amanda Bynes, formerly of Nickelodeon fame, has had her involuntary psychiatric hold extended to two weeks. I understand the pain of only wanting to leave a place like that and not being able to and I hope that she gets the help and care she needs and deserves. Nobody deserves to be ridiculed for being ill. A psychiatric hold is unpleasant. It’s scary. But, sometimes it’s truly what you need in order to turn things around.

I hope that for people who struggle with bipolar and other mental illnesses that these portrayals of violent, mentally ill criminals in the media or mocking celebrities in the midst of public breakdowns can stop or be balanced out by promoting self-help services, hotlines, or de-stigmatizing getting medical help or going to therapy.

If you need help, dial the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386).

Stream of Consciousness Saturday (July 12)

I’m really excited about this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday topic, being “getting out or getting away.”

…There are a lot of different directions you could go with the post topic this week. I’ve been thinking about it for a significant amount of time. The words “away” and “out” could mean so many different things. What’s great about being a part of this series is that you get to see lots of different interpretations of the topic. It broadens your horizons. SomeKernelsofTruth and Good Lifestyler feature two of the posts that I really loved this week.

I wanted to go a different direction entirely away from where others have gone. I’ll talk about my “getting out of my shell” this week.

This week has been extremely difficult. I have bipolar II disorder, as previously discussed. There are days I feel like a normal human being, and there are days I feel like some sort of space alien. The move(s) between cities/states, all within the last year–New York to Maryland to Alabama for ten days to Colorado to Maryland to Virginia to Maryland to Virginia to Maryland to New York and (finally) to Washington, DC–have made finding consistent mental health care difficult. Insurance, location changes, and schedule conflicts have only added to the difficulty.

This week, my first full week in DC, I ran out of medication. I’ve been on anti-anxiety medication for almost two years now and I’ve been on mood stabilizers since December. It was difficult for me to start them. You never want to admit that you need some chemical to survive as a “normal” person for the rest of your life. But, sometimes you have to swallow your pride with those pills and learn to make them part of the day-to-day routine. I’m a creature of habit, a creature that is very comfortable with a routine and a schedule once they’re established. Not having medication has thrown me for a loop and taken me out of my comfort zone. 

But you find ways to get out of the slump and you find ways to do new things. I’ve taken to exploring the city, relying minimally on GPS navigation–I’ve got nowhere important to be for the time being, so I can get somewhat lost or stumble upon new things. I never liked going places by myself. I’m only so independent. But I’ve been going places and doing things in order to regulate my mood and keep me going. 

And I’ll be very thankful Thursday afternoon when I get out of the house and back into the doctor’s office…

Better Life Through Chemistry: My Personal Battle with Bipolar Disorder and the Mental Health Stigma

Last December, I received a diagnosis that changed my entire life. I had gone to the psychiatrist for a routine checkup. Nothing special, just thought I could use one. I had never been to this psychologist, but I was excited for the ability to go back to Washington, DC. We went through the initial questionnaire, the awkward questions, the history. Everything was on the table, including the incident that I hate discussing more than anything else in the world. I went through it all and at the end, he said the words: “You have Bipolar II.”

Those words shattered my world. I knew I was depressed and anxious, but never in a billion years did I think I was bipolar. As I thought about it and as I held the new prescription for the new medication that I realized I would need for the rest of my life, I realized it was true. The bouts of mania and depression even as I was a small child.

But the only thing I thought of after that was the images I had seen of bipolar people as I was growing up. Families had been ruined, lives had been lost. Nobody talked about bipolar successes, only the damages caused by this disorder.

I was ashamed. It took months for me to be able to be comfortable with admitting I had it. I still struggle because I know that not everyone sees it the way I do.

I worry that people will see me just as my illness, just as my diagnosis, and just as my past. I worry that people will see what I have done and be afraid that I’m not going to be able to commit, that I’m not going to be able to function as “normal” people are.

I take my pills every day, around the same time, and I keep them in one of those weekly pill dividers that usually only the elderly use. (I’m a very old soul, if you hadn’t gathered…)

Someday, I’d like to see the fear around bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses disappear. That’s why I wear my green bracelet, and attempt to become more comfortable with myself.