I want to write a little about my journey through mental health land. First, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about ten years ago. I have bipolar disorder; I am not bipolar. That’s like saying someone is asthma instead of someone having asthma. I know it seems like a little thing, but psychologically it makes a huge difference. Bipolar disorder is a chronic disease much like diabetes or viral diseases. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. It makes a person either depressed or manic in varying degrees. Mania can manifest in different ways, but can often include recklessness, grandiosity, ruminating thoughts, psychosis, delusions, among other things. Depression can range from one not wanting to do anything to suicide. Untreated bipolar disorder could put you in harm’s way or even cause death. People are severely ignorant about bipolar disorder or mental health in general.
A lot of people take Hollywood’s interpretation that all mental ill people are crazy or insane. I’ll tell you now, from experience, I haven’t met a single mentally ill person that fits that bill. If you have ever met a mentally ill person in life, if you can get over the stigma society has put on the subject, you will find that this person is a regular individual who is suffering from an illness. If you look into their eyes you will find a person underneath all of that mental torment, or even see through all of the weirdness that one can once perceive at face value. I have to say that, once upon a time, I was guilty of holding these unfair views that mentally ill people were a weird uncontrolled lot that were dangerous.
Not counting the mentally ill with substance abuse problems, also called dual diagnosis patients, the mentally ill who were violent (in this study bipolar and schizophrenic patients) were about 3.4% to 5.1% of the general population. The first night I ever spent at an acute care center, this is where mentally ill patients that are in crisis and need help go, was very frightening because of my expectations. What I came to find was a bunch of normal sick people that mostly kept to themselves. When we would come together to smoke or to eat meals, we would share notes about different treatments, and share war stories. There was a sense of comradery among us. We were all ill and suffering together.
Mental illness brings together people of all races, ideals, ages, and economic backgrounds. Also, the cruelty of people who don’t understand mental illness is air apparent. I’ve seen families abandon their teenagers. Also, I have seen those same teenagers lose their insurance benefits and end up on the street. One study shows that 33% of homeless people have an untreated severe mental illness. I have to admit, after seeing that, my greatest fear has been ending up on the street. I am very fortunate to have a family that has stood by and supported me in all of the hell I put them through and through all of my suffering.
I became ill suddenly and very uninformed, and my family was just as lost as I was in how to proceed and how to find the appropriate treatment for me. All the new terms, medications, doctors, and fear baffled all of us in the family. When I was going through the first six months since I first went into crisis, I was unable to make decisions for myself. Since I was over eighteen the doctors, by law, could only speak with me. I was in no condition to make decisions about my health, and honestly my family didn’t know a damn thing about any of the choices that they had. Thankfully my family worked with me and the doctors, and we became well informed very quickly in order to make it through those first six months.
I know this is just a small piece of my story. I will share more as time goes by. The whole purpose of this short story was to inspire people to re-think mental illness. Also, if you have a family member who has just been diagnosed with a mental illness, or you yourself are mentally ill, please have patience, be kind, and get informed. The more information you have the better, and remember you are never alone. There are great support groups for both us mentally ill people and for families who are just as scared and uninformed as my family was.