Most people know that I am a recovering addict/alcoholic. I share about this openly, mostly because I want other people to share about it – what grows in the dark dies in the light, and that is true of those of us who keep secret the devastating disease of addiction.
What many people do not know is that I also live with mental illness. I don’t say suffer, because for the most part, my symptoms are under control and do not cause me suffering. However, I do live with it. Every day. And not surprisingly, it is difficult to find others with the same illness who are willing to put it out there.
My diagnosis is Bipolar Type 1 (although my lows are more frequent these days than my highs). I also have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Panic and Agoraphobia, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The combination of symptoms from these disorders has plagued me for most of my adult life (and some of my adolescence). Several months ago I was hospitalized for an extended period, and I finally received a diagnosis and was put on medication that is working for me. I still deal with panic attacks occasionally, but the crazy highs and lows of the bipolar, and the fear of even leaving my house from the agoraphobia, have for the most part subsided.
But that doesn’t mean I’m cured.
Living with any mental illness, coping with it on a daily basis, can be challenging. Take doctors, for example. Many (if not most) physicians that are not psychiatrists have no idea what my diagnoses mean. So any time I go to a new doctor, until they get to know me, they look at me like I might lose my shit at any time. While that used to be amusing for me – I would start acting fucked up just to see if the doc would freak – the fun has worn off and now it’s just a chore.
It’s also difficult when I have to disclose my illness to new people for whatever reason. I used to avoid being judged at work by paying cash for my psychiatrist visits and my medications, and this was before I was even diagnosed with bipolar. Many people, lacking education, see the term “bipolar” and immediately think of whatever TV movie they saw where the star had “manic depression” and stayed up for weeks painting murals on her ceiling and acting like a psychopath. Granted, my manic episodes are a little freaky to witness, but they’re not all that dramatic.
I use these, and other, opportunities to educate people about my illness. And for the most part, people, once they’ve been educated, react to me the same way as they would to anyone else. There are those who refuse to be educated, who are willfully ignorant, and those are the people I steer clear of at all costs. I’ve allowed myself to be dragged into shouting matches where I end up fitting the other person’s idea of “crazy,” and I don’t want that to ever happen again.
I’m writing this post because I want to open a discussion about this subject. A burden shared is a burden halved, as the saying goes. If we can educate more people about mental illness, if they can learn to view us as they would, say, a diabetic or someone with an overactive thyroid, if even one person with a mental illness feels better about their life, then this post will have served its purpose.