Bipolar I: The Suffering, The Stigma, and The Shame

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That’s me above and my pup, Gracie.  This was about 2 years ago while I was still working.  I was living in Seattle, WA.  And, trust me, was severely anxious even in this picture!  I’m currently waiting to be approved for SSDI and hope to one day make a full recovery.  If I do not, I hope to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHD, and PMDD.  Just trying to accept each day as it comes and continue learning!

The suffering we endure related to our mental illness is amplified by the stigma and shame surrounding it.  Let us tease out each of these concepts and acknowledge the impact each has on our lives.

The Suffering: Those who struggle with a mental illness do so due to biological changes in the brain that are often difficult to manage and control.  No one chooses to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day!  Most of those who suffer were active and involved prior to the onset of their mental illness.  The illness more than likely crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was “not right”.  That something presented itself as a combination of symptoms to possibly include: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, hallucinations and/or delusions, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, disassociation, etc.  The sufferer is often aware, on some level, that his or her thought processes are not correct and may seek help due to the uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression.  Some people who suffer with a severe mental illness lack the insight needed to seek treatment.  In both cases, the person suffering has not done anything to invite the “illness” into their lives, no one intentionally wants to have their ability to control their emotions and perceptions altered or compromised in any way.  Sure, there are individuals who use recreational drugs that alter their minds, but even so, no one would want to remain on a “trip” indefinitely with their perceptions altered.

I’ve often compared my illness to someone having unwanted side effects of a drug.  Except, those struggling have never ingested a substance, nor do they have the ability to control or ceases the symptoms by removing a substance from their life.  The symptoms also differ from the following examples of “side effects” in that they are often more severe and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain.

For example, a person having way too much caffeine may experience some symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious irritable, energetic, etc.  Their mind might race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish.  Another example I give is that depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn.  In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”.  Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects.  Imagine, living life and all is going relatively well and then one day you get trapped in a cycle of “side effects” in which there is no escape.  Sounds like a personal hell, right?  It is.  I have lived years in the cycle of severe anxiety desperately trying any and everything to get relief.  Often it is years of trial and error, until relief arrives very slowly over months to years.  It is something one has to learn to cope and manage with and it takes time, persistence, and commitment.  This is the suffering that most people do not understand, while others do not even acknowledge.  The latter leads to another type of suffering, compounding the already difficult task of managing a mental illness.

The Stigma: Those who live with a mental illness also have to “suffer” in a world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling.  There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling.  Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation.  They also may not get treatment and suffer needlessly for many years because of the shame that is associated with asking for help and admitting that they are sick.  I personally have lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when I requested help in the form of accommodations.  My struggle was not viewed as credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker”.  Even though we have certain rights through the American Disabilities Act, the laws are not always enforceable and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is very slow to act.  The reality is that the stigma surrounding the mentally ill discourages people from getting help and it prevents people from disclosing their disability in order to get help in the workplace.  The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and inadequate care.  Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes.  The shame must be placed on a system that is inefficient when taking down barriers that would lead to progress for those struggling.

The Shame:  Many people who live with a mental illness feel ashamed of their struggle and this leads to additional struggling and depression.  I used to do a fair amount of self-loathing due to the multiple times I would start a job and then “fail” due to the increased symptoms relating to my illness.  I realized over time that I wasn’t actually failing, but was suffering under a system that would shame me to the point that I would “give up”. My work was always praised, but my attempt to work with a mental illness was harshly criticized.  I was even told at my last job that I was disqualified due to my disability.  This caused a relapse and I spent several months stewing over my life and my lack of success due to my illness.  It took a lot of soul searching to separate my illness from my identity.  In time, I could see clearly that my illness has robbed me of my potential, not my talent, motivation, experience, or passion.  It was how I decompensated during times of stress due to my illness that wrecked me.  This has prompted me to respect my illness for what it truly is, a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions and is often outwardly presented in behaviors.  I began to see the distinction between myself when I am suffering and myself when I am not.  I challenge those suffering to let go of the shame you have relating to your behavior when you are sick.  Focusing on the negative behavior that arises during an episode often will only serve to keep you hooked in a cycle of shame and regret.  Instead, give the illness the respect it deserves and spend time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay.  If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time I will forgive myself and instead of lamenting the mistakes made when I was chained against my will and suffering, I will get busy working to get ahead of the next episode.  I honestly want to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it before it begins!!!

I hope this was helpful.  It is a struggle, and you deserve to know that someone out there sees your struggle, believes it, and is right there with you.  Thanks for reading!

Bipolar, You are Busted!

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Hey Bipolar!  You are busted.

I see what you have been doing and I am on to you.  For years, you have come in unannounced and unexpected, hijacking my mood and perceptions and even altering my behavior.  I never once gave you permission to rent a space in my head, wreaking havoc in every area of my life, often down to the minute details.  You came in so slyly that many around me questioned your existence, often asserting that I could easily “shake you off” if I truly wanted to by exercising or thinking positively.  They were unaware how you hung on to me, smothering me, refusing to let go.  There were even times I loathed myself due to your presence, feeling powerless, weak, and ashamed.

I would do ok for awhile and begin to make plans, only for you to come riding in on your dark horse, capturing me, and dragging me to the ground.  Days were spent in bed, numb and dissociated from the world around me.  People would call, but I was too exhausted to  do much of anything and there were days I actually dreaded walking to the bathroom.

I would force myself to get up and go to work, but was anxious and depressed often from having to expend so much energy to hide you and keep your symptoms at bay.  I was often praised for my work, but your relentless presence caused absences and this inevitably resulted in job losses.  I was angry that my talents, skills, and potential took a back seat to your ominous and foreboding presence that would not leave.  It seemed unfair, cruel.

There were those occasions you showed up so strongly, I was pushed into a frenzy, often manic and obsessive.  You would have me spinning and hooked so tightly on a topic, that I’d often lose track of time and space until you dropped me with no warning, back into clarity and calmness.  I was disoriented and disgruntled.  You would then leave me to pick up the pieces from the mess created by those fanciful and frenzied moods.  Often in those spaces, I was raging and could hear people in the far distance asking” “Are you ok?” and “Are you rapid cycling?”; Yet you had me in a vice so tight that I couldn’t come up to the surface to breathe.  It’s a very undignified position that you put me in, over and over again.  If I could hold you accountable somehow, you’d deserve a life sentence for robbing me of my potential and peace.

I went through this cycle for years, often absorbing what should have been attributed to you.  I had a difficult time separating myself from you and questioned where you ended and I began.  You took up an enormous space in my life.  I’m still doing my best to diminish and contain you as much as possible.

Many people in my life, from co-workers to partners, thought on some level that I could contain you if only I tried and I was seen as not credible, lazy, dramatic, etc.  I was repeatedly blamed for your presence and that alone was damaging and devastating.  Your antics colored my existence, leading people to believe that your symptoms were my personality.  I went along with this for years confused and bewildered, until one day I saw the pattern in its entirety and I said, enough.

Bipolar, you are busted.  You do not get to claim my identity or any part of my personality.  You are an only an illness, and a shitty one at that.

I realize that I still have to live with people not understanding your presence in my life.  I have spent years living with you and even I am often baffled and must search for answers.  I will find ways to wrestle you to the ground and contain you.  Lithium only goes so far.  But, I won’t let you make me feel ashamed anymore for the times I am taken against my will, spinning.  I am making a promise today and always to let you know who is the boss.  You don’t define me.  I will find ways to decrease your presence in my life and one of those ways is to not get caught up in angst and anxiety when I’m dropped by you after an episode.  I’m just going to accept it and “address it”!

Bipolar I is a lifelong, chronic illness that requires effort and persistence to manage and cope.  Shedding light on the struggle can release the shame that potentially keeps someone suffering & sick.  So many steps to the healing process, and I do not feel I was truly acknowledging how much shame has kept me trapped and stagnating.  I will keep fighting, acknowledging that I live with a severe and persistent mental illness that has known cure at this time.  And, I will not be bound to the guilt and shame of an illness I have no control over having.  It chose me, not the other way around!

 

 

 

 

The Metamorphosis Series #1: The Suffocating Cocoon!

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I won’t stay stuck here forever.  It’s a dark and suffocating place.

All of us have areas of our life that make us feel unworthy and unloved.  Some of those areas go back to a time when our esteem was first forming.  For some of us, we were stunted by abuse or neglect and now are left trying to pick up the pieces that were not given to us.  This is extremely hard work.  I wanted to write this piece because we collectively can benefit from hearing other people’s pain to learn that we truly are not alone.

There is no shame in acknowledging that certain tools were left, often unintentionally, out of our toolbox.  Many of us struggling, to no fault of our own, did not have a solid foundation in our formative years.  At times, our needs may have been overlooked resulting in poor coping mechanism and difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries.

As a result of a difficult past, I developed a host of ineffective coping strategies I utilized to try and to get my needs met.  I feel that those who have hurt me, often did so unintentionally, often without awareness of their own issues or mine.   Perhaps they would have been more empathetic, had I been coping more effectively at the time and communicated my needs in less abrasive ways. Those who harmed me with intention often had their own issues of self worth.  I feel sharing has the power to set us free from the patterns that have become deeply entrenched in our minds and thus reflected in our behavioral patterns.  Often these patterns of behavior mirror back to us what we believe about ourselves and further imprison us, committing us to an false identity that leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy of failure, resulting in low self esteem.

Clearing a path for your authentic self to emerge is difficult work that is cumbersome, requiring courage and persistence.  A lot of this work is not linear, and it can not be completed in a vacuum.  Meaning as you heal you often are still in the same environment and around the same people who will challenge the healing process, skeptical of the changes you are making.  This may even mean you have to distance yourself from certain people who are not willing to accept the person you are becoming.  Often, healing is brutally messy and even painful.  But, it is a process that I believe to be worth the endeavor, despite the chaos that can ensue for a few years while things adjust.

This has been an excruitiatingly painful year for me.  In this year, I have faced discrimination in the workplace and lost my job.  I also cut ties and went “No Contact” with my Narcissistic after having a very tumultuous and abusive relationship with him for a decade.  And, lastly, it is the year that I was scapegoated by my family and blamed for the turmoil and divisiveness that was stemming from my sister’s struggle with addiction.  All of these invalidating experiences, where I was gaslighted, devalued, and discarded, resulted in a very unstable time for me.  I relapsed with my Bipolar illness and became suicidal for the majority of the year.  I was very hurt and enraged and spent the year fighting with my Mom and sister trying to salvage the relationship, but also determined to defend my reality in the process.  This pain lead me to time spent questioning my reality, my motives, and my intentions.  This process lead me to links in my past, shedding light on places of hurt that had stunted my growth, causing self-doubt and despair.  Being so vulnerable and sharing openly, I feel, only will serve to diminish the power these myths have over me that claim: “I am not good or worthy”.  And it is possible that my reflections will resonate with someone along the path of healing, and together we will heal.

In my formative years, there were some remarkable events that caused me significant pain, influencing my world view and challenging my self esteem.  One of these events being when my biological father released his rights to me, not wanting to know me or have me as part of his life.  I won’t get into the rationale as to why this occurred.  I was too young to remember the event, but do recall the years in my life of wishing I had an affectionate father who made me feel safe, secure, and valued.  This one event had impact on my self esteem and worth that followed me throughout my life.

At age four, I was molested which left me feeling powerless, invisible, and ashamed.  I was not considered in that event, just a little girl whose only purpose was to provide pleasure for the perpetrator.  My voice was muted and I was devalued.  I absorbed the shame through this event and when I was much older, in my teen years, I felt very ashamed and guilty for having normal thoughts and feelings about boys.  I was heavy for many years in order to remain invisible to men and feel safe in my skin.  This event impacted me greatly and as a result later in life, I married a gay man to avoid feeling violated.  I did not know for certain he was gay prior to marrying him, I just knew that I did not feel threatened by him in any way.  When I lost my weight after being divorced, I became involved with a man who was a narcissist and the relationship seemed like a parallel to my molestation.  I felt used, devalued, and invisible in the relationship and it took years to finally reclaim my self worth and separate from him.

My family environment was also turbulent as well.  My step-father was intimidating and abusive at times, shaking  and pulling my hair and throwing things.  It wasn’t an every day occurrence and there were times he did try in his own way.  Our family has many good memories and my parent both have accounted and apologized for the past.  Still yet, I lived in fear and tried to be as perfect as possible.  My sister and step-father butted heads and it made for a very scary and not so pleasant upbringing.  My sister left me a lot alone with my step-dad as my mother worked, and I was terrified and often felt abandoned.  I wasn’t allowed to express anger or really have a voice.  This caused me to stuff lot of my anger and ultimately I never really learned how to express anger in healthy ways.  I still struggle with this today.

Throughout my life, I have been misunderstood and treated differently as a result of suffering with two disorders: ADHD and Bipolar I.  As a small child attending kindergarten, I often was berated by the teacher for having ADHD.  I was different from the other children and was asked often if I had “ants in my pants”?  I didn’t understand why I was getting into trouble all the time.  In my adult years, I loathed myself even more when I became sick with Bipolar illness.  I had friends who laughed in my face when I told them I had gone into a psychiatric hospital for care.  One friend told me she did not believe in mental health problems and that I needed to “buck up & get over myself”.  These sentiments were later expressed in subsequent years by employers when I attempted to get accommodations in place during an episode, so I could remain working.  I was discriminated against and let go or it became so uncomfortable that if I did stay, I eventually left on my own accord.  I’ve experienced years of frustration, often being misunderstood by friends, family, or coworkers who feel my illness is just an excuse I make up for bad behavior.  It is dehumanizing and extremely hard to not only have an illness and suffer greatly from it, but then have your credibility questioned as a result.

Lastly, My sister has struggled with addiction for years and it has caused immense strife in our family.  I confront while others often enable, defend, lie, and hide.  I would have let things go, but she had five children, all of which are young adults now, and I’ve had to watch them struggle along with their own stories of addiction.  Not one of them walked across the stage to graduate and two of them do not even hold GEDs.  Their potential was robbed without their awareness.  I longed for a better life for all of them, including my sister.  This situation has truly been difficult to navigate and I am often devalued in the process.  It has caused me to question my reality and whether or not I am a good person.  It has truly been trying, at times, and I have often lost my patience in rage and despair.

Even with all the strife in past and present relationships, I have always tried relentlessly to reconcile things.  I struggle with letting people go, even if they are not good for me.  I’ve lost a lot of trust in humanity and in others because of the way I have been treated by those close to me.  I admit all my wrongdoings and I still long for the day when I feel accepted and loved completely.

I often feel like a scared kid, just hoping someone picks me up, holds me, and helps me walk through this pain in my life.

I’ve decided that someone has to be me.  We all must manage our own pain, develop better boundaries, and love ourselves.  We must forgive ourselves.  Sadly, I can forgive everyone who has hurt me, but I have the most difficulty forgiving myself.  I often desperately continue to return to those individuals in my life that are not truly open to loving me, or even themselves.  I become angry when they devalue me and my reactions become the rationale for why they leave.  And so, I must go through the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding, learning to let people in slowly, with stronger boundaries in place.  I also have to disengage from those increasing the intensity in my life which often leads to relapses with my Bipolar illness.  This is a balancing act.  I hope sharing helps others out there who are also navigating several tough situations at one, they are not alone.  It’s messy, it’s hard, but it’s possible.

And this is my toughest lesson to learn and my greatest challenge in my lifetime: To love myself enough to develop boundaries and slowly let those people in that will enrich my life and foster my growth and maturity.  I believe they are out there.  I truly am in the middle of this metamorphosis and I hope to one day look back on my life and see that I did it, I changed.  I forgave myself, loved myself, and let go of those who are unwilling or unable to join me on this journey.  No one said love would be easy, but I do believe it is worth it.  And if you are struggling with self worth, I will say to you: WE ARE WORTH IT.  Every human being is worth the journey towards healing and wholeness.

I’m using this piece as a series and am going to follow up with posts of thoughts and progress regarding my healing process.  It helps me feel not so alone.  Happy healing!  Thanks for reading!

Embracing the Mentally Ill in the Workplace: We Work Too!

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Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.

Sigmund Freud 

I’ve struggled the last 20 years while working and am in a period of regrouping at the moment.  I have been accommodated at work, have negotiated severances and settlements due to discriminatory practices, and have spent time becoming aware of the resources available to me.  I also have been a recipient of vocational rehabilitation services where I was able to have my tuition paid for to complete my MS degree in Recreation Therapy.  I’m not certain what my next work endeavor will be as right now I am currently recovering.  I’m an advocate for embracing the mentally ill in the workplace and am writing to hopefully help those who are also struggling. 

Living with a mental illness often, at one time or another, will impact work performance and perhaps, threaten viability.  Life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes a stressful event or situation, will cause decompensation even with medication and treatment compliance.  During these times, work relations and performance can be compromised in various ways, discussed below.  Each person struggling is unique with the challenges they face, and often will have ways they adapt and cope.  Some individuals may need to request accommodations from their employer.  In most cases, an individual with a disability has rights through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to receive accommodations while working, absent undue hardship on the employer.  Many people struggling are unaware of their rights and the responsibilities of the employer regarding workplace accommodations.  For example, the employer has the responsibility to approach and offer assistance with the accommodations process if they can visibly see a person struggling or the employee mentions that they are struggling due to their disability.  Also, if an individual with a disability requests accommodations the workplace is obligated to engage in an interactive dialogue regarding the implementation of accommodations in order to help the person remain employed and successful in their job.  The person with a disability must be qualified for their position and able to perform the job with or without accommodations in order to be eligible to receive accommodations and they will more than likely need documentation from a medical provider.

Being aware of the various ways people struggle, will hopefully cultivate sensitivity.  A mental illness is often revealed through one’s behavior, and co-workers & supervisors may mistakenly attribute symptoms as personality traits.  This is not only invalidating, but can increase symptoms by placing unrealistic demands on an individual suffering due to no fault of their own.  Remember, that each person who struggles is unique and is doing the best they can with an illness that they would rather not have.

The following are some of the ways an individual with a mental illness may struggle while working.  These are only a handful of examples and the list is not an extensive one

  1. Work Attendance:  The symptoms of a mental illness alone are often severe enough to cause an individual suffering to remain at home, in bed all day.  These symptoms can range from extreme fatigue, tearfulness, anxiety, and even feelings of derealization.  It is difficult to be fully present, when unable to focus and feel a part of your surroundings.  Attendance can also be affected as an episode can often exacerbate other illnesses an individual struggles with, for instance, migraines and IBS.  Often, an episode can cause insomnia or excessive sleep both of which can impact immunity.  People who do not suffer often downplay the severity of an episode and the multitude of symptoms it can cause for an individual that may result in absenteeism.
  2. Work Productivity: Due to a diminished ability to concentrate and attend to appropriate stimuli, mistakes can be made or work may not get completed.
  3. Work Relations: Many symptoms can cause strained relationships in the workplace.  Mood disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, and ADHD all can cause impulsivity that can result in someone blurting something out that is perhaps inappropriate, at times.  When someone is episodic their perceptions may not be as clear which may cause misunderstandings resulting in conflicts.  Often times, because co-worker are unaware of the disorder due lack of disclosure, these symptoms are mischaracterized as someone’s personality, instead of attributing them to an illness.  Even with people knowing about the illness, stigma is so prevalent and illnesses so vastly misunderstood that people develop a negative view of the person suffering. This only serves to further alienate the individual often causing relapse or a continuation of symptoms.  Individuals who are suffering are often aware that they struggle and the act of hiding their symptoms for fear of not being accepted and embraced is another reason why symptoms increase.  Interpersonal conflict at work or at home is a trigger for an episode and being in an unwelcoming, hostile work environment is truly unhealthy for the individual suffering from a mental illness.
  4. Disclosure of the Illness: Many people choose not to disclose that they are suffering with a mental illness to an employer due to the prevalence of stigma and lack of awareness.  Most applications now will ask if you are able to do the job with or without accommodations and if you are requesting them at the present time.  Many people who struggle continue to do so privately for fear they will not get offered the job, especially when the job has not been landed yet.  Their thinking might be that they feel they can manage and want to develop rapport and a relationship, learn the culture, before feeling safe enough to disclose.  Even so disclosing in certain environments can be challenging, once the private information is disclosed, there isn’t a way to retract the information and people often are not sensitive, nor aware of the struggle of mental illness.  All of this aside, there are many people out there, working, receiving accommodations with success and feeling comfortable with those around them.  Many more have disclosed and have felt discriminated against and have lost jobs.  There may be a time during a severe episode where in order to save your job, it is best to disclose and request accommodations.  At this point, with an accommodations request on the table, if an employer refuses to work with you, you do have leverage.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the entity that will accept charges of discrimination and will investigate and potentially mediate for a resolution or provide a “right to sue” letter in order for a lawyer to be obtained.
  5. Work Environment: Another consideration for a person with a mental illness is if their disability is compatible with the environment.  Environments that are dark with little to no sunlight during long winters in the Northwestern part of the country, for example, may truly drain a person with a depressive disorder.  A loud, noisy office, constructed of cubicles, allowing for multiple disruptions during the day may be difficult for someone who struggles with ADHD disorder.  If a person is having a difficult time performing well due to the environment, there might be an opportunity to receive the accommodation of having an office near sunlight or one that is away from distraction absent undue hardship for the employer.
  6. Benefits/Paid Time Off: Because episodes are often unpredictable in both frequency and duration, it may be a wise idea to become aware of the policies and benefits surrounding paid leave.  Finding a company where benefits are ample, even if pay is less, may be better than struggling along from job to job that is not sustainable when suffering with an illness.

There are two resources that are helpful when navigating the accommodations process.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which can answer questions related to your rights and the workplace’s responsibilities related to receiving workplace accommodations. https://www.eeoc.gov//   And, The Job Accommodations Network (JAN), an excellent resource that gives specific examples of workplace accommodations for people who are struggling. https://askjan.org

Many people who have a mental illness are not affected in the workplace, or it is infrequent and not severe enough to request accommodations while working.  But for those who are struggling the two sources can be an invaluable tool in navigating the accommodations process.  One can also apply for Vocational Rehabilitation services, which is a state-funded service that helps those with disabilities to be successful at work.  Often they provide training, support through funding to attend school, and can help with the accommodations process.  There are many resources out there for those struggling with employment, the largest challenge is the stigma and lack of knowledge relating to mental health issues.   Using our voices and sharing our struggling will break that barrier in time.   Thanks for reading!  I wish you much success in the navigation of the work world!  #WeWorkToo

 

The Bipolar Bucket, Sorting it All Out

This was written a few weeks ago and I decided to post it because I felt it might help some of you that are suffering.  Often, unless you suffer yourself it is difficult to understand all the mixed emotions that come with having a mental illness.  Some days you are truly tired and just want someone to “get it”.  I hope this strikes a chord with some of you.  From my stories to the stories you share, we’ll muddle through.  I wish you light along the path.

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I’m spent.  I am honestly exhausted, depressed, raw, and realistic. 

I’m tired of the day to day “pop psychology”, “feel good” statements that make perfect sense of some level, but are difficult to implement in real life.  Don’t let the simplistic messages fool you into thinking it is easy.  Healing and managing a persistent and severe mental illness is challenging, to say the least.

I grow weary of having to defend myself against those who comment on and criticize my functional level during episodes when I am struggling.  I often have to hold back when they ask if I’ve “taken my meds”.  Every negative emotion gets thrown in the Bipolar Bucket, often discrediting daily struggles that lie outside of my illness.  I am always striving to improve and yet, my illness is outside of those parameters, it will exist despite how “good or bad” I perform when it comes to maintaining healthy routines.  Often times, mania or depression will blindside me even when I’ve been doing well and feeling lifted.  It always is shocking even though I’ve lived with this illness for over two decades now.

Some people seem to think IF ONLY I exercised, ate better, slept, and engaged in healthy leisure pursuits, I wouldn’t suffer so much.  I feel I would be able to do those things if did not have an illness that by definition causes deficits in those areas.  Do these same people realize that I was athletically at the TOP OF MY GAME, the MVP and captain of the swim team and a lead in the school musical, when my illness first reared its vicious and ugly head stealing chunks of my life, my potential, and my peace?  My first episode occurred when I was in my teen years.  I was physically strong, in shape, and full of potential when this illness RIPPED my world apart.  It was then when I STOPPED SINGING.  I was frozen by this illness for many years.

It is exhausting when people, even family, use my illness as a weapon and a way to gain leverage in an argument.  For years, my ex-Narc would use my illness to avoid discussing  our relationship by stating I was “getting sick again” each time I pushed him to discuss our concerns.  I get tired of my symptoms being mistaken for my character.  My essence is not my illness, although I do acknowledge that having symptoms that affect my behavior lends to a confusing mess, even for me!  It has taken years for me to separate my identity from an illness that relentlessly tries to steal my sense of self and identity.  It is heartbreaking to have to sit on the bench and watch others compete and perform, knowing that my potential is being held captive by an illness.  Without this illness, I would have been able to manage my emotions and perceptions with ease and have the gift of taking it all for granted along the way.  Such bliss!

I get so fatigued from the process of trying and then later failing at work due to the symptoms and stigma of this illness.  It’s difficult to be raw and vulnerable, disclosing a stigmatized illness and requesting accommodations only to feel discriminated against in the end.  It was devastating losing jobs to an illness which meant an increase in symptoms from being triggered by the event and often times loss of housing, medical insurance, and medical providers.  This meant that my care was not consistent and my treatment was disrupted again and again.  

And as hard as that all is, it’s harder to hold all of that within you and know that people do not believe you, think you are not doing enough, making excuses, and just not taking control over your life.

This illness has stolen my potential, my credibility, my peace, many relationships, my health, my perceptions, my moods.  It has hijacked so much and yet, it is so misunderstood that we are still fighting stigma today.  When an illness affects your emotions and perceptions which alter your behaviors, how much of your performance is yours and how much is the illness? It is a beast to manage.  I reign it in, only to realize it’s dragging me down the road that I was certain I had closed.  Consistency is truly difficult to establish when your perceptions and emotions are continually held hostage..

THIS LIFE.  And AH, the windows!!  Those beautiful, crystal clear windows, where clarity is provided.  That picture is taken away and forgotten more quickly for those of us who suffer than those who do not.  When the windows of clarity are no longer in sight, it is so much harder to retrieve during times of decompensation.  Those beautiful windows disappear and are inaccessible even if someone on the outside is desperately trying to find a way inside to provide reason, clarity, and calm.   

I’m teasing it all out, right now.  The weight of this illness is crushing and it is a burden most will not understand.  It is like traveling a long journey with an 80 lbs “invisible” pack and because of the weight, you have to set it down sometimes.  There are times you lament about it, wish it were not there and possibly talk of giving up and not finishing the hike.  Others will fly by you, weightless, and they wonder why you have to take so many rests, why you gripe so much.  Given that it is invisible and not something you talk about openly, many will not understand how exhausted you are and some will discredit you, causing you to lash out in defense.  Others will blame and shame you, stating that perhaps you didn’t train as much as the others and will call you lazy.  No one is able to see the load so they are not able to understand your reality.  Thus, you suffer on, in a silent prison, with a weight you are unable to let go of while others share the many ways for you to “shake it off”.  All of these ways of which you have tried without success, but no one listens or believes you. The world gazes upon you with expectations that are unrealistic and it becomes a maddening and disillusioning experience to live through.

If people only knew… and some of you do.  

Today, is one of those days, I just want to sit it out.  I’m a bucket full of complex and conflicting emotions.  I just wish it were easier.