I hate having to admit to myself and other people, I have Bipolar Disorder. Mental illness carries such a stigma that trying to talk about it is very hard. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted publically that I live with this disorder. Only people who are very close to me know. To be honest, since my diagnosis in high school, I’ve only told a handful of people…even my children don’t know.
I’ve been forcing myself to take a very honest look at my bipolar disorder. I’ve denied it or considered myself “cured” for years. I have been in such denial that I refused to acknowledge all the flashing, blinking, neon signs right in front of me. I have justified my thoughts and feelings a million ways.
When I was initially diagnosed at age 15, all I could focus on was that something was wrong with me. I wanted to be different and unique…but on my own terms and in my own ways. I didn’t want to be “broken”. I hid behind combat boots, a partially shaved head and hair that changed color every month. I was able to deal with and live with my disorder…on my terms. The way I chose to dress and the label society gave me (punk, alternative, grunge, etc.) allowed me to justify my behavior. Everyone assumed my behavior was just how Punks, Alternative or Grunge people behaved.
When I was hospitalized and received my diagnosis, the psychiatrist wanted to put me on Lithium. My mom did some research (although I couldn’t tell you what kind) and concluded that Lithium basically turns you into a zombie…so they chose not to medicate me. That was okay by me, because I my mom was God and anything she said was gospel. I also didn’t want to be a zombie and I truly didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me!
Throughout the next twenty years I learned to just deal with my feelings, constantly writing them off as one thing or another. I embraced self-injury to avoid suicide. I became addicted to releasing my psychological and emotional pain by inflicting physical wounds on myself. Not a healthy choice, but one that saved my life. I’ve hidden those scars with tattoos, because although I believed they saved my life, I am not proud of them.
My daughters just returned home from Operation Snowball. Suicide and self-injury are topics they learned about and addressed amongst other things. That program, and the friends I made there, changed the course of my life. I am proud to say I am still friends with them today…some twenty five years later. Even though, thousands of miles separate some of us, social media allow us to stay in touch. Specifically Facebook. The down side to that is my daughters are now old enough that they are on Facebook.
So…today…to help ease my anxiety about finally being brave enough to admit I live with this disorder to the public and the pain in my heart from a personal issue I am not willing to disclose, I am crocheting. I don’t know what it is…or will be…or even if I’ll finish it, but today, right now…it’s helping me. It’s better than cutting myself, and better than listening to my own voice that likes to criticize and belittle me. There is something soothing and calming in the repetitive nature of the stitches and the counting.
My kids have given me a reason to live but it is still hard to drag myself out of bed some days. Hopefully they’ll see me showing my vulnerability and learn from it. Maybe they too will see it’s okay not to be perfect, and that living with a mental illness is not a death sentence. Today I will wear mine as if it was a badge or honor…not to be ashamed of, but to embrace as just another part of who I am.