If you love someone who lives with depression, mania, or bipolar (1 or 2) this post may help you with acceptance and awareness of neurological-diversity. Or if you happen to be the person preparing for or receiving treatment for a mental illness, know that this is but one journey in your life. You deserve to learn how to walk in your truth with love and self-acceptance.
My mental health story
The year was 2017. I was traversing a new job and the end of a 12-year commitment that included 10 years of parenting, as well as closing out the two most depressive years of my life. Family members were all waving flags to encourage me to evaluate my mental health.
I was sad, scared, and very angry. The anger was directed at the fact that my father, a social worker, and my mother, a special education teacher, did not identify the signs of my mood shifts and related behaviors. Now, I was a grown mother of two living in a household with a partner who did not have the tools to support me through my mental health journey.
My behaviors and moods impacted my relationships. Unlike living with an illness people can see from the outside, I was not able to point to my illness or test result to show my friends and family what was happening on the inside.
Living undiagnosed with bipolar disorder, I felt like I was swimming upstream. I was making decisions that were negatively impacting my outcomes with my closest family members. Until I found a therapist and started coming into balance with a prescription drug regimen, I was spiraling. My mania caused me to think of 1000 things other than my mental health and my spending habits drove me into debt. I tanked.
Seeing the light
The light came on when I walked into a clinic that specialized in mental health support. Through that intervention, I began to stabilize. With the support of prescription medication and talk therapy, I felt the fog lift. I could see how my previous patterns of behavior impacted my ability to sustain loving connections with those who loved me the most.
As the air cleared and I reflected on past incidents, at first I felt ashamed. I began to understand why people had pulled away. There was a feeling of dread and shame, since living with bipolar sometimes meant my intent and actions did not line up.
Seeking support for my mental health
As I continued the work with my therapist, I uncovered triggers that increased my chance of having a depressive or manic episode because of bipolar. This began the deep work of reclaiming the power in my best relationships. I had tough conversations with friends and family members to promote their awareness of my diagnosis, ask for their support, and teach them what support looked like to me.
For example, I hated when my family members or friends would ask me if I had taken my medicine when they noticed me irritable or excessively excited. Instead, I had to teach them to ask what felt supportive to me. Also, I began the work to redraw the boundaries in my relationships in support of my diagnosis. I went to therapy with some members of my family to process past incidents and invite healing into our relationships to recover the best of what we had rather than lose them.
Collectively, my community and I needed to rebuild trust. Personally, I needed to feel empowered in my process. So for me, that meant not inviting family into sessions with my personal therapist. I did not want the trust I had in myself to do the work to be disrupted by people’s desires to peer into my process or check if I was being honest in my work.
Sharing neurological-diversity with my kids
I also talked to the kids, ages 10 and 5, about my diagnosis. This helped them understand what a good day looked like, versus a hard day. And I decided to give them tools to use if they needed to seek intervention on my behalf if they saw something was very off or if they were scared and needed to talk.
In therapy, I peel back the layers of my past that clearly contribute to my emotional triggers and methods of behavior. Additionally, I stay on top of taking my medicine and check in regularly with my psychiatric nurse to ensure my progress is on track.
Healing language and acceptance
Now I use language such as “I live with bipolar”, rather than “I am bipolar.” If I sense that someone may stigmatize me I simply say “I live with neuro-diversity.” Sometimes I have to look for other ways to support myself. For example, rather than force myself to conform to standards of tidiness that were difficult for me to maintain, I acknowledge that I like to see my kitchen tools out in an array; my “working kitchen.” Same for my clothes. It helps to see my clothing choices in one big array. I modify my home to fit my preferences in ways that still lead to a clean aesthetic.
I can say with great self-love and confidence, that my self-acceptance of my mental health diagnosis and my actions to tune in and “do the work” have empowered me to share my perspective of neurological-diversity. The most important healing and acceptance have developed during a few years of consistent talk therapy. My family has learned not to push me away, but to show up and accept me where I am in my journey. As I like to say, they can now “witness me” rather than try to change me.