I wish I knew this in the beginning of my mental illness journey.
Are you newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Have you been battling the beast for decades already? Or are you somewhere in between?
While confined to a psychiatric hospital in the spring of 1995, an extremely cold and unkind doctor gave me my bipolar diagnosis. I thought my life was over. But I was wrong.
In the decades since, I learned how to live a full and happy life. Even so, there are a few truths I wish I had known that first day. Here are five of them.
There will be bad days
The first truth I wish I had known was that even when you find the right combination of medications to keep you stable, you will still have bad days. That’s just part of life. Some days, you’ll feel like you can take on the world. Other days, you’ll want to crawl into bed and hide from it. The important thing is to keep fighting.
In the beginning, I had this wonderful fantasy that once my care team stumbled on the correct drug combination, my life was going to be full of rainbows and unicorns. How wrong I was.
Everyone has bad days, even people who claim to have perfect mental health. Relationships end, jobs disappear, and loved ones die. Life is painful, and that pain creates awful days.
Then there’s also Tuesdays. Tuesdays? Yes, there will be bad days that have no trigger, and for me, they often show up on Tuesdays. You should have fewer tough days when following the correct treatment plan, but you should still expect some bad days.
You may need medicine for the rest of your life
The second hard truth is that you may need medication to manage your bipolar disorder for the rest of your life. When I was first diagnosed, I was told that with medication and therapy, I could eventually be medication-free. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. For some people, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness.
First diagnosed with depression, I started taking meds about six months before I received my bipolar diagnosis. I need the chemical help to stay balanced, so medication has been part of my daily routine every day since.
Meds can stop working
The third painful fact about bipolar is that medications can stop working. A medication that kept you stable for years can suddenly stop being effective. This is frustrating and scary. But it’s important to remember that there are other options. Don’t give up hope.
From the people I know, this seems to be a unique characteristic of bipolar disorder. If you have a strong support team, they will help you manage through this challenge should it happen to you.
Mental illness doesn’t go away
The fourth hard truth is that mental illness doesn’t go away. It’s something you will deal with for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean it has to control your life. With treatment, you can learn to manage your illness and live a full and happy life.
I like to think of my bipolar as being like missing a hand. My life wouldn’t stop because I lost a hand, but I would have to learn to do many things differently. In the same way, you can learn to have a wonderful life even with mental illness.
Some people will judge you for your illness
The fifth and final truth is that some people will judge you for your illness. They may not understand what you’re going through. They may not be sympathetic to your situation. But that’s their problem, not yours. Don’t let their judgment stop you from getting the help you need.
Nearly 30 years after my diagnosis, there are still some people who think I don’t have enough faith, am lazy, or am an attention seeker. They are all wrong, and the people who judge you are wrong, too. Don’t let them bring you down.
Remember, you are not alone. There are millions of people out there who understand what you’re going through. You can find support and understanding from others who have been in your shoes. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, there are resources available to help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support groups and educational programs for people with mental illness and their loved ones. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) also offers support groups and educational materials.
You are not alone in this fight. There is help available. Reach out and get the support you need to manage your illness and live a full and happy life.
Until next time, keep fighting.