I am 15 years old, I am outgoing, I am fearless, and I am unstoppable. I am awake, I am 15 years old, I am barely breathing, I am terrified, and I am petrified to move. This is when vast world on mental illness welcomed me. Fast forward almost 10 years and here I am; an avid volunteer for the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia, and the facilitator of a mental health group for women. Two things I hold incredibly dear to my heart.
In those condensed 10 years I spent months being agoraphobic, too terrified to leave my home, I lost the ability to travel, to communicate, to do anything without mass forethought and calculation, and even then my demons would defeat me. Essentially I became the cliché phrase “youth is wasted on the young”. I was in constant battle with my anxiety and depression. Working and successful one minute, and completely defeated the next. By the time I was 18 I was diagnosed with unipolar depression, PTSD, and severe a severe anxiety/ panic disorder. For the better part of those 10 years I became my diagnoses. Too tired to fight the anxiety and impending doom of panic, too tired to fake a smile, and too tired to expose myself to the “normal” people. I faced a lot of negative stigma and ridicule in this time, and unfortunately the harshest and the brunt of it came from me.
Once you have created a dark pit for yourself to live in, where the only things you feel are sadness, fear, and guilt, it seems impossible to climb up out of that pit. Honestly, alone it would have been. I owe my family, friends, and partner my life for always throwing a ladder down when I needed one.
Now before you, I am older, 24 and currently have a long list of initials in my diagnoses column. The major, and most profound addition being bipolar disorder, type one to boot. Oddly enough by the time I received an official diagnoses was less than a year ago as my angst and panic overshadowed it. It wasn’t until I became exposed to the BDSBC, and their woman’s support group, and volunteer work that I truly took control of my mental illnesses, and realized how much power I had to overcome so many barriers created by my mental illness. At this time my world opened to so much knowledge and experience, a library that without I can firmly say I would not be as successful in my endeavors against the challenges my mental illnesses throws up against me.
Taking control (to the best of my ability) over my mental illness, I realized having a mental illness is like having a full time job. And in that job, if you slack off, it shows. What you eat, how you sleep, your exercise, caffeine sugar and sodium intake, taking your meds at the same time every day, intake of supplement’s and vitamins, practising behavioural therapies on regular basis, using no recreational substances are all daily components for the mentally ill to attempt to be mentally well.
If there is anything I have learned in these past years, it’s that perseverance and love is everything. And the most key factor to being well and staying well is that you have to really want it. It’s a lot of work, but believe me the juice is worth the squeeze. I won’t say that being well, or maintaining wellness is constant, or that it’s easy. But I am happy to work more each day, to learn more each day to help understand and control what happens in my body and brain.
Through all the years, the abusive relationships, the suicidal tendencies, the self-harm, and self-medicating I am finally in a place where I am proud to be me. Before my outlook and situation was always negative. People around me were negative, and so was I. I was ashamed and felt so much guilt for being “so messed up”. But now I know that having a mental illness, whilst endlessly challenging is if gift as well. I am proud to say that I am an empathetic and incredibly intuitive person because of what I have been through. I am able to help people with sincerity, and connect emotionally on a whole other level. I look around at my actions since being diagnosed and well and know that I am undoubtedly a good person, with the best of intentions. All this I owe to my mental illnesses. No amount of stigma, bad days, or whispers in a crowded room can make me ashamed of that. Being crazy or insane are no longer things I fear, but rather the overwhelming realm of possibilities presented to me because of the special way my mind works.