June 27, 2018 at 3:09 pm #1542
Adjusting to life with a chronic mental illness comes with a sharp learning curve—but with the right tools, you can achieve stability.
By the time I received my bipolar diagnosis, I had already spent several years under treatment for major depression. The treatment was yielding poor results, so the news was hardly shocking. And yet, I felt crushed.
I was particularly frustrated to be dealing with a lifelong illness. I had naively expected I would see a doctor, who would find an answer that would determine a prescription, which might be accompanied by a phone number for a psychologist, and after a year of keeping all my appointments and taking all my pills, I’d be cured. It would be an accomplishment of sorts.
Of course, I had already been doing this for years with diminishing returns, so I have no idea why I expected it to be my only path to wellness.
Maybe I was afraid to entertain the possibility of an illness without a better way across the finish line.
Ultimately, most of my expectations were met. I got the doctor, the answer, the prescription, and the psychologist (a mental health home run of sorts)—but I struggled.
I couldn’t get over that I wouldn’t get over this.
All these years later, I have some wisdom and tips to share with my younger, newly diagnosed self.
1) This not your fault.
You are not to blame for your illness. It just is. Keep repeating this until you believe it. Also, the people who belong in your life believe this, too.
2) Why you?
I can’t say, but then, why not you?
3) It might be difficult to see things this way now, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have a diagnosis.
It’s more than an ugly label with stereotypes attached; it’s an opportunity to access treatment, information, and support. It can help you grow.
Think of the stigma attached as the side order of coleslaw that comes with the hamburger at a restaurant. You asked for help (the hamburger) and the cabbage just showed up. This is not a reflection on you or the burger—It’s about the menu at the restaurant.
4) It takes time to heal, to forgive, and for medications to stabilize.
Adjusting to a chronic illness is a process. Getting things under control is important, and so is being prepared for the next change.
Living with the possibility of an episode around the corner can leave you feeling like you’re always waiting for the shoe to drop, but it can also teach you seize the moment. If these things seem contradictory, it’s because they are. You will learn to reconcile difficult things. Call it your superpower.
5) You will lose people because of this, and you will find some, too.
Don’t let your struggle make you afraid to let people in. It isn’t fair to shut out the people who care about you because you think they can’t handle your illness. Let people decide what they can handle. They might surprise you.
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