May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
I believe wholeheartedly that it is important to keep the focus on mental *health* rather than be bogged down by discussions of mental illness. If we focus on pathology rather than solution, we stay stuck.
I also, however, wholeheartedly believe that when we share our stories of trials and tribulations, we can build bridges of connection through our shared humanity.
This is why I choose to speak candidly about my mental health journey.
I live with Type II Bipolar Disorder. I am unashamed to be associated with mental illness for one reason: my diagnosis does not define me.
Yes, it is true that I have a mental illness. It is also true that I have a full life complete with healthy relationships and profound peace, and I coach others on how to do the same.
I first noticed signs of mental illness as a teen. My emotional outbursts and instability began to affect my relationships and ability to preform my responsibilities as a student and an employee. Looking back, I can now see that the signs began much earlier in childhood, but were interpreted as “immaturity.”
I have experienced loss of relationships as a result of my behavior, and I have been held back in my professional pursuits because of my inability to regulate my mood and focus on my goals.
I am proud to say I have worked diligently on building a large tool box of coping mechanisms that have allowed me to navigate life with more grace. I have used traditional talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, journaling, community, Yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature and self help books. In my opinion, more is better when it comes to coping strategies because there is no one tool that always works. The more options I have when experiencing a high or low, the better the odds are that I will have access to the one I need in that moment. For me personally, the most impactful tool has been my Yoga practice.
Gratefully, I have experienced very little stigma related to mental illness. What I have experienced is a struggle to be taken seriously by those closest to me when they believe I am “up” or “down” — sometimes I’m just experiencing normal human emotions totally unrelated to my mood disorder.
I feel free to share about my diagnosis because I recognize that it is not “who I am.” Just as being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a teacher etc. don’t define my worth or my identity, neither does the reality that I live with a unique biochemistry that challenges my ability to regulate my mood. Because I am comfortable owning this truth, answering questions and sharing honestly, I have found a lot more acceptance from the outside world.
There’s no shame in living with mental illness. Whether you can relate to my story and want to connect, or my experience is foreign to you and you are curious to know more, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m an open book because I want to do my part to end the stigma.
We all benefit when we allow ourselves and each other to be human and still worthy of love and belonging.