Living with a mental illness can be devastating. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and any other mental illness can have a profound effect on a person’s life. In this article, we speak with a woman suffering from mental illness. She talks about challenges and obstacles she has overcome in order to live a rewarding life. The issues addressed are important for nurses to understand in order to help their patients with mental illness.
Can you help me understand what it’s like living with your condition?
I have Bipolar I Disorder which means I go through periods of severe depression and mania. When I am depressed I withdraw from people and am unable to perform even the most basic tasks. When I’m manic, I don’t need to sleep or eat. I think I can do anything and don’t consider the consequences. I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating and the inability to calm down. This makes it hard to work or focus. I take medications in order to keep my symptoms under control. I use coping skills in order to help combat the effects of my illness. I enjoy writing, crocheting, and walking. Having a team of people I trust around me also makes a huge difference.
How has living with this condition shaped who you are today?
When I was first diagnosed with my mental illness 20 years ago, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Most of those feelings stemmed from the fact that I knew very little about my illness and how to manage it. I realized that I needed to do everything I could to help myself. This included seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication as prescribed, working with a therapist, and joining support groups. I finally realized I am not my illness. Now, I no longer let my mental illness define me. I am a much stronger person for facing my struggles and not giving up. I’ve learned to be patient with myself, as well as empathetic and gracious. I see myself as a survivor.
What do you wish people knew about mental health?
People fear what they don’t understand and I think mental illness is a mystery to many people. There are many types of mental illness and they affect people differently. Suffering from a mental illness can be very scary and confusing and can have an isolating effect on someone. Those without mental illness often expect people to ‘snap out of it’ and just choose to be happy. That is just not possible. You would not expect a diabetic to ‘snap out of it.’ Believe me, if it were possible I would do it!
What is something you want people to know about the stigma around mental illness?
When I was first diagnosed with mental illness, I listened to what the media said. TV shows often portray a person with mental illness as a criminal or uncontrollable. Bipolar disorder is often used as a joke when people change their minds about something. I think it’s an uphill battle, but as more people are diagnosed with mental illness, people will begin to prioritize learning about it. Those with mental illness can live extremely successful lives filled with joy and happiness!