Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part One: I Am Bipolar
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. The following Intro and Note were originally published on June 3 and 5, 2013.
Introduction to Series
I have an announcement: I’m bipolar.
I almost used the word ‘confession’, but that has a strong connotation of admitting wrongdoing. Bipolar II is not a wrongdoing, or even shameful. Well, it sort of is shameful, but it shouldn’t be.
There is a stigma against admitting you have a mental illness, like it’s something that should only be talked about in whispers, behind closed doors; check over your shoulder. I think it’s especially bad in conservative Christian circles, where people talk as though faith in God, repentance, and choosing to be happy are all you need to be mentally healthy – like it’s really all in the head and the spirit, except for maybe a few people with really severe problems.
But mental illness is real, it’s commoner than we want to believe, and it won’t de-stigmatize itself. We have to talk about it, and we have to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help.
So, yes, I’m bipolar. That’s one, currently large, aspect of my always complex personality.
After what has probably been (in retrospect) a lifetime of intermittent depression, and several years of especially poor mental and physical health, I finally started medication and therapy last month. Both my therapist and my medication NP think I present bipolar II, and I had already wondered that myself for years, ever since I first heard it talked about in an open way that didn’t make me think ‘bipolar people are locked up for being dangerous’.
I had been ‘down and stressed’ (aka in denial about a serious depression) for awhile at that point, when my very nice Rhetoric teacher had us workshop an essay she wrote about being bipolar. This was the first time I thought, Maybe I’m not just doing life wrong. If Dr. R can be bipolar and have a job teaching, maybe I also have a mental illness.
I felt both more alive and more guilty than ever, like it was prideful to consider dumping the idea that I was just a really bad Christian.
I still had years of stigma to overcome, and years of unhealthy guilty feelings and bad ‘biblical’ teachings until I was finally ready to seek professional help, but I feel that my journey to healing began when I first allowed myself the thought, I might be mentally ill. This might be depression, which seems to exist after all.
Depression is real, bipolar disorder is real, mental illness is real, and there is help.
I’m not healthy yet — but I’m finally getting help. It’s a big step.
I’m going to do a short series about my journey from doubting mental illness was real, to finally getting help.
I hope it will be helpful for people with depression and for people who love someone with depression and wonder why they don’t just go to a doctor; there may be more to it than you know.
If you’re having trouble because of the stigma against seeking help for mental illness, then I hope that sharing my journey will help you reach a place where you are also able to seek help, or that it will at least be another voice saying ‘you are not alone – we are here’. The more voices there are, the more chance we have of breaking through the clouds.
I will get on with my story [in tomorrow's post], but first i would like to post this video of President Obama’s speech at the National Conference on Mental Health.
I was able to watch some of the conference live, and follow other people on twitter and their conversations about mental illness and seeking help. I realized that the stigma that makes it difficult to talk about mental illness propogates itself and makes people feel alone.
We are not alone.
I appreciate the President’s acknowledgement of people who have long been fighting for mental health care and against the stigma of mental illness – and moreover i appreciate those people, who slowly broke through my mental block and allowed me to get help. Bloggers like samantha at http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/ who wrote honestly about seeking counseling (and problems with the kind of christian counseling that heaps guilt on people – the ideas behind that kind of counseling had informed my fear of seeking help).
There are people who don’t have mental illness, but are passionate about it. But I wouldn’t be writing about this now, or be informed, or be passionate about mental health care and bipolar disorder, if i didn’t have a brain that wanted to keep me from getting help, and if i didn’t know other people do too.
Sometimes i think my brain wants to kill me, and i have come so close to deciding to end it all. But there is a bigger part of me – my brain, my soul, i’m not sure, that wants me to live a full and abundant life. With medication, therapy, and the support of friends and my husband, that part of my brain is winning right now.
And if you think you might be depressed or have a different mood or mental disorder, i speak to that part of you that desperately wants to live past the darkness: talk to someone. Get professional help if you can, and if not, call a helpline or a friend.
And watch the above video and remember:
We are not alone.
To be continued.