Today is Mental Illness Awareness Day. Or maybe that was yesterday. I don’t really know. Because in truth, every day is Mental Illness Awareness Day. Especially if you have a mental illness. Which I do.
I am one of the lucky ones. I got help. I got a diagnosis. I get treatment. I’m on my way to Wellness.
There are various reasons for people to not seek help. The biggest is stigma. How our society depicts people with mental illness, how it is portrayed in our entertainment and media has changed for the better, but there is still a long way to go.
Many people use these analogies and I use them often too. I think it flips the script nicely and changes perspectives.
-If you had a broken leg, you’d go get it treated wouldn’t you?
-If you got diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, like cancer for instance, you’d seek treatment wouldn’t you?
-You don’t stigmatize people fighting for their lives battling leukemia do you?
Sometimes people refer to disease, or injuries as physical. Funny thing is, mental illness IS for sure physical too. Many of those illnesses are chemical imbalances. Just where do those chemicals come from? Physical structures of the body secrete them.
Sometimes mental illness is referred to as “having the brain wired differently” or that it misfires or doesn’t work “properly” and what have you. The brain is a physical structure of the human body.
If your brain is injured, wounded, hurt, not working properly etc., just like you would with any other part of your body experiencing those symptoms: Go Get It Checked Out.
I have one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses outside of schizophrenia. I have bipolar. Notice I didn’t say “I am bipolar”. Because I am a plethora of things, but whatever illness I may have does not define me. I’ve also had asthma all my life. I never say “I’m an asthmatic”.
Doing so, in my opinion can put roadblocks in your way to not only getting treatment, but for reaching out to get any additional help you may need as well. Think of it this way. When you have a broken leg, you don’t say things like I’m broken legged, or like many who refer to themselves as “diabetic” when “I have diabetes” is not only more accurate, but allows for you to still be you.
It is not shame I’m avoiding when I don’t refer to myself as my illness. It is empowerment I’m going after. You can draw on all the strengths of Who You Are to face this current challenge.
I also write this today because it has been discovered that Lee Thompson Young, the actor who committed suicide this past August, had bipolar. I can look back at three times in my life where I came close to killing myself. There are countless other times where it was mere contemplation. I have also written my will many times, because I wasn’t sure I would be around for long.
This makes me sad to hear about Mr. Young. They said they found medication for bipolar in his home, and said he was being treated for depression. I find that last bit dangerous. Bipolar, with its very name refers to two states of being. You cannot begin to heal and gain Wellness if you tackle only one aspect of the illness.
Think of it like the tires on a bicycle. If you only fix, maintain and take care of one tire, and leave the other one broken, your vehicle will not function properly, and you invite danger and injury by continuing your journey while ignoring that other tire.
Back in the day bipolar was called “manic-depression”. Individuals with this illness cycle between extreme highs and extreme lows. The intensity, and duration of those extremes, and the duration of the cycle itself varies from person to person. More often than not, people are “caught” when they are in an extreme low. I was. It was during a low that I finally sought out help.
I was, like many with bipolar, originally diagnosed with severe depression. I was again, fortunate that somebody took my whole medical profile into consideration and realized what was really going on with me. People with bipolar usually take at least two medications that work together to lower the highs and raise the lows and seek to stay in that middle area of balance. All other treatment – therapy, psycho-analysis etc – should focus on both aspects as well.
There are many – millions in fact – people running around who have a mental illness but who are not diagnosed. It is interesting, that once I was getting treatment for my illness, those people stuck out to me like a sore thumb. I guess it does take one to know one.
Sometimes those people were friends, co-workers or relatives. Sometimes strangers or net-buddies. When I was in a position to do so, I would speak to those people and encourage them to get help. To at least go get a diagnosis.
I would get responses like: “I don’t believe in therapy” or “I hate taking medication”. I will tell you, I balked at the notion that I would have to be taking medication for the rest of my life.
I have always been an eerily healthy person. I never had more than aspirin or ibuprofen in my medicine cabinet. I would grab an inhaler as needed for my asthma, which isn’t chronic, so it wasn’t a daily thing. For most of my life I was always in tip top peak physical condition.
But I will tell you this. It came down to life and death. Figure out how to reconcile yourself to illness management and Live. Or walk away and Die. I chose to live. I do not regret that choice.
I still don’t believe at throwing pills at every little symptom. I believe in skilled experienced behavioral health practitioners who know their stuff. Due to the stigma and poor information out there, I had archaic ideas on what treatment for mental illness actually entails.
When you go get help, get educated at the same time. Ask questions, do research. It is your LIFE after all, and you would do no less if you suffered from a severe injury or life threatening disease.
In order to heal and become well, you must always have two things working together: medication and therapy. Just like you cannot gain or maintain fitness success without both: food plan and exercise. Those two things go hand in hand.
What is also key to your healing and Wellness goals is having a support system. They can be family members, friends or health professionals. But you need a team. People that look out for you, people that you can call when you need help or have questions.
You cannot do it alone, nor should you. Find those people. Make use of them. Fight for your life and never give up. Self-advocate. If you are not comfortable with your doctor, or therapist, or you feel you are not getting the best or proper treatment, you can switch practitioners, you have the right to get the best treatment you can.
And of course I will mention Obamacare, because being able to do all of these things will become that much easier under the policies of the Affordable Care Act.
My plea to you today – and every day – is to do the following. Especially for my POC readers. You can explore some of the links on my sidebar list that speak on that as well.
1. Seek help. Get a diagnosis. Find out what is happening with you.
2. Find the best medications that work for you. This can be a lengthy process. Finding the right meds, the right dosages and so on. Stick with it.
3. Utilize those services that come available to you. Ask your doctor about behavioral health services in your area. Many are free, some you have to qualify for, plenty are low cost.
4. Include therapy in your treatment. It is key, and as I mentioned, part and parcel of helping you manage and maintain your mental health. Find the person or group that works best for you.
5. Fight the stigma. Sometimes you cannot. But do what you can when you can. Like those hundreds of people who pushed back against that “asylum escapee” costume.
6. Don’t give up. If something isn’t working for you, try something else. Keep working towards Wellness. You can be vibrantly alive, you can live your life. You can do it.
For those who do not have a mental illness. Be there to support your friend who does. Be there to help out when your loved one gets a mental illness diagnosis. Step up when you see someone being stigmatized, or see language or point of view in an article or broadcast that shames or others those with mental illness.
Everyone: Educate yourselves. Today is Mental Health Awareness Day. So is tomorrow. And all the days after that. Get some awareness, save your life.