Wednesday, October 19, 2016

THE ANSWER

Sometimes we have really defining moments in our lives. Moments where we remember exactly where we were and what surrounded us when they happened. Moments that we truly will never forget. September 24, 2016 was one of those days for me. It is on that day that I walked into a psychologist’s office one person and came out feeling like I never knew myself at all.

If you’ve been following me for a while you will know that 7 years ago I realized that I needed to seek out help for what I thought was depression. After some minimal testing I was diagnosed with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety. At the time I felt that the diagnosis fit perfectly. It really did encompass everything that I was feeling. For 7 years I held onto that diagnosis and re-arranged and figured out my life based around it. I thought I was doing a pretty good job at handling things and living a normal and happy life. Sure there were times where I was really depressed but everyone gets sad right? I could deal with it. Here’s the thing; I think I’ve always known in the back of my head that this was more than just depression and anxiety. I just refused to acknowledge it. I had been tested for other things, like mood disorders, and while I did have some of the characteristics that fit some mood disorders I didn’t fully fit the criteria and so they were ruled out. After hearing that, I held onto it for dear life. Well, here I am 7 years later dealing with something that is very clearly not my original diagnosis. The majority of this year I have been very depressed, moments where I have felt so completely out of control; so much so that I voluntarily admitted myself to an emergency room under suicide watch one night.

My whole life all I have wanted is to be happy. At times in my life I have felt like I would never know true happiness. There was too much wrong with my life. Too many negative things that I had no control over. There were so many things I needed to start/stop doing before I could achieve true happiness. It was daunting, not to mention really hard. I didn't even know where to start. At the beginning of this year I met someone who truly pushed me to become a better version of myself. I finally started to be the person I always wanted to be but had previously felt like I never could. I kept thinking, wow I've really got it all together, shouldn't I be happy now? I was finally where I wanted to be - and you know what? I was happy for a couple months; truly happy. It was then that it all came crashing down.

I’m not going to go into detail about what I've been dealing with recently because I already wrote about it here but long story short, these past few months have been really rough for me. I have felt so out of control and all I've wanted was to get another diagnosis and find out what I'm dealing with now because it very clearly is not what it used to be. After months of fighting insurance and getting nowhere; an amazing human who I am so grateful to have in my life provided me with a way to bypass insurance and pay out of pocket to get the diagnosis right away. We were all tired of waiting, we needed answers now. After intense testing I found myself two weeks later on September 24, 2016 at my meeting with the psychologist to get the one thing I've wanted all year - a diagnosis.

I was the most nervous I have ever been for anything in my entire life. I think I knew in the back of my head that what I was going to hear was going to be the one thing I've run from my whole life. Despite my personal mental health journey only really starting in 2009 I've had experiences with mental illness my whole life, pretty bad experiences too. With people I swore I would never have anything in common with. People I never wanted to be anything like. I've always been such an advocate to end the stigma of mental illness yet this whole time I've had a personal stigma attached to this one word and I didn't even realized it. When my psychologist finally said the word to me I was terrified. My worst nightmare had become my reality. What do I do now?

It's taken me awhile to wrap my head around it. In fact, I cried for 3 days straight after finding out. Actually, I still cry almost daily. I feel alone, scared, and unsure of what to do next. I feel like I am a stranger to myself; I feel betrayed by my mind. How could I have this disorder and not realize it? But the truth is - I've known all along. I just always pushed it away and focused on something else. Trying so desperately to not recognize the signs I knew were there. This diagnosis is serious. This diagnosis is life changing. I honestly still don't know what to do with the information I have been handed. I couldn't accept it right away and while now I have come to terms with it, I haven't yet been able to truly embrace it. If I embrace it, it becomes absolutely real. The few people I really have talked to about it are so supportive and yet I feel almost no comfort in their words. I feel lost. I feel alone. I feel afraid.

Despite all of that; and after a very much needed getaway with my family, I have decided that I no longer wish to hide this. By keeping this secret I am keeping myself from fully embracing what it means for me and my future. I know without a doubt that this is the right diagnosis. I can see the signs not only now, but linking back into my high school years. So much of my life up to this point makes so much sense now. And while I'm grateful and feel comfort in knowing what has been going on with me all these years, I also feel terrified. I feel a loss for that perfect dream of who I was hoping to become. I know that now, I can still become that person, it's just going to have to be in a different way, it's uncomfortable, it's scary. I can no longer live like I used to. In order to be healthy and reach my true happiness I have to change basically everything about my life. It's quite a daunting task and I feel overwhelmed by it daily. I know that I'm no different today than I was in 2005; I just have more information now. I need to use it to my advantage. I've been living with this disorder for years without knowing it but it has now spiraled out of control and I need to take care of it. I think I needed everything I've been through so far to happen so that now in this moment I will take this diagnosis seriously and really put everything I have into living my best life with this disorder. I know it's going to be hard and there will be many ups and downs but with help I can figure out what I need to do to achieve the one thing I've always strived for - happiness.


Hi, I’m Mandi and I have bipolar disorder.

Monday, October 10, 2016

World Mental Health Day

📸: Kellie Harley

Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay which is something that over the years I have become very passionate about. I received my first diagnosis 7 years ago but if I would have had the knowledge I do now and if there wasn't such a stigma surrounding mental illness I would have been diagnosed many years earlier. 7 years ago I had no idea what mental health was and how to take care of it. Over the course of these last 7 years I have learned a lot about myself, my mental health, and ways to take care of it that work for me. Along this journey of learning about myself, I have become very passionate about mental health and educating those who, like me, grew up not knowing anything about it.

With everything that I've been through this year I am more passionate than ever about speaking out and educating others on not only my personal experiences but about mental health in general. Mental health is not just for the mentally ill. Much like our physical bodies, everyone needs to take care of their mental health as well. Mental and Physical health come together to create who we are as a whole human. Not all of us have a mental illness but all of us do need to pay attention and take care of our mental state. It is truly just as important as the things you do to take care of yourself physically.

As someone who has mental illnesses, some of which I've shared and some of which I haven't yet, I have learned the hard way how much of an impact mental health can have on you. I have learned how important it is to be aware of. I have learned how important it is to be educated about it. When someone you love is suffering with something that you may not know anything about it is still so important that you be there for them. Reach out, research, try to understand what they might be going through. A good support system is so so SO important.

For me personally I have an amazing support system. I honestly would not be alive today were it not for my core group of people. When you go through something as hard as this you realize just who you can depend on and who is just saying what they think you want to hear. If you feel inadequate to help someone, you aren't. Don't back off and distance yourself, just support and be there for them. When all this started for me my core group knew nothing about the mental illnesses I was dealing with. Some still don't really understand it but they are totally and completely there for me. You never know what reaching out to someone in distress might do. Be there for the people you love. Be present for the people you care about. It makes a world of difference. Trust me, I know.

In summary I guess what I want to say is; to those with mental illnesses - You are not alone. It may feel like you have no one and no one truly understands you but I PROMISE that is not the case. Let others help you. Let others lift you up. It's okay not to be okay. For those of you who don't have a mental illness - You still need to take care of your mental health. It is so very important, don't forget that. For those of you who have someone you are trying to support - You don't need to know everything about the situation to help. Just be a friend, be someone that they can turn to when they are needing someone. Just talk and listen and offer support. You never know when you're saving a life.