Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash “Yes” “No” “Maybe” Three words that I am proud to have in the English dictionary. Three words that I am happy that I have the ability to use, being aware that there are many who are unable to use those words for a variety of reasons. When spending time with a mixed cultural couple, I was able to learn that the French do not have a good word for ‘may...
For me personally, I feel as if every day of every month is revolving around Mental Health as I try to live my best quality of life with Bipolar 1 Disorder. However, we’re lucky that we get a month designated towards celebrating and embracing us living with mental illness!
I want to bring up Mental Health Month because since my diagnosis I’ve learned a lot about the people I can confide in about my mental illness and the people I cannot. I’ve also learned the people who can fully grasp the concept of mental illness and the people who cannot. I’ve told people about my illness and regretted it. I haven’t told people about my illness and some of these people, I spend much of my time with. People have found out about my illness who I wish didn’t know. And people know about my illness who I wish would be more understanding and helpful. I cannot control how people will react to me having Bipolar 1 Disorder, I can only control who I tell and how I try to explain my illness.
As a person dealing with mental illness, being vulnerable and opening up to someone, something that is so difficult, shouldn’t have to be so distressing. But, it truly can be. I’ve been stuck in that place many times.
My best friend, she lives one block away from me in Boston, five hours away from the hometown we grew up in together. We have meals multiple times a week together. We do workout classes together. I do my laundry at her apartment. She has a spare key to my apartment. We talk all day, constantly. We have dinner when our families come up to visit us. We are extremely close yet, she doesn’t know about my illness. She knows bits of the anxiety I deal with. But she doesn’t know about the big things.
Last year, when I was hospitalized at McLean, I told her I was at a retreat for being so stressed and anxious.. not a complete lie. I also told her my psychiatrist signed off on me having time off of work for mental health reasons.. also not a lie. But I can’t tell her that I have Bipolar Disorder because she won’t understand. It would impact our friendship because it would make me feel insecure. I could risk telling her but I don’t think it’s worth it.
I laughed with her and only thought to myself that it is true. I have been in a mental hospital, more than once. I am not offended (anymore) when people make jokes because I’m confident and I know where I stand in my mental health journey. It is mine.
She lived and saw me completely manic last summer. Unfortunately, some people just think that’s normal. I am just acting as the most fun version of myself, the most care-free, the cool tanned summer girl who leaves work midday to go shopping on Newbury Street, dates a ton of boys, goes out for rosé and oysters, never sleeps, is thin as a rail, surviving off oysters and shrimp cocktail, and travels someplace new every weekend.
Last weekend when I was wearing my hair up and messy. I was in a beach cover-up with an oversized fuzzy sweatshirt and therapeutic chunky plastic pool slide sandals that I love, my best friend told me I looked like “I escaped from a mental hospital”.
At that moment, I laughed with her and only thought to myself that it is true. I have been in a mental hospital, more than once. I am not offended (anymore) when people make jokes because I’m confident and I know where I stand in my mental health journey. It is mine. I hold myself accountable to it. It is something personal and something that has taken a journey for me to accept and continue to accept. The comments people make do not hinder how far I’ve come or altered the fact that I do have bipolar disorder. This illness is personal to me and as long as I am on good terms with my illness, I don’t care what other people think about it.
But, I will not tell some people the truth. When my best friend said that comment, I knew I could never expose myself to her because she would not understand. She is very one-dimensionally minded. And that’s okay. There are many people in this world who think that way and who do not grasp the concept of mental illness. To me, it is exhausting, frustrating and can feel embarrassing to try and engrain what it’s like to go through mental illness.
I am an ambassador and I am a warrior of mental health. But that also means putting myself first. It’s ensuring that my health is secure and safe over letting people know that I struggle or letting people know I have struggled.
May is Mental Health Month and to me, that means that I have a healthy relationship with my illness. My relationship may not ensure that I am a viral internet public advocate for breaking the stigma and revealing to people around me that I have an illness. But my relationship is maintaining my health, ensuring that I have control and feel safe.