What is the best experience you’ve have had since you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness?
We always hear about the negative side of mental illness. What went wrong in our lives. What bad things we did. I want to focus on the good. There is a good side to these illnesses. As much as can go wrong, so much good can be gained from them. So, yes, even I will start with the bad, but only emphasize the good the has happened.
For me, I would have to say my good experience has been finding my courage and my voice. For some reason, after my diagnosis I really started to see, unfortunately first hand, how those of us with a mental illness can be so mistreated and feared. I lost friends of my children because the parents didn’t understand. I lost out on jobs. I was treated just appallingly in ER’s when I would try to seek help. I almost lost my family due to lack of education and understanding of my illness.
It did take a few years of hiding (and I was very good at hiding), but I finally found my strength. I finally started to see that having Bipolar Disorder was not necessarily the end of me. It didn’t have to be that way. I could change that. I thought, if I could change my view of the illness, well then why couldn’t I help other people change theirs? So, I began to share my story. This was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life. I had no idea how it would be received. I was surprised to find the amount of support that I did. Yes, there were the occasional ignorant comments, but I learned to just ignore those. There more positive reactions to my story than I ever thought possible. I had people come up to me that had lost someone to suicide and thank me for sharing. They said my story helped them gain a glimpse into what their loved one may have been going through. It gave them a little bit of understanding and said it would help them in their healing process. That was HUGE for me. I had no idea my story could do that for someone. The more people came up to me, the more I knew that what I was doing was making a difference. I remember sharing my story at a military base. For some reason, I was just more nervous than usual that day. After I was done, a soldier pulled me aside and told me that he had been feeling suicidal. He hadn’t said anything to anyone because he didn’t think they’d understand and he thought he was alone in this. After hearing me speak, he realized that he wasn’t alone and wanted to get help. We talked for a bit. I gave him my number in case he ever found himself in that place again and needed to talk to someone who had been there. I also gave him some resources he could go to off base. I saw him at another event later in the year and he told me that he was getting help and really felt like he was going to make it. Again, the power of sharing your story is amazing. I was almost so nervous that day that I didn’t get up and speak. I am so thankful that I did.
So, it’s not just through sharing my story that I have found confidence, I have also found confidence and a voice in working with my legislators, both local and national. I feel as though Congress is just now starting to understand the severity of the mental health care situation. They just lack the first hand knowledge of it to really know if any of the bills they are proposing will work in the real world. So, I am more than happy to meet with them, share my story, my experiences, those experiences of others (with permission) to inform them, to help shape legislation. If you would have told me about 10 years ago that I’d get such a high because I had a personal meeting with a congressional member, I would have said “You must be smoking wacky weed”. I never really had much interest or faith in politics, but I’ve seen first hand what the power of a story and a voice can do. It is possible to make a difference on a legislative level. Sure, you’ll run into the ones that are only out to make a name for themselves and really don’t care about the subject, but there are those gems that do care. They may still be out to make a name for themselves, but in the end as long as the right legislation is passed…well it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.
I would really like to hear from you on this post. I want to start a positive chain of events for mental illness. People need to see and hear about the good that is being achieved by through those of us with mental illness. Let’s stop dwelling on the negative and start focusing on the positive and what we can do.