Friday, May 4, 2018

Guest Post #4 - Bipolar Disorder - By Becky of www.thatbword.com

1. My first memories of being "different" are from my very early life.  During grade school, I didn't get along very well with the other children, and was often ostracized.  I think it was because of how intensely I reacted to things.  I would often become angry or cry at the slightest provocation.  My home life was similarly affected - my mother and I would have epic fights.  My sisters and I would have epic fights.  My father - well, there was no fighting with my father.  Only stern words and tears.  I can't say for sure any of this was symptomatic of mental illness, but I do remember being shopped around to doctors and therapists.  They were trying to find out why I was so angry, I think.  We stopped going when talk of medication entered the picture.   I'm not sure what diagnosis, if any, I was given at the time. I only remember my mother saying that one doctor had called me manipulative and that we were never going back.

In my late teens I started exhibiting signs of mania - I would laugh without being able to stop, have so much energy I literally bounced down the hallway.  Even then I was extremely sensitive to criticism.  In college, I experienced debilitating depression in my first semester.  I left school soon after. 

2. I didn't have much support, but that doesn't mean that I didn't have people who would have supported me.  I didn't tell my parents about any of my symptoms - if I even recognized them as such.  I don't think I did.  I didn't seek treatment immediately, or even soon.  It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and even then it took a hospitalization and a severe mixed manic episode to get me to a therapist.

3.  Is it fair to say everything?  My younger self was woefully uninformed about mental health and about the associated risks and behaviors. To begin with, I would talk to my high school self and tell her that it's ok to talk to people about how you feel.  So many issues could have been avoided (or maybe lessened) if I wasn't scared of telling people what was going on in my head.  I'd also try to inform myself of the symptoms of depression and mania.  Maybe most importantly, I'd tell myself to tell my parents, that they won't be angry or disappointed.  They just want to help.

4.  Every once in a while I will let a friend know that I'm diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  More than once, I've heard, "but you're so normal" (not always, though). What were you expecting?  I ask.  Inevitably the answer is, "well, I don't know."  People have a vague idea of what "crazy" looks like - bashing heads against walls, screaming, running in fear of some imagined assailant.  When they learn that someone with mental illness looks more or less like them, I think it scares some people.  It's that fear that really perpetuates a lot of the stigma around mental illness.  "But I'm not like them," some say.  They'll go to amazing lengths to prove that to themselves.

5.  There have been positive steps made in the past few years.  The stigma remains, though.  Even though depression and anxiety seem to have been, to a large extent, de-stigmatized, other mental illnesses like Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder are still feared and rejected.  There has been some media that brings these types of disorders to light (like Silver Linings Playbook, for example), but the extent to which these have been successful at De-stigmatizing mental illness is debatable.  The more these  illnesses are portrayed, the better dialogue we can create to educate people on what it really means to live with a mental illness.  That's the best way to lessen stigma - movies and songs are all very well and good, but an open conversation about mental illness is the best way to get rid of the stigma we still face.

6.  How do I get through the bad days?  Any way I can.  I don't say that to be flippant, either.  Some coping skills work on some days and not on others.  The most frequently used tools in my kit are visualization and mindfulness.  Mindfulness is far to complicated to really get into here, but there are some great books that can help toward that end, particularly Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat Zinn.  That 's the first book on the subject I read, and it helped me quite a bit.  Sometimes, the best thing I can do is allow myself the time to let it pass without guilt or judgment.  It sounds like it should be easy, but it's anything but. Like mindfulness, it takes practice.  Slowly, I've gone from 98% guilt on days that I can't work to about 35%.  I doubt I'll ever get to zero, but it gets a little better every time I try. 

7.  There are a few mental health related projects I have my hands in right now.  My favorite is my podcast, That B Word.  With it, I try to raise awareness about different issues that affect the mental health community, from the intersection of mental health and law to having guests on to share their personal stories with mental illness. I hope that by giving people the platform to share we can help lessen the stigma of mental illness.   I also have two other podcasts in the works.  One is a fictional podcast about mental health related topics.  The other is a round table-type discussion regarding our favorite mental health creators.  We're not ready to go fully public - yet - but we're working hard to get there. 
I also blog at my website, www.thatbword.com.
8.  I can be found on Twitter @thatbword1 or @b_word_becky, on Facebook (sometimes) @thatbwordpod and on Pinterest at thatbwordpodcast.  People can also email me at becky@thatbword.com!

Thanks so much for doing this, Rebecca!  It's a great idea for Mental Health Month.  Can't wait to read them!

Guest Post #14 - Mental Health Awareness Month - Dr. Jason Holland of Lifespark

About the Author: Jason M. Holland, Ph.D., currently serves as the CEO and Editor of Lifespark , an online well-being magazine focuse...