"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world." - Robin Williams
It's been a little more than a week since Robin Williams lost his battle with mental illness. The news of his death cut through me in a way words can't adequately describe. I haven't be able to stop thinking about him, his disease and the struggle he faced.
I'm bipolar and suffer from acute depression. My highs are really high. My lows are unthinkably low. I've always know something about me was different, but when I started having trouble getting out of bed, when tears soaked my pillow for no clear reason and when as an adult I fantasied of running away from my life ... I knew I had to do something.
I don't know what Robin Williams went through. I'm not sure how he felt. But I do know how the feeling of hopelessness can eat you up, slowly gnawing away at any peace and normalcy you desperately crave. I know what it's like to stare at a darkened ceiling planning your escape from the life you can't fathom living. I know what it's like to have tears pour from your eyes and no idea what's crushing your soul an causing you immense pain and sadness. I know what it's like to be unable to sleep as you flutter through the darkness on a heady high, though manic moments that convince you that you're capable of doing anything you put your mind to.
I have a good life. I have a good family. I have beautiful and amazing children. I have a great education. I have a great job full of adventure and excitement. I have some of the most precious friendships with kindreds across the globe. My life is so good. From the outside, there's nothing that should cause me to be so sad. But that's just it, it's not my life that makes me sad. It's my mental illness that does. I have a disease and that disease makes my heart hurt, the tears flow, the frustration bubble, the manic moments fly by ... But it's a disease, just like diabetes, cancer or high blood pressure.
Why am I sharing this little secret about myself, you might ask? It's simple: if one person reads this and feels less alone, then it's worth it. If one person reads this and feels less shame, then it's worth it. If one person reads this and asks for help, then it's worth it. It's taken me nearly 40 years to be comfortable with who I am and it's time I used my voice + story to help those around me. It's scary to "let it all hang out." There are people who read this blog who don't know me in real life. They might very well judge me. Some of my co-workers and business colleagues read this blog. They might very well judge me. Heck, my family reads this blog and they might be embarrassed or ashamed of my coming out. So be it. I'm will not let shame dictate the choices I make and neither should you. You are more than your mental illness. And you deserve to speak your truth.
I'm not a professional when it comes to treating mental health issues. I would never profess to know everything about it. What I do know, is what works for me.
I take medication. Over the years, I've gone on and off medication to treat my illness. My doctor tells me this is very common with bi-polars. When you're feeling great, you feel like you don't need your meds. As soon as you go off them then you spiral out of control. I've done this, and I know now that I can never do it again. Just like high blood pressure, this is a disease I'll deal with for the rest of my life, which means I'll be taking my meds even when I feel awesome (like I do now). I also use alternative methods, such as acupuncture and essential oils, which have proven to be super healthful.
I've built a team to help me. I have a psychiatrist and I see him every three months. These regular check ups allow me to check in with him and myself. We chat about how I'm feeling; how life has been going; and how my medications are working. We make changes as needed. I also have family and a few friends who know my whole story. These are people I can lean on and turn to in my time of need.
I practice flow activities. I seek out opportunities to loose myself in activities that take me out of my head and out of my life. Painting and creating are flow activities for me. I pour myself into them and nothing else exists while I'm in creative flow. It allows my mind to take a break and I connect to something beautiful and peaceful.
I exercise. I don't love exercise and even though I do it almost every single day, I still don't love it. However, I often joke that exercise "keeps my crazy at bay." And in all seriousness, it does. Moving my body and working up a sweat are incredibly therapeutic. Everyone benefits when I exercise, as I'm calmer and more focused.
I fill my mind and body with goodness. For me a wandering mind can bring dark thoughts. I make a point of keeping myself busy and filling my mind with goodness. I read a ton. I listen to podcasts. I seek out things that are interesting and uplifting. In the same vein, I watch what I eat. I follow a gluten free diet and try to eat a minimal amount of processed food. For me, garbage in equals garbage out. So I'm thoughtful as to what goes in my mouth and mind.
I set goals. If I don't have something to work toward, I can get lost in the chaos of life. Setting regular goals has helped me to look forward and not wallow in mistakes and sadness. Right now, Mike and I are training for the Tucson Half Marathon in December. We also set a goal to read 50 books on 2014. Those sorts of goals help me stay focused and I take small steps to achieve them each day.
I write. I write to work out my feelings. I write to tell stories. I write to connect to others. I write to purge myself of the yuck when it starts to simmer and bubble over. I write because it makes me happy. I write because it sets me free.
You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. -Robin Williams
There was a time that I was ashamed of my disease. I was embarrassed I wasn't like everyone else. I no longer carry shame with me. My story may not be ideal and it may be a tough story, but I'm not broken and I have value in this world. I suffer from a disease that will not define me. Instead, I focus on my truths: I'm a good mother. I'm a great wife. I'm a hard worker. I'm a loyal friend. I'm a creative soul who loves paint, paper and words.
I'm proud of the woman I have become. I've lived a full and good life thus far, and will continue to thrive as I manage my health and illness. I'd be lying if I said I don't have bad days. I do. There are days I crawl back into bed and can't for the life of me figure out why I feel so miserable. But those are the days that I'm constantly reminding myself "Hold on, the light will come."
If you're struggling, hold on. The light will come. Reach out. Ask for help. Know that you matter and though your struggle is hard, it can get better. It's hard work, but you are worth the work.