There are many reasons accepting a diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder is difficult. Not the least of which, is accepting that I have a mental illness.
But here’s the thing… Mentally ill isn’t the same as bad.
When we read or hear the term mentally ill in the media, it’s often attached to people who commit heinous acts. Which is valid. A mentally healthy person doesn’t go on a shooting rampage, or harm a child.
But most people suffering a mental illness don’t either.
Many people experience mental illness, like depression or anxiety, at some point in life. Of those, there is a significant number of people – people like me – who develop a condition that requires long-term treatment.
We’re far more likely to become a danger to ourselves than we are to harm others.
But to admit I’m being treated for a mental illness is to run the risk of suspicion.
Melinda? Oh, she’s the crazy one, right?
Not only will some people doubt me, some may blame me.
If I had type 1 diabetes, you wouldn’t blame my malfunctioning pancreas on a moral lack or weakness of character. You could reasonably get upset with me if I refused my insulin. You’d likely encourage me to watch my sugar intake, and eat healthy, maybe even exercise. But since my problem is rooted in a malfunctioning brain, you’re more likely to think I’m at fault.
I can’t fix the glitch in my brain.
Like someone with diabetes, however, I can take responsibility for being as healthy as possible.
There’s no cure for type 1 diabetes or bipolar 2, but both can be managed.
No one can be their healthiest if they don’t approach health in all its aspects. Humans aren’t one-dimensional. Effective treatment for mental illness isn’t, either.
So, don’t judge me, but encourage me to make healthy choices.
Whatever your opinion of antidepressants and other psychiatric medications (I’ll even give you mine: They’re overprescribed; yet too many people who need them don’t get them, or at least don’t get the right ones), I need to take mine. Every day. Lamotrigine helps keep me alive, because it helps me tolerate my existence by keeping the blackest darkness at bay.
Physical. The physical aspect of treating and managing mental illness is important. If you’re my friend, and I start talking about going off medication, question me. Encourage me to eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, drink enough water, and get myself outside into fresh air and sunshine.
How we care for our body affects how well our minds work.
Social. So, you’re my friend, right? Sometimes you’ll have to accept that I need space. I need time alone, and time to process my thoughts and emotions. But if you notice me getting withdrawn, don’t let me isolate. I didn’t say I’m easy to love. But is it ever easy to maintain a healthy relationship?
We’re designed to live in community, not isolation.
Mental. If you’ve never struggled with anxiety or depression, you don’t know what it’s like to be unable to stop the negative, crippling thoughts that repeat, repeat, repeat. The best way to deal with them is to catch and stop them early, before they’re on endless repeat.
We need to think about what you’re thinking about.
Spiritual. God created us. He knows what’s best for us. When I fix my mind and heart on His Truth, I recognize oppressive thoughts as lies. You’re worthless. You’ll never get it right. You’re pathetic. There’s no hope. They’d be better off without you. Nope, that’s not what the Bible says about me.
We’re wired to worship; let’s choose where we focus our time and attention wisely.
Emotional. Life hurts sometimes. It can also be exhilarating. There are things that should make us angry. Whether we like it or not, obviously we don’t, things annoy us. But is the reaction out of line with the circumstance? Good or bad, feelings can lie.
We need to let ourselves feel the very real, necessary emotions of life, but never let our feelings control us.
So, what am I asking from you?
Don’t make assumptions. Get educated about my YOUR loved one’s diagnosis and symptoms and help him or her make the healthiest choices.
Don’t ever base anyone’s worth on a diagnosis or label.
For more about stigma, and healthy choices, check out some of my other Defying Shadows posts:
Melinda VanRy writes about mental illness and faith on her Fruit of Brokenness blog. She wants everyone to know they have inestimable worth, though she often fails to believe it for herself. Bouts of severe depression have nearly destroyed her but instead make her stronger and give her a desire to help others who struggle with mental illness and faith as she does. Melinda lives in New York with her husband, their three kids, and more cats than she ever wanted. If you’re thinking big city, don’t. The VanRy family makes their home in rural Central New York. Way closer to Canada than New York City. And not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.