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I had always considered myself to be in pretty good mental health, but it wasn't until I was diagnosed with a mental illness that I saw how I could be doing more. I ticked all the self-care boxes: I did face masks, listened to soothing music, did yoga, and collected a lot of plants. But while these things may have been enough for someone else, they weren't enough for me because I have a mental illness. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain.
It's not that I was totally neglecting my mental health. But I wasn't spending as much time as I should have. Now, I go to a therapist and psychiatrist once a month and take time off work when I can. I used to feel guilty for needing mental health days or leaving work to go to therapy appointments, because these things seemed superfluous. Needing them made me feel week. But mental health is real, and it took my manic episode to make me realize that.
We are all different. For so long, I compared what I was doing to others and thought, "I'm doing enough." Just like we all spend time on our physical health, it would be wise for all of us to spend time on our mental health, whether we have a formal diagnosis or not. You never know what could be brewing beneath the surface.
When it comes to mental health, we need to start with ourselves. If you feel consistently in a depressed mood or have trouble functioning, consider talk therapy. It's been extremely helpful for me. It's hard to get in the right mindset for therapy because it can be exhausting work to have to confront your emotions and work on yourself.
Now I understand that if I had wanted to be a better mental health advocate, I would have tried harder to educate myself about the impact mental illness. It's not just what happens chemically in the brain, it's everything in your life that those chemical imbalances affect: your relationships, your emotional state, your ability to function the way you know you could. I question what's real and what's my illness. I'm starting to know fear and apprehension that something will go wrong at any moment. Like, I'm terrified that I'll enter psychosis and lose touch with reality. Or what if something goes wrong in my brain, like something flips, and it's never the same again? What if I never come out of this depressive episode?
Bipolar didn't "happen" to me. I was already living with it before. Even though I only half believe it, I have been telling myself that being diagnosed with bipolar was one of the best things I could have hoped for. Why? Because I can finally get treatment for something that's been bothering me most of my life.
But it's more than that. Being diagnosed with bipolar was the push I needed to really prioritize my mental health. I had always thought my feelings of depression and anxiety were normal, because so many people I knew experienced them too. I told myself that my problems were small in comparison. I never considered that I might actually have a mental illness. I wasn't depressed, I was just sad. I wasn't anxious, I was just nervous.
It's especially hard to spot mental illness if you're high-functioning. I got my Master's degree and started my first job when I was in the lowest of my lows. During that time, I did start talk therapy and went for about four months. I truly believe that if I hadn't gone to talk therapy and learned to deal with some of my emotions and anxieties, my manic episode would have gone a lot worse.
I wasn't that surprised when I found out I had bipolar, once I learned more about what bipolar actually is. Through media portrayals, I had the wrong impression; I thought bipolar meant you had two distinct personalities, one crazy side and one normal side. While it kind of seems that way sometimes, it just means I go through mood swings, which can vary in intensity.
I wasn't surprised because looking back at my life, my cycle of depression and mania made perfect sense. Even though there were several clues that my feelings of anxiety and depression weren't necessarily normal, I never considered the possibility that there could be something chemically wrong in my brain. I continued to push myself at work and in life. I had strict rules for myself and a massive to-do list that organized every aspect of my day, right down to what I was eating for each meal and when I was going to do my laundry next. I took on more than I could handle.
I'm glad that things happened the way that they did. I've heard many people with bipolar are mistakenly diagnosed with depression and put on the wrong medication for years. So I can be grateful that I received my bipolar diagnosis right off the bat.
The thing is, we can all benefit from some self-care and put more effort into taking care of our mental health, whether or not we have a mental illness. Just like we check in with our physical health, we must also prioritize our mental health as well.
Even though I'm still working on accepting how bipolar will alter the course of my life, I can be grateful for one thing: my diagnosis has forced me to confront and work on my own mental health.
© if you know you grow 2023.