When I look back on my life, I can see growth. I’ve changed in many ways, growing stronger, understanding myself better. That growth has not come easily. It took a lot of work on my part but there was also help from others – friends, family and doctors – and some divine intervention, I'm sure. Some people are surprised that someone with a severe mental illness can actually have a life. It shouldn’t be surprising. The sad part is it shouldn’t even be unusual. I think we all have the ability to overcome. There are just some things we need to do.
Don’t Give Up
The first thing to do is make a decision (and remake it as often as you have to) to not give up. Nothing will change if you give up. Decide that as much as the pain drives you to want to quit, as much as the medication side effects drive you to despair, as much as the judgmental attitudes you face drive you down, you won’t give up. I think discouragement is a major factor in undermining one’s quality of life. It’s so hard to stay on meds when you WANT the mania. As destructive as it is, that feeling of euphoria is so enticing. It’s hard to choose the flat affect that comes from meds even if you know it will keep you from the major crash that comes after the high. It’s discouraging to think you’ll lead a life of mediocrity instead of the exceptional creativity that can come from mania. It’s all a lie of course. The mania that feels so good has the potential to damage everyone around you. And then, of course, there’s the depression. When you’re in the midst of the depression it’s hard to ever think you’ll see the sun again. The waves of despair roll over you until you can’t catch your breath. I get it. It's discouraging. The medications the doctors promise will fix everything come at a price. I won’t go into all the side effects. You know which ones you have to battle, which ones make you want to throw the bottle in the garbage. So, now that I’ve given you all the reasons to want to give up, I’m going to tell you not to give up. Not because it’s easy. Not because it’s magical. Just because it’s your only chance to have the life you want.
Advocate for Yourself
I’ve been so blessed with good doctors. Doctors who listen to me. Doctors who believe in me. I know there’s a lot of us with mental illness who don’t have that. If that’s the case, if your doctor isn’t working with you, advocate for yourself or enlist someone who can advocate for you. If you can find a new, better doctor, great. If your medical plan doesn’t offer options, speak up. Let the doctor know what the meds are doing to you and why you need something different. When I was diagnosed 30 years ago, there weren’t a lot of options. Now there are. There are different medications. There are different treatments. There’s exercise and diet. There’s alternative medicine. I’m not advocating a single path; I’m saying speak up for what you need to get better. Don’t be afraid to combine treatments. Diet, exercise and the right med combo can work miracles. Speak up and make sure your voice is heard.
Finally, learn what assistance is available in your community and use it. If you have supportive family, ask for help. If you don’t have family, find an advocate. Connect with a church, a community group, or state resources. If you don’t know where to start, call the crisis line. Get online and just start googling. Find out what your options are and then use them.
So, what do you do if you can barely get out of bed? It’s going to be hard, really hard, but you need to start somewhere. Call the crisis line, find a support group, reach out. Know that you CAN do this. You CAN reclaim your life. I believe in you; please, believe in yourself.