mental health: from shame to seeking help – intro – bipolar

I have an announcement: I’m bipolar.

I almost used the word ‘confession’, but that has a strong connotation of admitting wrongdoing. Bipolar II is not a wrongdoing, or even shameful. Well, it sort of is shameful, but it shouldn’t be.
There is a stigma against admitting you have a mental illness, like it’s something that should only be talked about in whispers, behind closed doors; check over your shoulder. I think it’s especially bad in conservative Christian circles, where people talk as though faith in God, repentance, and choosing to be happy are all you need to be mentally healthy – like it’s really all in the head and the spirit, except for maybe a few people with really severe problems.

But mental illness is real, it’s commoner than we want to believe, and it won’t de-stigmatize itself. We have to talk about it, and we have to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help.
So, yes, I’m bipolar. That’s one, currently large, aspect of my always complex personality.

After what has probably been (in retrospect) a lifetime of intermittent depression, and several years of especially poor mental and physical health, I finally started medication and therapy last month. Both my therapist and my medication NP think I present bipolar II, and I had already wondered that myself for years, ever since I first heard it talked about in an open way that didn’t make me think ‘bipolar people are locked up for being dangerous’.
I had been ‘down and stressed’ (aka in denial about a serious depression) for awhile at that point, when my very nice Rhetoric teacher had us workshop an essay she wrote about being bipolar. This was the first time I thought, Maybe I’m not just doing life wrong. If Dr. R can be bipolar and have a job teaching, maybe I also have a mental illness.

I felt both more alive and more guilty than ever, like it was prideful to consider dumping the idea that I was just a really bad Christian.

I still had years of stigma to overcome, and years of unhealthy guilty feelings and bad ‘biblical’ teachings until I was finally ready to seek professional help, but I feel that my journey to healing began when I first allowed myself the thought, I might be mentally ill. This might be depression, which seems to exist after all.

Depression is real, bipolar disorder is real, mental illness is real, and there is help.
I’m not healthy yet — but I’m finally getting help. It’s a big step.

I’m going to do a short series about my journey from doubting mental illness was real, to finally getting help.
I hope it will be helpful for people with depression and for people who love someone with depression and wonder why they don’t just go to a doctor; there may be more to it than you know.
If you’re having trouble because of the stigma against seeking help for mental illness, then I hope that sharing my journey will help you reach a place where you are also able to seek help, or that it will at least be another voice saying ‘you are not alone – we are here’. The more voices there are, the more chance we have of breaking through the clouds.

mental health series – links added as posted:

26 thoughts on “mental health: from shame to seeking help – intro – bipolar

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  3. workingwithwords

    I’m write here with you, Lana ;o) Still resurfacing from a very long major depressive episode, one strong enough to make me think way too frequently about suicide as one (or even the only) option. Contacted a psychiatrist about two months ago, and finally accepted that I am mentally ill. I am. I suffer from ‘chronic major depression’ and anxiety (my psychiatrist’s loose diagnosis at this point) and have been for most of my 38 years.

    I am taking an antidepressant, as well as anti-anxiety and sleeping pills. Until recently, I felt that the first antidepressant tried (tricyclic) was no better than a placebo, but recently I’ve had a lot of energy which I can use to do useful things, such as running, swimming, gardening, performing well at work, etc. But spring also only arrived rcently, and I significantly improved my diet from what it had been over the winter months, so it’s hard to say what effect the anti-depressant has had. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for not feeling completely empty and listless every day, even if I don’t feel this elusive ‘happiness”; for now, I’ll settle for stable.

    I can’t relate on the Christian stuff, however. I hope you’ll understand and agree to disagree on religion. I was raised Catholic, but saw a lot of hypocrisy at a young age and had moved on from religion in general. That said, the Catholic guilt that was instilled in me (Christ died because I’m a terrible sinner from the moment I’m born, like the rest of humankind). It’s strange, I can rationaly/objectively scrutinize the religion and decide there’s nothing there for me, but the guilt you learn as a child, that’s hard to get rid of.

    However, the guilt and shame I’ve felt most of my life may also only have been due to the frequent bouts of depression I’ve been having for more than 20 years.

    Anyway, I’ll be following you to see how your battle goes, and you may want to check mine out to see what’s up (or down) with me.

    Take care :o)

    1. lanamhobbs Post author

      ‘write here’ – heh heh, that’s punny 🙂
      actually it sounds like you CAN relate to the christian stuff – i wasn’t particularly clear in this post, but i’ve recently left the church, and then left christianity behind. of course, i can’t leave it completely behind, as it is so very much a part of my upbringing and thinking. like you i’ve scrutinized the religion and left it, but the guilt is difficult to shake :/ sometimes i find myself completely back in that mindset.
      Actually, leaving christianity (especially the brand i grew up with) was a large part, for me, of being able to get professional help (so much ‘pray away depression’ stuff). i don’t think it has to be that way, but it was for me. There’s a lot more going on with me and faith than just the depression/prayer stuff too, that made me leave.

      I’m really glad you aren’t in the dark depression anymore – i hope you can continue to get healthier, but i know it isn’t an easy road. Spring helped lift a bit of my depression, i’m glad i have a long while til winter again 🙂 (okay, but secretly dreading it even though it is so far. reminding myself i have a ton of appointments and meds between now and then).
      Lana 🙂

      1. workingwithwords

        Thanks for the encouraging response, Lana. I appreciate it.

        I just wrote a small post on my reactivated running and nutrition blog on Sunday after a long run. Kind of relates to you point about dreading winter.

        The idea is simple: in running long distances, which is one way of building up mental strength for future battles, I’ve learned to conserve or stock up on energy on the flats and downhill portions because there will always be some big uphill battles ahead and you don’t want to be too exhausted before you face them; rather, you want to be strong and ready to conquer them.

        Just knowing what to prepare for helps, I think.

        I want to find a good deal on snowshoes this spring/summer, to make sure I don’t sit on my ass all winter again. That really must’ve contributed to my depression. I love snow, but it sucks if you don’t put it to some use. I want to start snowshoeing and maybe doing some winter backpacking in the mountains up in northern Japan.

        Anyhoo, here’s the link to my other very important blog:

      2. lanamhobbs Post author

        That’s interesting, about running and conserving energy. I tend to expend energy whenever I have it so I go into depression burnt out. Sometimes as soon as I get better I try to get back to ‘normal’. Maybe I should think more like a runner.
        I’m not really interested in running itself though. Hurts my knees :/ , but I am exercising again. They say it really helps with depression. I oughta get access to an indoor pool this coming winter (pools are great for low impact workouts and also for not sweating, haha) because exercise would probably help me get through winter more easily. Plus it would make me feel special to swim in the winter.

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