“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. – Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher is a hero for those of us with mental illness. She was open about her life and struggles and victories and helped people understand manic-depression. She helped people empathize. She educated others even though it was never her job to do so. She voluntarily put herself out there, risked judgement and bullying, so that others may never have to face stigma. Thanks to her and others like her, the raging stigma that has caused so much harm is finally lessening. I owe her a huge debt, not only for myself but for my daughters, both of whom live with mental illness.
*TW* bipolar, depression, eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, rape
I am bipolar. I don’t talk about it. Maybe I should. Maybe I should be as open as Carrie Fisher about my mental illness. Not maybe…should. I should be more open. I’ve talked about my depression but never my mania, never about being bipolar 1. In a future post, I’ll describe in more detail what it’s like living with manic-depression. For this post though, I want to thank Carrie Fisher by telling her and the world about three people with mental illness (me and my girls) who owe her much thanks: who we are, what we’ve overcome, and all that we’ve accomplished.
Why talk about our accomplishments? Because one of the stigmas people with mental illness face is that we are less-than, that we are incapable, that we are worth less than those who don’t have mental illness. I assure you, this isn’t the case. Maybe this insight into our worlds will help others understand. Maybe it will invite empathy. Maybe it will show anyone who doubts the potential and worth of those with mental illness, that we are amazing individuals who live great lives and accomplish incredible things, and deserve respect and an end to the stereotypes and stigma that try to misportray or limit us.
What is it like living with bipolar 1?
I take medication and have been stable for many years. When I wasn’t on medication, my mood was far from stable. At the start of a manic cycle, thoughts raced through my head. My words couldn’t come out fast enough. I could write for sixteen hours straight at lightning speed or clean the entire house, do all the yardwork, wash and wax every car we owned, and still feel driven to do more. Someone needed some volunteer or charity work done? I would volunteer or charity-ify until I collapsed.
As the manic cycle proceeded, my racing thoughts would lose cohesion and become thought-salads. Ideas would jump around in spastic starts and stops. My over-the-top energy, once productive, would become problematic. I’d find myself in the gym trying to lift waaaaay more than was safe, or doing hundreds upon hundreds of repetitions until I gave myself a wicked case of subacromial bursistis. Or I’d find myself racing down steep hills on my bike, oblivious to the danger. I, grown ass woman, would try to climb to the top of trees just to feel the thrill. I’d wake in the middle of the night and decide, much to the neighbors’ dismay, that NOW IS THE PERFECT TIME TO VACCUUM OUT MY CAR. My concentration evaporated. My appetite evaporated. All that existed was ACTION. ACTION NOW. My attention darted from one shiny object or idea to the next. I craved excitement, danger. And that craving often got me into trouble. I was out of control. Mania controlled me. And then meds came along and the mania settled. I no longer have manic episodes and I’m thankful for that.
When manic, I was pretty much the same person inside: empathic, a caregiver, generally happy, creative, a people-pleaser. I didn’t become a Jekyll and Hyde. I wasn’t mean or nasty or hurtful. I was quite fun to be around, or so I’m told.
I was, however, driven to irresponsible and compulsive actions. I put myself in stupid or dangerous situations.
What have I, as someone with bipolar 1, accomplished?
I’ve graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science.
I graduated with honors from University of Colorado with a Masters of Science in Kinesiology.
I taught a course at the University of Colorado.
I’ve worked in research laboratories, taught fitness classes, and worked in physical therapy.
I’ve written seven books, the first of which will be published this year by Glass House Press. Yay!
I’ve made and sold my art in various forms.
I’ve painted murals (many gratuitous).
I’ve made and kept beautiful friendships.
I’ve volunteered as a mentor to children in need.
I’ve volunteered for Mobie Loaves and Fishes, serving meals to homeless people.
I’ve volunteered at schools.
And I’ve been a great mom and a great wife.
My eldest daughter:
What is it like living with a severe eating disorder, depression, and anxiety?
From observation, I can tell you it is hell. My daughter has been in eight different mental health facilities in eight years. Her body is covered in self-inflicted scars. She has nearly lost her life on multiple occasions.
What has my eldest daughter, as someone with multiple mental illnesses accomplished?
She graduated near the top of her class in high school.
She was accepted into the University of Texas (which only accepts the top 7% of graduates)
She has worked at several jobs, always putting her all into the job.
She has volunteered at Mobile Loaves and Fishes, serving food to homeless people.
She’s been a model but has decided to forego that as a career because it is not a healthy profession for her.
She has a steady boyfriend and plans for her future.
Her artwork has been displayed at the city level.
She is a caring, loving, and generous person and beloved by many.
My youngest daughter:
Lives with depression and PTSD after being raped two years ago.
What is it like living with depression and PTSD?
As an observer, I can tell you it is hell. I’m not sure I can explain the horror and pain.
What has my youngest daughter who lives with depression and PTSD accomplished?
She graduated valedictorian of her graduating high school class.
She has been the leader of several organizations on her high school campus.
She is attending a prestigious university.
She excels at math.
She has worked several jobs, and is always admired by her bosses.
She has a close-knit group of friends and is beloved by many.
So there you go, three people with mental illness who are doing awesome things in the world and who are, in no way, to be stigmatized. Yep, I feel a little weird shouting myself out but I’m taking a lesson from Carrie Fisher and letting the world know:
I have mental illness and so do my daughters and we’ve all been through the darkest of hell and back and guess what? We’re strong af and the world is better for us being here!
Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for giving me the courage to say that.
I love you and I am grateful you graced this world with your light. I hope I make you proud.
“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.” – Carrie Fisher
A not-so-great picture of one of the murals I’ve painted. But I love the message: never, never, never give up.
Another not-so-great picture of a mural I’ve painted (replete with dried food on the plexiglass because the mural is in an Elementary School cafeteria). 😀
But the seal seems happy despite the dried food (maybe BECAUSE of it) so I wanted to post it. Hey, maybe Happy Seal is telling us something profound – maybe we should all try to be like Happy Seal – no matter what life flings at us, find our happiness.
Then again, maybe it’s kinda gross, splatted, dried cafeteria tortureloaf or something.
Either way, much love to you,