Fighting the Stigma

Because I have my undergrad degree in psychology, I’ve always pushed to end the stigma attached to having a mental disorder.  It’s something I will argue about with people with no hesitation.  The brain is an organ just like the kidneys, why can’t it get sick too?  Why do we look down on those that are depressed and tell them, “just get over it.  Why can’t you see the good in things?  Just be happy!” and things to that effect.  I logically understand that it is a holdover from previous decades and not understanding the human brain nor it’s disabilities.  But it can still be infuriating to someone who not only suffers from a mental disorder, but has an education in it as well (all be it a small one in the scheme of things).

Then I admitted myself to the psych ward.  I voluntarily checked myself into the loony bin, and not for an experiment like Nelly Bly did (check her out, her investigative journalism really shocked the world of mental health:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Days_in_a_Mad-House).  I was diagnosed with bipolar II, not just a simple depression/anxiety thing which I believe is a lot easier for people to swallow, if still stigmatized.  Well shit, what now?  How do I go about living with this, in more than a logistics way?  Do I hide it?  Do I only tell certain people?  With my open views on mental health, do I shout it to the world?  What will the repercussions be to myself and those I love?  What about gun control and the conversations involving us “crazies” now?  How will that affect me?

For the first few weeks, I was extremely tight lipped about my diagnosis.  I didn’t tell anyone but my family and close friends.  I felt like a total hypocrite.  How can I say everyone ELSE needs to be open about their diagnosis, but not do that myself?  I had already begun working on my book about being in the hospital but planned on using a pen-name, so my family wouldn’t be harmed if I was ever able to publish.  The cognitive dissonance was astounding and hurt my head.  I couldn’t reconcile the two.  So, I decided that I was going to blog.  That way I could practice and hone my writing “skills” as well as be open about what was happening to me.  I’m so glad I did.  I am sure I will feel negative repercussions for this other than Connor questioning me about privacy the first day I posted and my dear friend G calling to warn me.

I truly hope that I can, in some small way, help end some of the stigma of bipolar.  I still catch myself when asked, hesitating to say what’s happening to me.  I will choke on the words but spit them out nonetheless.  I have got to.  I can’t lie to myself and others about something as simple as a chemical imbalance (they think, as far as I’ve seen, they don’t know precisely why it happens).  The brain and psychology are still a very young science.  When I do say that I have bipolar, I make sure to not specify bipolar II for a few reasons.  One is that most don’t KNOW that there are two distinct types of Bipolar.  Another reason is that it just doesn’t matter.  I have the disorder, I’m admitting it, it doesn’t matter which.  One more reason is that bipolar II, for those that know about it, is seen as the more “mild” form of bipolar, which isn’t true.  Yes, the mania is much more mild (called hypomania), but the depressive episodes are MUCH deeper than Bipolar I, which makes it just as intense, but in a different area.

Sometimes I will refer people to read my blog, which feels a lot like a shameless plug for views.  Even though I only get a very small amount of views, I do want more.  I want more people to see what it’s like to live through the disorder.  I want as many people who DON’T have bipolar to see that we are just the same as you, we just have to fight our brains every day.  That’s not scary to you.  We (for the most part) aren’t scary or dangerous, though there are some that are.  Not all mental health sufferers will be dangerous.  With millions of people diagnosed with some type of illness, it’s such a small percent of us that do become violent or dangerous to others in some way.  Mostly we are self-harming.  Mostly.

Shameless self-plug ahead.  If you’ve ever thought about sharing this blog, please do.  I want to help others in any way I can.  If that means putting my whole life out there, then so be it.  My existence doesn’t feel worth it if I don’t make some small impact, in some small way.  I think this is the way I was supposed to make my impact.  Let others know they are not alone.  They are seen.  So, share away!  It’s an easy link to remember, Enterbipolar.com.  Think of the Metallica song “enter sandman” except with bipolar.  That’s what I stole the name from (fun fact!), as well as from Hamilton the musical, “So there will be a revolution in this century, Enter me! He says in parenthesis.”  Hopefully that’ll help you remember as you’re living and encounter someone that may need any kind of help.  And of course, please reach out to me with questions if you have any!  I have an email address set up just for this site and you should be able to find it under the “contact me” page.  Or, if you know me personally, message/text me.  I’m terrible with phone calls, they make me anxious as all hell.

 

Day 3: entertainment in a psych ward

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I woke up on Friday during vitals again: bright and early at 5:45. Thankfully, I now had something that I could use to keep my mind off what was around me and that I was able to focus on: coloring.  It would be my savior for the entirety of my stay.  I was also given another surprise that morning from Miranda.  She had dropped off two of my books from my nightstand and surprised me with my own coloring book that was of dogs and cats.  She knows me entirely too well and loves me more than I deserve.  I was so excited to be able to color in my own book instead of copies from the 2 books the ward had (they were severely lacking when I was there in both markers and books, so I donated most of when I left).  Finally having something to do, I plopped myself down on the table and set to work.  I’ve never been one to color, so my first page was horrifically bad.  I ended up throwing it away in horror.  This day would be the day I attended my first group sessions as well.

Now, for those that don’t know, the ward is set up with a very strict schedule.  Every day you know what will happen.  It becomes very comforting when you’re in the throes of mental illness.  Vitals are at 5:30. Coffee put out at 6:30.  Breakfast at 7.  Meds at 8-9.  Group at 10 until lunch at noon.  Group after lunches until visiting hours at 3-5.  Dinner at 5.  Group again at 6.  Night meds around 9.   TV/phone/play time until sleep.  New nurses come on at 7 and 7.  Every. Single. Day.  It does make the days go by very quickly.  The only variance is what the groups are, and they are posted theme-wise all over, only the specific meeting changes.  You see your psychiatrist every morning during group times.  Snack time is in the evening and it’s the only time you get “unlimited” snacks.

Friday was a very important day for me in my stay.  One of my very close friends at work, whom I call my “work wife” came to visit me.  She was one of the ones that urged me to check in on Wednesday when I couldn’t remember my wreck.  We haven’t been as close as we used to be recently, but I was so honored that she would come to a psych ward for little ol’ me.  She is big into coloring and so brought me some of her books she doesn’t use. I was so grateful. I actually cried about her visiting me after she left. I still constantly color one of her books she brought me in my current group therapy.  I so adore her and I’m so thankful for her pushing me to get better all the time.  I work to emulate her calm assertive energy every day and she’s such an inspiration to me.

Of course, Connor was also there, and so he got to sit and meet my work wife that I talk to him about constantly.  I was glad he finally was able to see how amazing of a person she is.

The other huge thing that happened to me was my new roommate.  Jamie came to the ward in the late afternoon.  I walked into our room while she was having her skin check and getting the run down from the nurses.  She looked like a teeny and scared puppy.  She was so miserable and so sad looking.  My protective instincts immediately activated and I knew I had to watch over this sweet little thing.  At this point, I was a staple on this one single table and would color all day.  People would file in and out as they wanted, joining me for a few minutes and then moving on.  I guess I was the only one with the desperation to color all day. I invited her to come sit with me. She was too upset to color, but at least she wasn’t alone.

Connor, when I called him early that morning was very upset that I wasn’t willing or ready to check out on Friday.  He still didn’t think I belonged there and his protective instinct was in overdrive.  He wanted me home.  He missed me and was worried sick about what was happening.  I missed him and home too, but I was not ready to leave. I needed more time to get myself steady and comfortable with my diagnosis of bipolar II.  I needed more time to get MRIs and nerve blocks done.  I needed more time protecting Jamie.  I had to wait until Monday, I had more work to do.

Obviously, there was a TON more to this day.  I’ll have it all down in my book, so perhaps in a year or 20, it’ll be out, and you can read it then!  Of course, I’d love any and all questions and feedback!  Let me know your thoughts!