This is probably one of the hardest things I will ever be sharing. For so long I have done my best to put up a front and not let most people into this part of my world, but I’m done hiding the fact that I have a mental illness. I refuse to feel embarrassed or ashamed. My name is Griselda and I have Bipolar. I had my first episode at the age of 19, but I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid 20s. I do not wish this disorder on my worst enemy. I think about being Bipolar almost every day. It is a part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, but my God does it play a part in the person I am. It’s like a shadow I try to outrun, but never beat. I may not know everything about my illness, but I believe I know more about it than the generation before me.
My family and friends are supportive most times, but I don’t believe they will ever really understand me because they don’t fight the inner demons of this illness. My mom is also Bipolar so my daily battles at times can be twice as hard. When both of us are at our worst it’s a lot to handle. When I see my mom is not herself my anxiety level goes through the roof. We have found a great clinic with a Spanish speaking psychiatrist and therapist for her, but many times she refuses to see her doctor. When she’s well she doesn’t see a point to going and when’s she’s having an episode she believes nothing is wrong. When she’s not herself and she’s at her worse she is filled with rage, is delusional and paranoid.
Some days I don’t want to face the world because it’s all too much. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this illness but it can be lonely. I would love to find a support group of people my age and from my background. I have searched and haven’t found a support group in the Latino community. For the most part I don’t tell others about my mental illness because I don’t want to be judged and I don’t want people to see me differently. Lately though I have begun to be more open about it because I refuse to be ashamed. I didn’t choose this illness, it chose me.
Mental health is still a hush hush topic in our society. There are so many people who suffer in silence. Unfortunately some people are never diagnosed and others don’t have the insurance or financial means to seek help. In the news and on television programs people are often times portrayed as bad crazy people. We aren’t all like that. Our brains are just programed differently. We don’t want to harm others, we just want to be understood and supported.
I am 35 years old and some days I think I want to be a mother with a family of my own, but because this illness can be inherited on to my child I’m torn on this issue. I wouldn’t want my child to face similar struggles or worse. I also don’t know if I can handle being depressed in bed while trying to tend to my child. That wouldn’t be fair to him or her. Most days I would love to be a mother because I think I could really be a great one, but some days the battles I face make everything so overwhelming.
Being Bipolar has affected my education, my career, how I interact with others, and my relationships. It has many times trapped me in dark corners and taken control of my life getting the best of me. Some days I surrender to it not having the strength to put up a fight, but most times I do my best to kick this illness’s butt. I own the copyrights to my life. I’m the sole proprietor of my actions, decisions, and their outcomes. That being said, mistakes will be made because I’m not perfect by any means, but I will not let those mistakes eat me up. I will take them as a learning experience and keep at it. And even when I’m down I’m not out because I think if I just keep at it eventually I’ll get it right. Right? I refuse to be defeated by this illness because it’s my life and damn it I want to live it right.
I see a picture of my mom and I when I was about 5-6 years old. Gosh in my eyes the good days before either of us knew the meanig of depression, being manic, or Bipolar period. For me most of my childhood was ‘normal’ and my mom was ‘normal’. At 16, just 3 years from my first manic episode if someone were to appear before me and tell me the horrible disorder that would fill the rest of our lives of such awful lows and blows I wouldn’t have believed them. If a doctor would have been able to give me a test or do some lab work on me and find that I was Bipolar I still wouldn’t have wanted to know, not until it was unavoidable. I must recognize that although I was not yet showing signs of this disorder as a child or for most of my adolescence, in my brain there was an imbalance of sorts when I was born. Just as if someone were to ask me today if I would like to know the day I’ll die my answer would be no. I don’t want to obsess about that, I have enough in my life to obsess about.
I wrote the following letter to myself early last year to the 19 year old gal before Bipolar disorder was part of my vocabulary.
You’re 19 years old and full of life. You are in the prime of your youth. You are such a smart and caring person. People can always depend on you. Someone close to you says you have the biggest heart. Cherish all moments, live in the now moment before it passes you by. Do what makes you happy and at the same time try to make others happy. Thanks to years of braces you have a beautiful smile, so smile more. I know you don’t handle confrontation and stress well, but keep calm and try to stay positive. You have big dreams and goals for yourself so don’t lose focus of them. Think of what makes you happy and where you want to be in life. I know sometimes it’s easier to believe the negative thoughts in your head but you have a support system of family and friends that are there for you. Don’t shut yourself out; when times get hard you need to surround yourself most by those that believe in you.
This year you will experience your first big Manic episode. It was a tough time but you came back from it after taking a semester off continued with school and even went to study abroad for 3 months, just a mere months later. Sometimes you may feel weak, but you are a tough cookie, don’t you forget that. Life will be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, learn from it all, get yourself up and grow stronger from it all.
Mom’s Bipolar condition will worsen with time. This will have a big affect on you, be there for her but do your best to not get sucked in when she has episodes because it isn’t healthy for you. As much as you encourage her at times to better her situation she will be stubborn. You can try to support her, that is all you can do. Remember you are you; you will not become your mother. You recognize your illness better and take the steps needed to get yourself on the right path. You are fierce and what doesn’t kill you is only going to make you stronger. Remember two of the most important things in life are your health and happiness. You have those two things and everything else will fall into place. Wake up in the mornings and be thankful.
If there is someone in your life with a mental illness I know it can be difficult but do your best to be supportive. It can be draining, trust me I know, but all you can do at times is listen and love them unconditionally. Learn about their illness so you can better help them.
Sometimes all we need is a hug and to know we aren’t alone.