Well, here we are, my very first blog for Healthy Minds Canada. I must admit I was quite excited to be one of the chosen ones to join the HMC team. I did find myself very unsure about what I wanted to write, but luckily I had an “a-ha!” moment after a brief conversation I had last week with a person I have known for quite some time.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 in late August of 2015, so almost a year and a half ago. Before that I was misdiagnosed with Major Depression and before that I somehow lived under the radar, struggling for many years with things I did not understand. Now I will add, just so that you know, that I am an adult in my very early 40’s. I am not sure if that is even relevant to this blog, but I felt you should know.
Over these last few years when things started to change I found myself riding on this unknown out of control roller-coaster. Thankfully when I reached what I refer to as my “breaking point”, I was able to acknowledge that something was very wrong and try to seek help for myself. It was after these beginning stages of my present journey when I had some hard life lessons unfold in front of me. Lessons that I would have never thought to find myself acquiring as some of them have been quite eye opening and unexpected, so much so that I feel like I have been walking around with blinders on throughout certain stages of my life.
So, with that said, I would like to expand on one of those hard-learned lessons, about my personal experience with friends and their level of understanding (or lack thereof) where my mental health is concerned.
I will say that I am very lucky to have a couple of amazing friends that somehow have managed to stand by me when my mind takes me to places I am still learning to navigate. I value them probably more then they will ever know. But not all my friendships are so pleasurable at this point in my life’s path.
Last week I had contacted a friend for a favour and she declined. I was not upset or angry or disappointed. However, her reason for saying no had me wondering, “Has she listened to me when I have tried to explain to her what it is like inside my head and why I sometimes do the things/or act the way I do?” I am pretty sure that the answer may be no, she hasn’t. In all fairness, I know it is hard for one person to grasp another person’s thoughts as everyone’s brain works differently. However, I am not sure she even tries to empathize with me.
I know she is not the only person in society that does not seem to understand. I know that there are many, many people out there that really can’t, or don’t want to, for whatever reason. I just do not know how to try to get her, or anyone else, to see that I do not do the things I do to be a bad friend/person when my moods plummet.
On the days I have to force myself out of bed, for all the weeks (and sometimes months) that go by before I return texts and phone calls, for the plans I bail on, for the many days I feel like I am doing all I can to just keep going as I fight through this in whatever way I can, I feel that she may think that part of it is my choosing to do or not do these things. That is not it at all. I know friendship is a two-way street. I know I must try to reach out a bit more, but it is not like I chose to wake up one day with a mental illness. I do not like how it affects all aspects of my life. This is not a choice I have made.
I am still learning about my mental illness myself. I am still learning how to cope in healthier ways than I have in the past, and I am playing trial and error with medications and therapy sessions to try to remain in some kind of control of my mind. I am still fighting the same demons I have been fighting for so very long, and I plan to continue doing so, but at the same time I feel like my support network is getting smaller. I saw a saying on Facebook a month or so ago that I felt sums me up in just a few words. The post said, “She is strong, but she is tired.” I am not sure who the author of that quote is but that is exactly how I feel at this moment in time.
But, in the end, people who do not understand mental illness at least on a minimal level and find it hard to empathize with those of us that live with these illnesses are what fuel the fire inside me to keep fighting, to keep being strong and to keep telling my story no matter how tired I have become.
About Karen M. Thompson
Michelle is a 2014 graduate of the Child and Youth Care Program at Loyalist College. During her time in the program she got to take many courses on Mental Health/Mental Illnesses. While she was learning academically, she was also learning quite a lot about herself as well. It was during this time when her mental health struggles became noticeable to herself and those around her. She had struggled from her mid-teens to her late 30's never quite knowing what was the root cause. In August of 2015 she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1. Michelle has now found a passion for telling her life story and struggles to educate students in hopes that by doing so they will have the knowledge and power to help put a stop to the stigma that affects so many with mental health issues.