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Dakota Center for Independent Living

What is it Really Like to Live With Mental Illness

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month I thought this blog should be something about mental health. I had many ideas, but I thought maybe the best thing to do was to just talk about what every day life is like for people who deal with mental illness.

Everyone does not have the same issues or problems. Some people suffer a lot more than others or in other ways. Even if two people are diagnosed with the same illness they do not always have the same issues or same medications. So you can not group people with mental health issues into just one big group and think you can solve the problem. What works for one person may not work for another.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder many years ago. I also suffer from a lot of anxiety. I fought my mental for so long. I think at first I did not want to accept that I had it. People are scared of it and when you are not yourself you tend to do things you normally would not do. That can be scary and you do not even realize you are doing these things until you are back to a more normal state. Then you have to pick the pieces of your shattered life. Your life becomes this tornado that is just spinning out of control all the time. You are okay for awhile and then it spins downward into this deep depression, that no matter how hard you try, you just can not get out of. When you have finally crashed to the bottom and think things are back to normal you spin out of control again, only this time you like it because you are having fun and everyone likes you. Depending on what you do though, your money disappears and you don’t remember why or where, bills don’t get paid and you crash hard. Most of the time you don’t remember what you even did but you are left trying to pick up your life and figure out what happened. This is the fun of Bipolar Disorder. You never know which one will strike you. I would try medicine for awhile because I was depressed and then I would go off of it. I did not like how felt once I was over the depression. Always in a fog. I felt stupid. I was not going to live that way. But you do not realize how much it turns your world and your children’s world upside down. Your mind constantly going and feels like it is never going to shut off. People would always tell me I talked too fast and I needed to slow down but that was just normal to me. I did not think I was talking fast. I would have at least 3 or 4 different things going on because I could not concentrate on just one and there had to be noise on in the house. I could not stand it to be quiet.

On top of that I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Basically it is where I see things in just black and white. I either like you or dislike you. There is no grey area. It makes relationships hard because I am so afraid of people leaving that I don’t want to let them get close but yet I need that relationship. I am a big contradiction. There is no medication for this but it is a behavioral change and takes a lot of therapy. To this day I still find myself having to work on this. I will find myself doing this all or nothing thinking at times. Then I have to go back and look at all the work I did in therapy and ask myself am I thinking correctly?

When I finally had enough of the chaos in my head and decided to go back on medication for the Bipolar Disorder some interesting things started to happen. I found a good doctor which is key in the whole process. As my mind became clearer I found myself in a place I had never been and I felt more scared there than when my mind was in chaos. I have been on my medication now for 2 years about and I still get nervous that something is just waiting to happen. Every time I am a little manic or a little depressed it does get scary because every day you don’t know if that will be the day your medicine does not work. You try not to think about it that way but it is always in the back of your mind.

The other thing I noticed as I got better was that I had anxiety I never knew existed. It was so bad that I did not even want to take my kids to the park, or go their concert choirs or the circus. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I am still working on this but I can at least do these things now. I have some tools my counselor gave me and some medication until we get things completely under control. But when you see me you would never know anything was wrong.

That is the problem with mental illness. Unless I am having a total breakdown I can hide my symptoms pretty well for a while. I do not always know what I need or what others can help me with. Sometimes we are just too ashamed to ask because it may seem like nothing important. To us it obviously is important. Our minds just do not work the same way as others. A little understanding goes a long way. A shoulder to cry on or just a listening ear is sometimes all someone needs.