Monday, October 4, 2010

~Mental Health Monday Guestblog~

Today's guestblogger is Steph who thankfully agreed to do a guestblog on rather short notice. So here it is

“What a difference a Year Makes”

I realized that this time last year, I was about to enter one of the most difficult times of my life. From October, 2009, to the present day have been some of the most difficult days of my life. I struggle everyday to live with Mental Illness. I thought that I would reflect a bit on what the last year looked like for me.

This time last year I didn’t know that there was a Mental Illness Awareness Week.
This time last year I had successful career, that I thrived at.
This time last year I was a strong independent woman.
This time last year I was sociable.
This time last year I was fun to be around

But I was also…

Suffocated by depression
Having panic attacks at the drop of a hat.
Not speaking to my friends and family for weeks even months at a time.
So overwhelmed by many of life’s daily activities that life was difficult to manage.
Having periods when I would not sleep for more than 3 hours a night for days.
Quickly becoming a recluse.

A year later, and so much has changed. I am now a person living with a mental illness that is not depression. Most of the time I feel that I am that mental illness. Being diagnosed in early 2010 with bipolar disorder and social anxiety disorder, I am amazed at how much my life can change. I do not work anymore. I am no longer social. I am just trying to make it through the day . I am truly a shell of my former self.

Part of that change is certainly the medications that I take to control the erratic behaviour of being bipolar. The very high highs of hypomania, when I would not sleep very much for days, send 100’s of e-mails, speak quickly and loudly, do three times the amount of work as normal, spend money that I didn’t have and be walking on a tight rope of craziness. To the depression, where unfortunately I live most of the time. A place that is like a comfortable heavy wool blanket, weighing down my shoulders, and inviting me deeper and deeper into its warm arms, while I struggle constantly not to just fall right in and disappear. The drugs are not fun. They are hard to deal with and they dull the “fun me” right out of existence. The person that used to be the life of the party is gone. I struggle sometimes with stringing a sentence together, let alone being witty or amusing for others.

The other part of the change is purely living with and accepting the fact that I have a “mental illness” and its impact on my life. Being bipolar has an impact on all aspects of my life. It is not like having hay fever (although, I do have hay fever too!). Having a mental illness impacts everything. I am now aware that every aspect of my life is weighed on a delicate balance so that I can manage my illness effectively and well. I see the different parts as a spinning top. If one of the areas of my life is out of whack then the top spins out of control and stops working. Between sleep, diet, exercise, medication, therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness Meditation and social interaction, there is a fine balance to maintain in order for me to stay healthy.

What I have found the most difficult over the last 9 months is the mourning of the old me and the struggle to find an identity without work and with mental illness. The woman that made everyone laugh, was witty, worked hard and loved her job, is no longer here. She has been replaced by the new me; an individual who is trying to keep it together everyday, who is having a good day when two things on her to-do list get done, who is not working and doesn’t know when she will be able to, who is happiest being alone with no one to talk to, and who is trying to just make her life work.

The new me also has labels that are so prevalent that they feel like they are tattooed on my forehead: Bipolar, Crazy, Anxiety, Manic, Sick. Funny enough, I accept these labels and use them. The new me has become an advocate for Mental Illness over the last year. I have found strength in telling my story, in person, at group therapy session, on my blog and through twitter. I have found support and friends that are wonderful through these outlets. I have also found a voice for my illness. A strong voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. I have a feeling that the next year will include this voice in some way. I’m not sure how, but I will continue to be an advocate for myself, mental illness and those who are unable to speak for themselves.

So, where do I want to be this time next year….

This time next year, I would like to be working in what ever form that is.
This time next year, I would like to have better control of my medication.
This time next year, I would like to continue to be an advocate for Mental Illness.
This time next year, I would like to celebrate the new me. Mental illness and all.

I hope that you will take the opportunity of Mental Illness Awareness Week to tell your story of mental illness to a friend, share your experience with mental illness on your blog or through twitter/face book, ask someone how they are feeling and help if they need it and be aware that some of us struggle even when things appear “normal‘ on the outside.

If you would like to contact me, I can be reached on twitter @stephintoronto, by e-mail at stephintoronto@gmail.com or on my blog at http://princessrantsandraves.blogspot.com/

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