Mental Illness Isn’t Who You Are!!

I spent 15 years of my life working in social rehabilation programs with individuals carrying mental health diagnoses which are deemed major and persistent. Schizophrenia, Bipolar D/O, Personality disorders to name a few. The idea with these diagnoses is that they never go away. It’s a lifelong illness. The goal of social rehabilitation is to help those of us with such mental illnesses live the fullest, most meaningful life possible.

Kendra Cherry posted the following as part of her article, What is Psychosocial Rehabilitation? “There are a number of key principles of psychosocial rehabilitation that help guide how mental health professionals working in this field approach their work. These principles include:

  • All people have potential that can be developed.
  • People have a right to self-determination.
  • The emphasis is on the individual’s strengths rather than their symptoms.
  • Each person’s needs are different.
  • Professional services should be committed and take place in as normalized of an environment as possible.
  • There is a focus on a social model of care (as opposed to a medical model).
  • It is centered on the present rather than fixated on the past.”

When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar I D/O, I was told to drop out of college in my junior year, quit my job. My doctors and therapists pushed me onto SSDI because I was never going to have a normal life. I was 25 years old and told I’d never have meaningful relationships, be able to work, finish college or have any semblance of a “normal life” based on a mental health diagnosis. I’m a fighter! Their words pushed me to say FUCK YOU and get up and prove them all wrong!!!

I was 28 when I got my first job in a social rehab program. I found my place in the career world. I was good at my work and I loved it. I wished that I’d had this type of care when I first started down my journey with bipolar d/o.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had someone in my life treat me like a mentally ill person. All of the stigma, disrespect, assumptions that I’m totally incapable of a self-directed life and that my mental illness explains everything about my feelings and responses to life. One came into my a few years ago who just can’t accept that I have a mental illness… it’s not who and what I am.

There are a few crucial elements to me living a happy, meaningful life. They’re similar to those who don’t have a major mental health diagnosis, just more important. Structure and routine, good sleep, a good diet, a solid support system, stress management and medication. I can’t remove any one of these things for very long without things being more challenging for me than your average bear.

Bipolar disorder is a biochemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not caused by life choices. It’s in the same category as developing Type 1 diabetes as a child. The body just doesn’t work quite right. There is also a genetic component, so it runs in families.

That’s part of what makes me so damn angry!!!! I did nothing to create the imbalance. There’s NOTHING I could have done to prevent it. I was handed a lifelong medical condition which affects a part of my body you can’t see on the outside. The world only sees the implications of that illness and judges me for it. With any chronic medical condition there are bound to be problems that arise from time to time requiring additional treament. Showing empathy and understanding is the appropriate reaction to increase in symptoms. Just like you’d help a person with diabetes who has an emergency blood sugar crash exhibiting many cognitive and emotive symptoms, help the person with a mental illness get back to stasis instead of judging them for the problem in the first place. It’s MEDICAL. Many psychiatric conditions are just that… medical conditions which affect the brain.

Some people don’t like the phrase Differently Abled. I love it. It fits me well. I’m not incapable of most things. In fact, I’m better at many things than most people who don’t have any sort of disability. I have a few things that present challenges and I’ve had to learn to negotiate my life around them. I don’t lack skill in any major area of life. What I deal with is an overall lack of mental energy. It takes more mental energy for me to do things that the majority of other people. I get mentally and emotionally exhausted much faster and easier than non-bipolar people. If I push myself too far I have increased irritability and it becomes increasingly difficult for me to handle basic day-to-day life tasks until I collapse. For me, this means not working so I have the ability to be happy, relaxed, care for my home, be a good wife and sub to my husband, maintain friendships and activities I enjoy.

The three things on the list above that resonate most with me are: 1) People have a right to self-determination, 2) emphasis is on the individual’s strengths rather than their symptoms and 3) focus is centered on the present rather than fixated on the past .

One of the most common things I’ve dealt with in my personal life and in my career is the idea that if you have a mental illness you aren’t capable of choosing a life for yourself. You don’t know what you want or you’re going to make a bad decision. Folks… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US makes good and bad decisions. We all have the right to determine the way we want to live our life. We all have the right and responsibility to deal with those consequences… good or bad. The only exception to this is when a MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL determines that an individual is incapable of caring for themselves. It’s not a decision for you to make. Let those you care about with mental illness make the big decisions in their life, but also be there to support them through stuff.

One of the things I always did meeting a new client was meet them before reading their file and other’s opinions. One of the worst feelings in the world is being treated like a diagnosis!!! I have bipolar disorder. I’m not disordered. My challenges don’t define me as a person. I have way more strengths than I do symptoms and challenges. Pretty much all of us are like that. This boils down to treating people with dignity and respect, how you’d want to be treated. Focusing on what I can do, what my strenghts are, how I can use my strengths to compensate for my limitations and giving me credit for what I do beautifully and right rather than focusing on the rough spots. Symptoms pass, the person does not!!!

I’ve not met a single person in my 47 years circling the sun who hasn’t done something they regret. Some of us have more than others. We all know an addict who’s gotten clean and struggled to be trusted and not have their past thrown back at them at every turn. Everyone may not have addiction issues or mental health challenges, but we all have mistakes and setbacks which impact our standing in the community or how we feel about ourselves at some point in our lives. When we make mistakes there is always a period of proving yourself again. You’re humiliated. You’re judged. You’re likely hardest on yourself. You’re struggling to get back on track. You’re worried and afraid you won’t be able to fix this or it’ll happen again. The focus has to be on here and now… what are you doing now that’s different and keeping things on track?! Focus on what you want, goal oriented and let go of setbacks and failures you’ve had. The past is gone. The past is a part of you, but it’s not all of you. This is one of the absolute hardest parts of having a mental illness.

I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for roughly 22 years now. In all that time, I’ve had 3 major episodes that caused me to rebuild my life. Each time I’ve come back stronger and more knowledgeable about myself. The last one was the worst and the most difficult to come back from. I honestly wasn’t sure I was ever going to be myself again. I thought Jodie was gone forever!!!

The person who’s treating me like a mental illness got to know me during this period, while it was still outrageously hard. He met me unmedicated in a bad marriage where I was the victim of domestic violence. My mother died. I got pregnant and it was ectopic so I lost the baby. My hormones were seriously out of whack due to a precancerous condition in my uterus. I was not ok in any shape or form. Things were bad for me in every element of my life. It took a lot of work and a fair amount of time, but I’ve been rock solid stable for almost 2 years now. I’m different, my life is different, my reactions and choices are different. Those things don’t matter, because underneath it all there’s always the attitude that I will never not be like I was before. Being angry means I’m manic. Being sad means I’m depressed. There is no space for me to just be human!!! In his eyes, I am always mentally ill and unable to handle life on my own and any emotional expression he doesn’t like is a symptom.

I’m going to leave you with these two saying. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Not everyone who thinks they’re being followed is paranoid.

4 thoughts on “Mental Illness Isn’t Who You Are!!

  1. I have borderline personality disorder, which is not a chemical imbalance in the brain, but in every other way mirrors your bipolar disorder ~ except my mood swings are fast and extreme. I go from an angry to remorseful in scant minutes.
    I know this is a lifetime illness, but I know I cope with it better and better every day.
    Thank you for sharing your sufferings with me. ❤❤❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. ♥ Oh… I get those fast and extreme mood swings at times, too. Coping with it is what any of us can do. I function much better than most with my particular form of bipolar. Not only do I have type 1 which is the more extreme, but I have primarily manic episodes. I don’t have depressive episodes often. When I do they’re horrible and last for months and months if I don’t catch them before they really take hold.

      I’m fortunate to respond very well to medication and have a ton of insight. When I’m medicated correctly, I rarely have more than a little bit of hyperactvity for a day or two. Extreme stress is a different ball park, but who DOES cope well under extreme stress?!


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