This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/dearteenageme-remember-where-you%E2%80%99ve-been-and-how-far-you%E2%80%99ve-come
I graduated from high school 14 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. I was a good student, I had friends, I experienced “teenage angst”, moments where I thought “my life was over” because I had a fight with a friend or something “embarrassing” happened. I was unaware of the 1 in 5 Canadians has a mental illness statistic and mental illness seemed like something that wouldn’t directly touch me. But it wasn’t long after graduating high school that I had my first appointment with my psychiatrist, experienced a full blown panic attack and began the journey that eventually led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
If I was able to go back in time, and tell my teenage-self something comforting, I would tell her that “everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time”.
I would say, “You are just as capable as anyone else”. I used to worry that people would look at me differently if “they knew” my “dark secret”, because that’s what it felt like. I worried that I would be seen as non-functional, unreliable, untrustworthy, erratic, or irresponsible.
The truth is, I am a functioning, hard-working, creative, responsible, reliable individual. But, during the lead up to the diagnosis and the first while after the diagnosis I didn’t believe in myself and I lost my sense of self.
Did bipolar disorder define me? Did it steal my identity? Did it swallow me whole? It sure felt that way. For a long time, it felt like I had a perpetual dark cloud hanging over me and lightening could strike at any time. I was terrified of my thoughts. My thoughts didn’t make sense. My mind was my worst enemy and full of negative, anxious thoughts that destroyed my self-esteem, self-worth and made me question myself all the time.
To my teenage self, I would also say, “don’t let your diagnosis define you. One day, you will see that the dark cloud will subside and there will come a point in time where you find that you are comfortable with your diagnosis and with sharing your diagnosis on your own terms”.
I have felt more at peace with myself since I began blogging for Healthy Minds Canada and International Bipolar Foundation. I am pursuing one of my greatest passions, writing, while sharing messages of hope, resilience and a realistic view of living with bipolar disorder. I put my voice out there to #SayItForward and to educate others.
To be blunt, stigma sucks, and unfortunately we have a long way to go before we see the last of it, but don’t let it stop you from being an advocate and pursuing your passions.
One final message to my teenage self: “You are a kind person, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself and to practice self-care. And always remember your favourite book quote, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important”.