No shame in mental illness

I have something to confess: I have a chronic mental illness.

At age 14, I was initially diagnosed with clinical depression. Later, the diagnosis evolved into Bipolar Disorder II. It has taken a while for my mother to accept the idea, even though I have a family history of mental illness.

People with this disorder have one or more major depressive episodes, and one or more major hypomanic episodes. defines hypomania as “a mild form of mania, characterized by hyperactivity and euphoria.” I have found these periods to be fun; however, I tend to regret what I have said or done because I am generally irritable. Truth is, my mother and I don’t talk about it much, but I can proudly tell her of my daily improvements. These may be small things, but they’re still great personal strides.

Seeking treatment for mood instability has led me to try many psychotropic drugs, seek counseling, sort though counselors to find the right one for my needs and make two week-long trips to psych wards, all in an effort to find the right medical cocktail for my body. This has taken a lot of effort, yet I’ve fought to cope with my illness. It’s been especially difficult to deal with due to attached stigma.

When I first began to find myself feeling depressed, I couldn’t tell you the number of times I was told to “Buck up!” or “Get over it,” but I couldn’t. I did not know how to cope with the emotions I was having, nor did I understand it was something beyond my control.

Caring for mental illness is no different than caring for any other illness. There are things I must do to take care of myself and function. There are times when I have a flare-up, usually the result of some stressor in my life, but I know that these will happen from time to time. I am a work in progress.

Yes, I take medications. Four of which are to maintain my moods. These medications have side effects, and I have to make adjustments around those. Every three months, physicians perform blood work to check my medicine levels and my liver enzymes (the medication can be detrimental to my liver).

Though I know that these drugs damage my body, they also prolong my life. Through therapy, I have learned ways to cope with my illness so I can enjoy my life to its fullest. Why would I want to spend the rest of my life being completely miserable?

Initially, I felt ashamed that I had been diagnosed and worried that people would ostracize me. I was so worried about it that I would stop all forms of treatment and find myself at square one all over again. I’ve been lucky to have good insurance, but I’m terrified of the day when I am off of my mother’s plan because I don’t know if I can afford the medications and counseling on my own.

Writing this puts me in a vulnerable position, considering my self-disclosure to readers. A friend of mine who also has Bipolar Disorder jokingly told me, “I tell people I’m crazy because the truth is, if people have a problem with it, then so what?”

When I used to tell people “I am bipolar,” I was ashamed. I was letting my illness define who I was. I thought it made me a freak, and felt that everyone else viewed my situation similarly. I can now see that this is only part of who I am, not all of me. I have accepted that this is something that I must cope with on a daily basis.

The more I communicate with people on campus, the more I find others who have sought or are currently seeking some form of mental health treatment. So why is there a stigma attached?

I am not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing in hopes that people may open up to embracing the mentally ill, instead of condemning them for something beyond their control. Mental illnesses should not define who we are as people. If you are having problems with your mental health, talk to a counselor on campus. There should be no shame in admitting that you have a problem, or that you’re seeking help for something that you have no control over.

Charlotte Wilfong senior theatre