I did a thing today. A scary, terrifying thing.
I want to preface this by saying I know some of you might judge me. But the benefit of sharing and potentially helping others outweighs that.
I want to tell you a story. A true one.
For the last few years at least, I’ve struggled and have been treated for pretty severe depression and anxiety. We have had some stressful events arise in our family and we have been essentially living in fight-or-flight mode constantly.
However, even with medication and therapy, I had things I kept from my doctor. They seemed so minute compared to the more “in-your-face” symptoms another family member deals with. The subtlety wasn’t always so subtle with my own symptoms though, but I would often stuff them down and ignore them.
I spend most of my time severely depressed. I have had suicidal ideations more than I want to admit. By the way, I want to stop here and clarify — being suicidal doesn’t necessarily mean you want to die. It can mean you want the pain of living to end. There is a difference.
When my “bad time clouds” would part, there were times I would feel what I thought was just pretty amazing. These were good days for me. I looked forward to them because I’d always have confidence and feel what I thought was happy — finally. However, these “good days” came with a price too.
I sunk a ton of money into a real estate career I was convinced was going to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done… despite the fact that I don’t really like real estate. It’s embarrassing to say now, but I was just so sure I was going to kill it… in an industry I really have no desire to work in. Looking back now, I see how irrational it was. It’s humiliating.
These ups and downs were my secret, although I’m sure everyone saw them play out.
I have started having conversations with my counselor about the difficulty of parenting a child with a mental illness while having one myself. When talking about this, I was referring to my depression and anxiety. I will touch more on the parenting part in another post, another day. It doesn’t get spoken about enough either.
Our family has been lucky enough to get to know Jason DeShaw through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). For those of you who don’t know, he is a country musician with bipolar disorder. He has dedicated his life to advocating for mental illness and is very open about what he goes through. When I first met him, I thought what a great influence he would be for my son. And while this is true, I underestimated the impact he would have on me.
As I sat and recorded Jason’s performance on Sunday, I knew he had been struggling with some “blues” that day. Yet, he got up on that stage and he carried on. I had tears rolling down my face as he sang “Somewhere Under the Rainbow,” and I made a decision. I needed to be brave enough to tell my doctor the things I had been keeping to myself.
I walked into my appointment with my psychiatrist this morning and I came clean. I told him about the real estate, I told him about the little highs but mostly deep lows. Hell, I admitted I even changed my name — which is so embarrassing to me now! With each “confession,” I felt lighter and lighter.
I left that appointment with a new plan and a new diagnosis. I have bipolar disorder. However, I live with “bipolar II,” which is from what I understand, a version of the disease that causes predominantly deep depression interspersed with episodes of hypomania. Hypomania isn’t your typical “manic” episode. It can honestly be just a really good mood or feeling extremely confident and upbeat. I have experienced those, although I do think my real estate and name change is a bit more on the extreme level.
Some people may look at me differently now knowing this. And that’s OK. That says more about them than me.
I am thankful Jason unknowingly gave me the courage to get the true help I needed. I hope if there’s anyone out there struggling, you can see this and know there’s no shame in the game. I’m looking forward to being treated — even though I know finding the right medications can be a process. I’m on the road to better management of this condition.
I will be a better mom, wife and person for it.
I have been so open about my fight for mental health, I would be an absolute hypocrite for not sharing my own struggles. So there you have it. I’m a parent of a child with mental illness, and I myself have bipolar disorder. This will not define me; however, it will drive me to continue having these conversations that need to be had to bring change.