For the longest time, my bipolar disorder diagnosis made me feel like a failure. Unlovable, misunderstood. The husk of the girl I was seven years ago before the diagnoses, admissions to the psychiatric hospital and mounds of medication with endless side effects.
It took time for me to realize the biggest contributor to me feeling like less than I ever was, was the stigma attached to mental illness and treatment, as well as the ignorance that surrounds most invisible illnesses.
I’ve tried to make it a point in my advocacy to use my story to bring about education and awareness about bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and mental health holistically. Most days I feel motivated, like people are taking the time to educate themselves and others. Other days, I want to give people big smacks for their desensitized attitude toward others’ challenges. For using mental illness as a punch line to jokes. For not seeing my illness or struggle as valid or “real” or one that quantifies a day or days of awareness and a damn ribbon.
On October 10, 2019, I wore my ribbons with absolute pride and conviction. I wore one representing every facet of my mental health journey. I call it “embracing every color of my mental health rainbow.” Not many people know about World Mental Health Day or many other invisible illness awareness days at national and global levels, so I was prepared for the questions of my highly decorated t-shirt. I would explain the importance of the day, the different ribbon color representations, as well as how living with mental illnesses affect my everyday life and my quality of life. I was going to go for my usual approach of education over ignorance.
What I wasn’t prepared for was being questioned why there wasn’t a pink ribbon for cancer on my shirt or a red ribbon for HIV/Aids. I wasn’t prepared for the “crazy” jokes and being told how millennials are such “snowflakes” and how “weak” and susceptible we are “these days.” I wasn’t prepared for a call from my mother, heartbroken that the general reception of her green ribbon was indifference and how she was lectured on how many people have it worse. I wasn’t prepared to be made to feel selfish for dedicating just one day and one ribbon to the awareness of a health issue so overlooked. I wasn’t prepared for my life-altering struggle and my fight to be belittled. I wasn’t prepared for a day meant to empower us with so much information and support, to leave me feeling so heartsore and alone.
Why is mental illness not seen as a valid illness or the global health crisis that it is becoming? Why are my sessions with my psychiatrist and psychologist not seen as “real” or necessary doctor’s appointments for my functionality and well-being?
My pain and struggle are valid and real. My hair loss and weight gain and chronic fatigue and tremors and chronic diarrhea are all real effects of living with a mental illness. My handful of pills and any accompanying treatment should not be shamed.
How is mental health not being accepted as a fundamental component of holistic health?
The stigma against mental illness and the lack of mental health awareness are barriers to promoting better health and barriers for individuals seeking health. We need to continue to make strategic communications and social mobilizations fundamental steps toward strengthening mental health awareness globally. We need to continue to choose education over ignorance.