Living With & Loving Someone With Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m so delighted that 1) this month exists and 2) I have yet another reason to share mental health journey with you.

As someone who’s lived with bipolar for over half a decade (six years, to be exact), I have grown passionate about discussing mental illness, encouraging those who struggle, and educating those who don’t.

Mental health can be a sensitive subject for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. 1 out of 5 Americans struggle with some form of mental illness. The odds are, even if you don’t struggle yourself, you know someone — or several someone’s — who do.

Living with mental illness can be hard.

And I mean – really, really hard.

But I’m hoping this blog post can give you a glimpse into my life and struggles, my habits and hurts, and that you can use this glimpse to relate to someone in your life who struggles, as well.

Personally, my disorder has led me to struggle particularly with depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Thankfully, all three have been less extreme and fairly manageable in the most recent years. I credit this to my supportive community, my work, my therapist, and my psychiatric nurse. Let me break those down a little bit:

  • My community – it includes friends, family, baristas, climbers, creatives, and my church group. My community has built me up instead of torn me down, they’ve accepted me as I am, and they’ve embraced who I am since my diagnosis.
  • My work – working in the climbing industry has been amazingly rewarding. My specific job aside, having a work schedule, having discipline, having something to show up to every day has given me stability and something to look forward to.
  • My therapist – Chelsey has given me helpful tools when I catch myself feeling anxious, to feel out my feelings, and to express myself. Acknowledging my feelings and giving myself room to feel has been a huge part of my wellness journey.
  • My psychiatric nurse – Grant has found medication that works for me. It took time and several trials, but it’s worked wonders. Medication isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for me.

Pre-diagnosis life is starkly different than post-diagnosis.

Pre-diagnosis, I struggled with insomnia and anxiety, but didn’t even realize it. I didn’t think about my needs or wants — physical, mental, or emotional. I struggled with feeling my emotions and allowing myself to feel. I struggled with perfectionism and people pleasing.

Post-diagnosis, over time and therapy and learning the hard way, I’ve learned to acknowledge what I need and how to voice those needs. I’ve learned to “sit in my feelings,” as Chelsey would say, and to not be afraid to feel. I’ve learned to say no, learned to put myself first, learned to even let others down at times.

Post-diagnosis, I’m actively monitoring my sleep, mood, and energy, and noticing how varying levels impact my wellness. I’m pursuing healthy relationships so I can feel healthy and happy, too. I’m learning and re-learning it’s okay to not be okay, that it’s not a bad thing to lean on people, and that being alone doesn’t mean I have to be lonely.

Loving someone with mental illness can be hard.

But it doesn’t have to be.

In the end, we all need love and kindness and acceptance. In the end, we all need someone to show up and show out for us. In the end, we all need a community to build us up and make us feel special.

Friends, I encourage you to reach out someone you love who struggles with mental illness today. Tell them you see them, you know them, and you love them. Tell them you’re here for them. It will mean the world to them.

6 Years Of Bipolar: On Gratitude

I was diagnosed with bipolar six year ago.

And what a wild ride it has been!

Since my diagnosis, I’ve worked in the PR, legal, and climbing industries. I’ve moved several times — including in, out, and back into my parents (currently I’m on my own). I’ve become a plant mom, dog mom, and car mom (in that order). I’ve gone through several major life changes, including starting and quitting law school.

The first couple of years of living with bipolar were hard — and I mean really, REALLY hard. I had two major manic episodes. I was hospitalized twice. I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I lost some close friendships.

But the most recent years have been a gift. I found medicine that worked. I have hardly suffered with depression or anxiety. I’ve made wonderful, deep, lasting friendships.

And to sum it up in one word, I’m thankful.

I would never wish bipolar or depression/anxiety on anyone. And if I had the option, I certainly wouldn’t wish it on me.

But I’m thankful for my disorder. Before my disorder, I didn’t go to therapy and never thought I would need it. I neglected my feelings and emotions. I didn’t take care of my body, and certainly didn’t care for my mind.

Since my disorder, I’ve established an amazing relationship with my therapist. Therapy has taught me to acknowledge and embrace my feelings and emotions. And now I care for both my body and my mind by monitoring my sleep, mood, and energy.

I spend more time doing the things I love, things that fill me up and make me whole. I’m more present-minded, more grateful, and more self-aware. I’ve experienced the benefits of therapy and medicine. I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing community, with friends who care for me deeply and love me well.

It’s been a long six years.

It really, really has. But I’m thankful for my experience with this mood disorder, for what it’s taught me and how it’s shaped me. I’m thankful for this space to share my mental health journey. I’m thankful for readers and followers who support and encourage and cheer me on. I’m thankful for you!

Bipolar Disorder: Myths vs. Facts Pt. 2

I have bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed in the spring of 2016 after a severe manic episode. And boy, has it been a long and enduring and wild journey since then.

Last week, I introduced a new series on myths vs. facts of bipolar disorder out of the hope to normalize discussing mental health and illness, sufferings that come along with bipolar, and the reality of someone who lives with it every day.

Today’s post focuses on communicating about mental health and wellness, and how we can create healthy, helpful conversations surrounding bipolar disorder (and other illnesses).

Myth: Talking about mental health is not necessary and just makes people feel uncomfortable.

Fact: Talking about mental health is extremely necessary. While it may make some uncomfortable, for others it can be beneficial, helpful, and life-giving.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I felt this utter paradox of wanting to voice my struggles while simultaneously feeling shame and fear around it. I wanted to scream for help, but also crawl into a hole and hide forever.

At first, it seemed like no one was talking about it–not only my manic episode, but also mental health in general. It seemed like no one cared or felt confident enough to discuss my sufferings. Talking about mental health seemed like such a stigma, a conversation to avoid at all costs.

Thankfully, it does seem like society has improved some since then. Thanks to celebrities, mental health professionals, and Instagram (haha!), it seems like more people are discussing their hurt and healing. More people are being vulnerable, authentic, and transparent about their mental health struggles, and it’s an inspiring, incredible thing.

In America, one out of five adults struggle with a mental health disorder. It may be anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality, or another disorder. The odds of you interacting with someone who has mental health struggles on a daily basis is high.

It’s important to talk about mental health because you never know what someone is going through, you never know who needs to feel hope. It’s important to talk about mental health for those who suffer so they can voice their hurt and journey. It’s equally important for someone who does not suffer to talk about so they can listen, sympathize, and perhaps gain more understanding of that individual’s sufferings.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about mental health, it may be because it’s a foreign subject to you. I encourage you to read and research ways to talk about it, ways people suffer, and ways you can help.

Myth: People who have mental health struggles are too sensitive and I don’t need to be careful with my words when speaking to them about their illness.

Fact: People who have mental health struggles can feel deeply about their hurt, and it’s important to be careful when creating a conversation surround their illness.

The other night I was driving from Austin to Dallas with my sweet friends. My dear friend Ashlynn, who is on her way to becoming an amazing counselor, asked me delicately, “Is it OK if I ask you about bipolar?”

I happily obliged, and we had a very healthy discussion surrounding my mental health journey, my ups and downs, my moods, ways I hold myself accountable to healing, and more. I thanked her for listening and I thanked her for talking about it with me.

Asking for permission to discussing someone’s mental health is extremely important and considerate of others. Not everyone wants to or is ready to discuss, so asking to hold that conversation is incredibly kind and thoughtful.

When someone who suffers wants to or is ready to discuss, sometimes they will tell you, but sometimes you have to ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of creating that mutual trust and understanding, and that individual will voluntarily participate in the conversation.

We shouldn’t push people into talking about mental health. We shouldn’t be harsh or impatient, but should be grace-giving and understanding. It’s a difficult topic because it may be triggering or hurtful, but ultimately those who suffer may come around and need a listening ear.

In summation, our words matter. Our conversations matter.

Everyone recognizes when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them. Likewise, those who suffer with mental illness recognize when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them.

When we are careful and considerate with our words, when we create healthy conversations around mental health, it is seen, heard, respected, and cherished.

If you love someone with a mental disorder, I encourage you to ask if it’s OK to talk about their struggles, and I encourage you to listen with an open heart and mind.

Five Years Of Bipolar: On More To Come

Five years ago, on March 18, 2016, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This diagnosis came after a very serious manic episode that resulted in a hospitalization. It came after a week of insomnia and scattered thoughts and concerning ramblings.

Every year when March 18 rolls around, I pause and reflect. I stop and think about how my life has changed. Before my diagnosis, I was living in Nashville, a new city that I was growing to call home. Before my diagnosis, I was on the path to work in the nonprofit field. Before my diagnosis, I struggled with pride and ego and thought I had my entire life together.

For the longest time after I was diagnosed, especially during the thick of devastating depression, I could not help but always be aware of my diagnosis. My mood, plans, and friendships changed. My life changed. I could not help but mourn and grieve the life I used to know and fear what was to come.

When I built new friendships, I feared coming out as bipolar and wondering how they would respond. When I started to think about law school, I feared how bipolar would affect my studying. When I considered dating, I feared no one would want to be with someone who struggled so deeply.

But these days, my diagnosis is not at the forefront of my mind.

My mind is much more occupied with other things. When I build new friendships, I want to know how to invest and love that person deeply. When I look back at law school, I am thankful for what it was when it was, and how my mental illness did not affect my studying. When I consider dating someone, I am prayerful about opening up about my illness, and no longer live in fear.

Getting to where I am today–embracing my illness and sharing my journey–did not come easy. It took time and energy and tears and therapy. It took medication and emotional support and prayer. But here I am today, thankful for where I am and how I’m built, thankful for how I got here and eagerly looking forward to where I will be.

My disorder has taught me there is always more to come.

When I was first diagnosed, I feared my life was over: that I would lose all of my friends, that I’d never fall in love, and I would not be able to fully function again.

But that was hardly the case. The first couple of years were tough and excruciating and painful. The first couple of years were filled with devastating depression and hopeless thoughts and extreme anxiety.

But there was more to come. The past couple of years have been lovely and life-giving and liberating. They have been encouraging and beautiful and wonderful.

I never thought I would have a job. I never thought I would be able to handle it. I never thought I would get into law school. I never thought I would mentally be able to manage the workload. I never thought I’d fall in love, make new friends, enjoy living in Dallas.

But I did! And I’m glad!

I’m glad that Jesus Man loves me. I’m glad that he provides a path for me. I’m glad he hasn’t left me despite my changing moods and fickle heart.

I’m glad that law school happened, even though I didn’t finish. I’m glad to work at Summit and cultivate community there. I’m glad to make new friends and keep the old.

Dear Reader & Friend,

Whatever you are going through now, whether you are at the highest of highs or lowest of lows, I hope you know there is always more to come. There is always goodness and hope and joy around the corner.

My mental health journey proves this to be true. If you are well, be glad in it. If you are struggling, know there is hope.

I’m rooting for you!