I’m pretty open about my struggles with mental illness, which is why when Kim King from WLOS asked if she could interview me about having Bipolar Disorder if she silhouetted my face, I said no. I told her that I would be happy to do the interview, but that I didn’t want my face darkened out. You see, that would imply that there’s something shameful about or wrong with having Bipolar Disorder, a medical condition I have that approximately 5 million other Americans suffer from, too. There’s enough stigma surrounding mental illness, so when she asked “so you want to be an advocate?” her question was met with a resounding, “yes!” She and a videographer came to my house a few weeks ago and were here for almost two hours, but only a few sound clips from what my mother and I said were included. I’ve included the link to the story down below, but first there are some things that were left out that I feel strongly about, so I want to make sure they are heard by at least a few people.
One of the biggest struggles for me has been finding a psychiatrist that was both accepting new patients and truly listens to what I have to say. My first post-Peace Corps, post IOP psychiatrist tried to insist that I had ADHD when I was really just suffering manic and mixed symptoms. I wrote that provider a letter about how I didn’t feel heard by them and read it aloud during a session. They said I wrote it because I was angry and in denial about my ADHD. They also defensively insisted I was, in fact, being heard, which wasn’t all that great of a way to reassure me. My second psychiatric provider ignored me when I told them I was becoming manic. Despite symptoms that were clearly related to mania (feeling like there were bugs crawling all over my skin, hearing voices, out of control spending, etc), they insisted that I was just experiencing anxiety. In fact, I recently obtained my medical records from that provider and the records still don’t indicate any mania, even though I had to be hospitalized for a week for – you guessed it- mania after that provider continually ignored the symptoms I was reporting. The doctor I have now is wonderful. He listens to me and offers me real solutions for problems I’m experiencing. He’s open to trying pretty much anything to get me well and he repeatedly acknowledges that I work very hard at my wellness and that it must be frustrating to do everything I’m supposed to do and still be quite sick. I’m not sure if he is accepting new patients, but his name is L. Ralph Jones and he is at Carolina Partners in Mental Health. It took me over three years to find a provider that I trust who really listens to what I have to say.
My other truly monumental struggle has been finding the right medications. In the three years and four months since my diagnosis, I have tried most of the medications that are available for Bipolar Disorder, with few offering me much relief or offering relief for very long. My options running short, I’m trying a last ditch medication before the doctor and I have decided ECT may be the answer. I did recently learn about a genetic test that can be done to determine which medications may be the most helpful and I do plan on trying that test before resorting to ECT, which has severe memory side effects.
I want people with Bipolar Disorder to know that there is hope for them and that they just have to keep advocating for themselves with their doctors to try new medications and treatments that may help them. I was inspired to go public with my story to friends and family members on Facebook after watching Carrie Fisher’s HBO special Wishful Drinking. The response to my blog post Coming Clean was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. The more of us who speak out about this illness and mental illness in general, the more normalizing it will be for others who have it. If I can help a single person feel less alone, I feel like I have made the world a little less dark and a little less scary.
For more information on Bipolar Disorder, visit http://www.illuminatedbyu.com in the month of March. We will have podcast episodes and blogs dedicated to the illness for the whole month. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day!