Seeking help to manage your bipolar disorder is NOT weak; admitting that you need help is a sign of great personal strength.
It was my final year of law school, and all was well on paper. But true to form, depression didn’t care. It led me to the brink of me taking my own life and earned me my first week as a psychiatric inpatient.
Upon my release, I was far from well. But for the first time in months, I had hope that I could become well. Inspired by the resilience of other patients I’d met in the hospital, I was determined to finish what I’d started, to prove that a psychiatric condition wasn’t going to stop me from achieving my goals. But I was also fragile, embarrassed, and afraid.
When I returned to school, I learned about the rumor that had spread to explain my absence: JAIL. My internalized shame and stigma was so strong back then, I was actually grateful that my fellow future lawyers assumed I’d been incarcerated as opposed to hospitalized, so I did nothing to quell the rumor mill.
I didn’t want anyone to find out about my hospitalization. I was still battling depression, and my brain wasn’t working well. A heavy fog engulfed my every neuron. I was behind on my readings. I needed help. Still, I didn’t want to admit it. My husband all but dragged me to the university disability services office. He pleaded my case, and before I knew it I had “accommodations.” This translated into a note taker, a bit more time on my exams, and the ability to take them in a private room with a proctor, minus the distraction of classmates who presumed I was on parole.
I didn’t realize how badly I had needed those accommodations until I received them, and today I credit my husband and the disability services adviser for making it possible for me to graduate on time. Had I sought accommodations before my hospitalization, I expect there would’ve been no need for it. Looking back, the fog now lifted, I see that wellness isn’t about the absence of illness; rather, it’s about knowing when you need help, pursuing it as best you can, and accepting it when it arrives.
Today, I know that seeking help is always a sign of strength and intelligence. Back then, I didn’t. Back then, I was so ashamed of my mental health condition that I’d rather people consider me a criminal than a person with a psychiatric diagnosis. Back then, I was so ashamed of needing help that I had to rely on my husband to secure it for me. Back then, I was at the mercy of a system I didn’t understand, but one that thankfully helped guide me toward wellness. And note that I don’t say “back to wellness,” for my journey has led me forward, not backward.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” While I rarely agree with federal agencies on much, I wholeheartedly agree on this. Recovery is a process—one that has nothing to do with returning to some romanticized past state and everything to do with moving forward, striving, and self-direction.
Thanks to medication, therapy, faith, a decent diet, moderate exercise, a supportive family, and loyal friends, I’ve been able to fully engage in the process of recovery and thoroughly appreciate the experience of wellness. Translation: I now recognize when I need help, and I’m no longer ashamed to seek it.
For this, I also credit you, my dear readers—my fellow warriors, my community. You remind me that I am never alone; you keep me in your good company; you inspire me with your own stories of survival and recovery.
Because of your experiences as much as my own, I’ve come to realize that together we can become well, be well, and live well, while also living with all sorts of different disabilities, including but not limited to bipolar disorder. So today, I wish for all of you the same wondrous gift you have helped impart unto me: wellness. In other words, the insight to know when you need help, the sense to seek it, and the audacity to accept it.
Printed as “The Strength to Ask for And Receive Help,” Winter 2018
Whether you live with bipolar or love someone who does, you can find comfort, wisdom, and strategies (maybe even a good laugh!) in these inspirational books. We can lose ourselves in the power of the written word, compelled by the raw emotions, deep insights, and humorous takes offered by others like us—people who share our...
Selena Gomez is no stranger to navigating mental health challenges, from dealing with the emotional burden of lupus to her kidney transplant to bipolar’s depression and anxiety. She’s learned the power of self-care and having the right connections—and how to say “no.” On April 3, 2020, singer and actor Selena Gomez candidly revealed that she...
I’m an expert in bipolar management, yet I still have frequent mood swings and deal with symptoms regularly. Shouldn’t I have “solved” this by now? Shouldn’t I have “recovered”? Bipolar Disorder, Expertise, & Mood Management I’ve been writing books about bipolar disorder management since 1998, and my webpage started in 2002. How is it possible...
It won’t be hard to say goodbye to 2020, given all the challenges it brought. But New Year’s Eve itself might be difficult, especially if—like me—you are single and anticipating an emotionally charged time with potential mood swings. That’s why I am planning ahead for what to do—I want to ring in the new year...