I’ve been battling migraines and bipolar disorder for most of my life. Despite this, I’ve never truly considered myself “disabled”. I mean,I can still walk, still work, still participate in activities, still contribute. But when I stop to think about the impact both of these conditions have on my life, I realize they have, at least in part, disabled me. I have no social life to speak of any longer, mostly due to my anxiety and my chronic migraines. I keep having to cancel plans, and eventually, people stop asking you to do things. Also, I can no longer perform my job at the level I am accustomed to. I no longer run or exercise regularly due to the pain. I’m at a loss right now as to where to go.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that I have been treating my bipolar disorder the same way I treat my migraines: take a pill and hope it goes away. That doesn’t exactly work for a serious mental illness. There’s a lot more work that is needed to live successfully with bipolar. Regular therapy visits are crucial, as is self care. Self care meaning setting a routine for myself, trying to exercise or at least move, getting enough sleep, removing myself from stressful situations. Yes, taking medication helps, but so does taking time to talk to a friend, getting fresh air and recognizing how far I have come instead of bemoaning how far I have yet to go.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to take our mental health as seriously as our physical health. I am sure it has to do with stigma, with accessibility. For me, I am a health care worker, I am not the patient. I push myself to work through the pain, to fight the mental fog that seems to hover around me so much of late. I brush off all the symptoms I’ve been noticing, I ignore the signs that I’m slipping. Then it all blows up in my face. I am too hard on myself and I always have been. I do not know how to stop being like this.
I feel like I am right back at the beginning, that it’s the day I was told I have bipolar disorder all over again. And again, I realize it’s because you can’t treat a migraine and bipolar the same way. You cannot push through the pain of bipolar, you cannot escape it by taking a nap, you cannot get an IV medication or put an ice pack on your head. The bipolar will still be there. You have to accept it’s permanence and seriousness. I have not yet accepted either and that is where I am failing in my treatment. I bought into the stigma around mental illness, that it’s a character flaw, rather than the biological flaw that it is. I keep thinking it’s something I can get rid of, rather than actively living with it.
So I am telling myself this: You are sick, but it’s OK. It is not your fault. You are still worthy of love, worthy of respect. You still have much to contribute, to accomplish. You are strong and you are brave. Forgive yourself and find what makes you happy.