One of the best ways to get through challenging times is to talk about it. The more mental illness is misunderstood, the more shame we create for those who have it. The sooner we accept mental illness as a real disease, the sooner we support those who need it most.
Someone very close to me has been recently diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Bipolar II is a milder case of Bipolar I and is defined as being present if the person experiences episodes of both hypomania and depression but no manic episodes. The severity of the highs does not lead to hospitalization (Black Dog Institute).
For almost a decade he lived with his illness, never truly knowing what was happening to his mind. From the ages of 20 to 30 he would go through periods of unimaginable sadness, disconnect and despair. He was trapped in his own mind and didn’t know how to get out.
When he turned 30 he finally decided to visit a psychologist and seek help for his unpredictable moods. Some days he felt so alive, overwhelmingly connected to everything and bursting with creativity. He would sleep for only a few hours a night, but be full of energy and enthusiasm for days on end. Until the day he crashed. He would wake up in the morning with little desire to even get out of bed. He felt as though he had no purpose. He was uncertain it would ever end.
At first he was diagnosed with depression and given an anti-depressant to take everyday. After only a few months of taking the medication he began to feel more like himself again and stopped taking it. Not long after the moods came back. The darkness he thought was a distant memory slowly began to creep back in. There are many cases of depressives who stop taking their meds because they feel better. This can be very dangerous without the consent of your physician and more often than not the symptoms can come back almost immediately.
He was unhappy with his psychologist and felt that they weren’t connecting; she didn’t understand him. Something that is crucial when dealing with mental illness is finding a mental health professional that you connect with and trust.
He went for months without any support from a professional or pill and fell deeper and deeper into his dark hole of despair.
It wasn’t until reading “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, did he being to realize the importance of finding someone he deeply trusted.
After his first visit, he was told he had Bipolar II. He was administered a test, which measured where he landed on the Bipolar scale. He was taken back by this and was unsure of how he felt by this prognosis. For days after the visit he read and read, watched and read, more and more information about Bipolar — famous artists, musicians and performers who have had it or have it. Suddenly it all began to fall into place.
Once he was able to truly identify with this explanation of his mood swings he began to own it. The ideas and behaviors of Bipolar made sense. He realized the moods weren’t who he was; they were the product of the disease. Just like when we feel miserable and tired because we have the flu, we aren’t the flu and it doesn’t last forever.
He slowly began to talk about it; first with his partner, mother, father, brothers and friends. The more he spoke about it, the less ashamed he became. The more vulnerable he was about his position, the more the shame faded away.
He meditates every morning, does yoga, exercises, has a healthy diet, maintains close friendships, loves his job and continues to take his antidepressants and see his psychologist. The tool belt he has created for himself has allowed him to go almost a year without any depressive state. His moods are controlled and he has a deep understanding of the importance of sleep and slowing down.
He recently reread journal entries from five years ago and feels great relief and gratitude for where he is now and how far he has come. He sometimes worries about the depression coming back, but knows that if it does come back, it won’t last forever and he’s strong enough to overcome its grasp.
Statistics on depression:
- Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. (3)
- Four percent of the world’s population is depressed. (3)
- Death from suicide accounts for more fatalities than either from armed conflicts globally or the number of people dying from traffic accidents (1).
- There are approximately 900,000 suicides a year world-wide. (1)
- Suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death among people aged 15-34 years. (1)
- In any given year, more than one million Australians have depression. (2)
- And more than two million have anxiety. (2)
- Approximately 2000 Australians die from suicide every year. (3)
- Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. (2)
1 –World Health Organization
2 – Australian Buereau of Statistics
3 – Beyond Blue (beyondblue.org.au)
If you’d like to learn more about depression and manic-depression (bipolar), there are two amazing books I highly recommend, which are memoirs of one man and one woman’s fight against their mental illnesses. “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig and “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by Kay Redfield Jamison.
If you or someone you love has depression, understand that you aren’t alone. Seek love and support. Find a mental health professional. Talk about it. Nothing lasts forever, not even depression.
We all need the clouds to appreciate the blue skies.