At the age of 13, I was most likely like many teenagers at that time. I wanted Nike sneakers and Jordache jeans. I had a group of friends that I liked to do things with. I cared about my grades and my parent’s approval. I would never say I was sheltered, but what I thought was the real world was different.
I am not sure if it is the over achiever in me or because of my insecurities due to just being a young teenager, but I started to feel like I was not in the “in” crowd. At the time, I have to admit that I thought kids who had anorexia or had issues with depression or were not “normal” were freaks.
At the age of 13, it was already hard because I wasn’t sure if I felt in. I had friends in different circles, but wanted to be considered in the “in” crowd. If you are reading this as a teenager, I can tell you that what you are being told now, “all of this won’t matter when you grow up” that is really true. There are some exceptions, but that is not where I am going with this blog.
So, here I am…I am 13, getting good grades including advanced math, leading trails at my grandparents on the weekends, spending time with friends, enjoying playing games and going on vacations with my family and then……BAM!
For whatever reason, I became one of those “freaks”. I was so depressed that I could not read a sentence and comprehend what it said, I could not do simple tasks like vacuuming the stairs, I cried for no reason at all and suddenly felt like I had no friends.
At that time, I would be out of school for a few weeks and then when I came back I was able to catch up with all my work in a few days. (Later this was determined to be the manic side of my illness.)
However, before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was just that wacky depressed person. I was ashamed of who I had become. I didn’t enjoy anything. If someone asked me why I was crying, I really did not have an answer.
Then, at the age of 17 I had my first blown manic episode. To read more about that you can read some of my blog entries.
It was after this manic episode and my official diagnosis, that I started realizing that what I had suspected was true. I now was a “freak”. I now was the one in school who had spent weeks in a psychiatric hospital. Due to the stigma, even I was convinced that I was different from everyone else because my illness affected my brain.
It was not only the way others, including myself viewed myself, but I also noticed the difference in care that people with mental illnesses was a lot worse than in the “regular” parts of the hospital. The facilities were not clean, many times there were people having to sleep on the floor, garbage was not emptied for days, many of the staff did not treat the patients with dignity and respect and the list goes on and on.
I have advocated for people to not only raise awareness about the diseases that affect the brain, but that there is recovery. I also have fought for those who are less fortunate than me. I am what is considered highly functional and luckily I have had insurance. I also have fought my own battles regarding having to pay over $6,000 because my health insurance was different than my mental health insurance and they fought over who had to pay and it came down to me having to pay. I could go on and on with the things regarding mental illness and what needs to be change. However, I have decided to get to the answer of the question that my title poses.
If I were to describe myself, I would say I am a fighter and if I think something is wrong, I will do everything I can to change it including making others accountable.
I am not afraid of talking to nursing supervisors, hospital administrators, insurance companies, politicians, etc.
The title of this blog is “Was I an Advocate or a Person with Bipolar Disorder First” My first thought was that it kind of became simultaneously.
Then, I thought about it and wanted to pat myself on the back and say I was an advocate first. When I feel someone is wronged that everything should be done to make it wrong. However,in this case, because I had been pulled into the stigma that people with mental health issues are freaks and didn’t know anything about the injustices, there was no way I could claim that I was an advocate for people with mental illnesses before my diagnosis.
Then, I thought well it was because I had a mental illness and saw all the problems that we, as people with mental illnesses face, that I became an advocate after I was diagnosed.
However, after much thought, I have determined that because I am a fighter, I was given this illness to overcome it to show others there is hope in recovery not only for myself, but for others. Note: I still have troubles and I am not sure I will ever be able to say that I have overcome it. However, I learn every day more about myself, my illness, and how I can deal with my illness.
I hope that some day all the things I have had to endure no longer exist. I also hope that there is no reason for advocates for the mentally ill.
Until then, I am a person who has bipolar disorder and will fight as an advocate until the end.
Please take a few minutes to read my most read blog to help you realize what I am advocating for. I Have a Dream (Re: Mental Illness)