In today's post, we continue with part 2 of Jeannine's story of living with mental illness. Jeannine recently disclosed her diagnosis with bipolar 2 disorder, and today we'll get a bit deeper into her story. If you missed part 1, check it out here!
Mental Illness Misconceptions
The biggest misconception people have about mental illness is that we are ‘crazy’ and dangerous. I hate when people talk about how they met someone who was just so rude and angry about something that she/he "must be bipolar." That is a huge pet peeve of mine because everyone gets angry and that certainly does not define the disorder. Or when I tell people about my disorder they try to comfort me by telling me about the one time they were “depressed” over a breakup or something similar. I am always like OMGosh that is sadness, not depression. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the disorder because of the images that are portrayed of people with mental illness. You rarely hear the good. It is often that they killed someone or did a mass murder or were gunned down by police. It frustrates me because there are so many people who have a mental illness or bipolar who are managing and living their lives without any violence. There are good aspects to my illness during hypomania. I become very creative and productive. I can complete a weeks' worth of tasks in a day. I need little sleep and feel super refreshed and energized. I love being hypomanic because of my ability to just be on the ball and stress free. A lot of people are unaware of the hypomanic or manic aspects of bipolar disorder.
I am registered for a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or DBT program and have been on the waitlist for over a year now. My treatment is still a work in progress and I really wish I had more information or a better plan here, but the truth is I really don’t. I take it one day at a time and try really hard to monitor my moods, symptoms and their manifestations. I also have limits on my bank accounts, no credit cards, and live directly on cash. It helps to avoid overspending, which is a symptom of hypomania. My diagnosis is still new to me and I am working on developing better treatment plans for myself. I self medicate a lot and that is something I really want to work on.
About Jeannine's Support System
My support system consists of my dog, a few friends, my ex, and my counsellors.
My biggest savior in my whole treatment is my dog Misty. She is my saving grace and I say it all the time, she saves my life every single day. My dog keeps me grounded and reminds me to enjoy the little things in life. I go for walks and get to be in nature, which helps me so much. I can relieve stress by just petting her and hugging her. I cry to her and confide in her. I know it sounds strange because she is only a dog, but the love we have for each other and our connection is what I need on a daily basis. She is the best part of my life and I want to take this opportunity to say that emotional support animals (ESA) should be recognized in Canada and not just the US. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have her.
[My friends] show more understanding and tolerance than before because of [bipolar 2 disorder] and they allow me to express myself more. I have very few friends, one in particular, who I feel completely comfortable talking to about my illness because she doesn’t judge. She knows how to listen and understands how difficult it is for me to talk about it. She has the necessary empathy to give me her undivided attention and I love her so much for that. Thanks baby girl - you know who you are! My family doesn’t really know enough about it to say anything. It is definitely not something that we talk about -- at all!
I wish I had a better support system, but you can’t force someone to support you. I do wish that I had a place to talk openly about what I feel and what I go through daily. It would be nice to know other people who struggle the way I do, but are successful in their management of their illness.
When Well-Meaning Words Hurt
I don’t like when people say that they know someone who has this disorder and tell me about a bunch of horrible things the person has done, only to say "Are you sure you have bipolar?" as if the disorder is only associated with bad things. There are times when I am hypomanic and I wish I would stay up there. Since I have become a little more open I have heard a plethora of advice, such as "Maybe if you didn’t give in to your disorder..." or "Just tell yourself to get up!" Oh, and my favourite is "I think you use your disorder as an excuse, and maybe if you didn’t label yourself then you wouldn’t feel the way you do." The worst thing I think I have ever heard and still hear a lot is to keep my disorder a secret because I will be labeled. I absolutely despise when people say that. I feel like there is truth to what they are saying and that is all the more reason to talk about it and let people know. If we don’t start the conversation, how can we ever expect things to change?
There are a few people who inspire me. Jenifer Lewis, the actor, because she is amazing at her craft. I had no idea she was bipolar and when I found out it just amazed me because of the numerous roles she has been in. She is an amazingly versatile actor. My biggest inspiration though is Melody Moezzi, she is the author of Bipolar Life. I love her book because I found it so funny and real. Melody is a Middle Eastern American who is an attorney, author, public speaker, and advocate for bipolar sufferers. I love how she has battled and overcome so much. She had a lot of adversity because like the Black community, the Middle Eastern community does not really acknowledge mental illness. There is a very dismissive attitude amongst both cultures. Her fearlessness inspires me often. She gives me a lot of hope and is a constant reminder that I can heal from this.
What Jeannine Has Learned About Herself
I have learned that I am a tough woman and can overcome anything. I have been through a lot and am still here telling my story.
Final Question: For people you know who may be finding out about your mental illness for the first time via this blog post, what do you most want them to understand?
That I am still Jeannine, the same person that they have always known.
I'm so honoured to be the conduit for Jeannine's story, and can't tell her enough how proud of her I am. If you'd like to reach out to her, please shoot me an email and I will forward to her.
Continuing the conversation, I'll be hosting an important event on February 7th at The Royal Cinema: the premiere of The Blind Stigma, a documentary focusing on mental illness in the Black community. Please check out the documentary trailer, an interview with the filmmaker Stacy-Ann Buchanan, and grab your tickets here! Let's keep this going and keep lifting each other up in love and support.