I was seventeen years old when I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Depression. My doctor at the time prescribed Lexapro 20mg to get me started. We were supposed to discuss additional treatment during my next visit, but I never went back. I simply ignored my diagnosis. The first thought I had was, “I’m not crazy!” That was fifteen years ago. I was in denial because back then. I didn’t know what I know now, which is that mental illness is like any other illness. The longer it goes untreated, the sicker one becomes. It was hard hearing those words, “you have a mental illness.” Honestly, fifteen years after my diagnosis, it is still difficult for me to wrap my head around it.
After I was diagnosed, I did not tell anyone. I think some of my family members knew “something” was wrong, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. My mom would always say, “she must be crazy?” Referring to me of course. I didn’t want anyone to know at first because I didn’t believe it myself, but shortly after my first suicide attempt, I was forced to see the reality of my illness and sought help. Even then, I kept it a secret. This time, it was because I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like everyone would judge me and condemn me. I was more afraid of being judged then the illness itself. I distanced myself from my family and friends so I wouldn’t have to explain my odd behavior or my mood swings. I soon became a master manipulator and liar.
In 2014, shortly after my youngest son was born, I could no longer hide my illness from my family. It was becoming a burden I could longer bare by myself. It began to seep its way in every relationship I had in my life, including my children. I had to ask for help. At the time, my manic episodes were lasting for months and my family definitely noticed that something was wrong.
Luckily, my sister, mom, and brother were very supportive. They tried to understand my illness without judgment, only love, and support. This is where I learned that mental illness not only affects the host but the family members as well. I could see that my sister was struggling with my diagnosis, but she never allowed her ignorance of the disease to get in the way of our relationship. In a weird way, I think it brought us closer together.
My brother later told me that he suspected that I was struggling with a mental illness, but wasn’t sure how to approach me. I can understand why he felt resislent. Mental illness is a sore subject for a lot of people, especially in the black community. If you have a mental illness, you are treated like a leper. I can’t help but wonder if my life would have been different if I had shared my diagnosis sooner or if my brother had spoken to me about the symptoms that I was displaying.
Are you unsure if your loved one has a mental illness? Well, these are signs to look out for:
Appoaching your loved one about them possibly having a mental illness is hard. They may become defensive and angry. They may feel like you are calling them “crazy”. It can get ugly. There are a few things that you would need to understand before you proceed. Below are things to keep in mind when you decide to have that conversation.
- Their journey of acceptance is their responsibility alone. You cannot force them to accept it. You cannot force them to agree with you. The only action you can take is planting the seed. Present your concern and allow them to disguist and accept. The journey to acceptance is a long one, so please be patient with them.
- Be prepared. It’s going to take multiple conversations and attempts
- When having a discussion, listen with a open heart without judgment.
- Offer information only when they are willing to accept it
- Set boundaries for your own well-beingKnow your limitations. This process is difficult for everyone involved. If you are unable to fully invest yourself, it is ok to walk away for a moment
- Seek help, advice, and/or counseling.
- Seek resources for families dealing with mental illness
- Recognize that you are responsible for their happiness and health.
- Ask them to “humor you” and go see a physician togetherWhile getting a wellness check up performed, you can also ask for the physician to do a mental evaluation as well.
- You can tell them that the evaluation is to prove you wrong.
- Do not trick them or lie to them. This will cause broken trust, thus making it even more difficult to convince your loved one of seeking help.
- Voice your concern with compassion
- Build trust and understanding
- Your loved may continue to get angry when you make suggestions. The best action to take is to not get angry back. You want to try to stay calm so you can show them that you understand and want to help.
- Listen to their concerns without judgement
The stigmas of mental illness can make it extremely difficult for one to accept their struggle, but you can help them through the process. I hope whoever is in your life that is struggling with a mental illness is able to get the help that they need and deserve. I pray for them that they have the courage to face what is ahead and know that they are NOT their mental illness.
“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.” -Unknown