Dear Fellow Traveler,
Did you think life was going to go like this? You had plans and dreams about work, life, accomplishments, where you wanted to live and with who. Then mental illness stepped in. Now what?
I was 14 when the darkness fell on me. I had been a freshman: insecure, loud, loving, caring, smart, prideful, naïve, hopeful, occasionally hardworking, unfocused, etc. I played drums in bands, played goalie in soccer, and played risk with my friends, sometimes for days.
Then I was nothing. I was a contaminant. I was walking anguish.
I got home every day and carried myself upstairs to my room. I would turn on the radio, collapse into my comforter, and sob. The music drowned out the crying so no one else could hear.
I was not alone. Kay Redfield Jameson had bipolar disorder, like I do, and she survived. She had become a clinical psychologist and written books about her experience. I read her books and was taken with one thought: If she could survive, maybe I could too. So, I went to work staying alive. I was a good client for my mental health professionals. I took my meds. The rest was a blur.
It took two years to find effective meds. Then the world opened back up. I began to see the vibrancy of life around me again. I began to feel happiness. I felt alive.
After years of therapy and work with people with mental illness, I wish I could go back to 14 year old me and share a few things.
You are still you inside.
I felt like I was living on the other side of a plate glass window, separate and isolated from the world. I was unable to interact. I felt intense pain, and my pain could consume me as the world continued to exist on the other side of the glass.
You are still you inside. Bipolar disorder took so much from me during those years, but inside I was still Brandon. It took every bit of my strength, creativity, spark, and perseverance to stay alive. My traits and skills were repurposed for survival.
During those two years, my life was on hold. My life resumed when I found the right meds and I worked to catch up on what I had missed. Mental illness cost me my sophomore and junior years of high school, but I got back the rest of my life.
Whatever your mental illness may cost you, you are still you.
Do your best. Release the rest.
Your best is probably worse than some of your worst days before. Mine was. Give 100% of what you have. That is enough for today. You may not have all the capacity you have enjoyed, but you will again.
Release the expectation that you need to be as productive as you were before mental illness. You may miss honor roll, the promotion, the quota. You might miss them all. I did. I did not design my life before mental illness with enough space to go through suicidal ideation for two years. It is ok that you cannot meet every expectation you did before mental illness affected you. Give yourself some grace.
Take your meds. Be honest with your team.
You have a great shot at getting your life back. To do that, take your meds and give your team a chance. Your psychiatrist is making educated guesses about your brain chemistry. If you do not take your meds as prescribed and communicate, they cannot help you. Your psychologist or therapist is trying to heal your mind. They cannot help you unless you are honest with them and you engage the process.
Be honest. Take your pills. Follow your professionals’ advice. Communicate.
Whatever that takes, do it. This is your lifeline. Take it seriously. When things do not work, communicate and keep trying.
You are good.
When I started showing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, I thought I was going to see a psychiatrist, get pills, and be better, instantly! We started medications. The days turned into weeks, months, and years. That grind eroded any sense of hope I had. I learned I did not just hate the disorder, I hated myself.
After years of therapy, I began to understand that I matter just because I exist. The creator of the universe really does think you are the best thing ever. It is part of being human, and nothing can take that away. When God thinks of you, He smiles, laughs, and loves.
You were good. You are good. You will be good. I know you may not believe it now, but it is true.
You can make it.
My psychiatrist thought I was going to die by suicide in 1999. I am still here. Did it suck? Yes, but I made it.
I still have bipolar disorder. I still take my pills, meet with my therapist, exercise regularly, and eat well to manage it. 22 years later, I have a wife, 2 kids, a house, and we’ve started or owned 3 businesses in the last 10 years. I was never supposed to enjoy all of this, but I do.
If I can make it, you can too. You are stronger and better than you know. Just keep going. It is worth every bit. I promise.