“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation” Glenn Close
Whilst I attempt to write what I want to say, I find myself writing the word ‘bipolar’ as the title, and then deleting it and sitting here staring at a blank page. Perhaps I delete it in an attempt of shame, or denial, or perhaps it's because I don’t identify myself as ‘bipolar’ because I am so much more than a diagnosis from a psychiatrist. I wanted to write about acceptance, acceptance of who I am and who we all are, which is unique and beautifully diverse human beings ‘doing the best we can with what we know’. What it means to me to live with bipolar is that at times I feel numb and emotionless, other times I feel invincible and full of energy, and regularly I have the feeling of being useless and hopeless. The reason I say live with bipolar rather than being bipolar is because I have learnt to accept that yes I may have been diagnosed as bipolar, but that does not mean I am willing to accept that is all I am.
So what is Bipolar, well as I said we are all beautifully unique which means that someone living with bipolar won’t experience the same highs and lows as any other person. Bipolar disorder formerly known as manic depression, words I first heard at the age of 14, is a mental health condition that causes extreme changes in moods from emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Imagine one moment you are on top of the world, you are wired, abnormally excited and seemingly ‘happy’, your thoughts race and you're extremely talkative however not sure exactly what you are saying as you aren't really thinking before you speak. Then the depression suddenly pulls you back down to earth, it's like you wake up, you feel everything and nothing at the same time, you just feel like a void of nothingness, sadness and then the darkness consumes you as you pull away, leaving you feeling detached from reality, numb and hollow. Living with bipolar has been hard, the emotional instability has led me, in the past, to create unhealthy coping strategies in an attempt to control the ever changing emotions and block out the reality in which I was living. I have to say it got a lot harder before it got easier.
So this is why I wanted to write about acceptance, as for me it wasn't until I accepted support that I was able to really accept that I am living with bipolar and that is ok. I accepted that my mental health needs to develop healthier coping strategies, to be able to accept when I was feeling high for what it is, and also learn to not fear when the depression would pull back, but to live in the now and most importantly accept who I am, what I am feeling and every part of my being.
“Acceptance that one has a mental illness and is at increased risk of relapse is an important step in relapse prevention” (Department of Health | Acceptance)
With acceptance I was able to build healthy coping strategies, realize my relationship with alcohol needed to be addressed in order to minimize my risk of further deteriorating my mental health. Acceptance is about accepting the mental illness as a part of yourself, but not as your whole identity, you are not your illness. With saying all of this acceptance of having a mental illness took me a long time to really grasp, and this is because of the stigma that is attached to mental illnesses worldwide, this is a massive barrier that prevents people every single day from getting the support they need.
So let’s talk about stigma, when we think about mental health there has been this negative portrayal of mental illness, and it can actually cause symptoms to worsen in someone who feels, perhaps discriminated against due to their mental health, and then this can prevent someone from seeking support. There are many different types of stigma, and for many people it's their own self-stigma that prevents them from talking openly, even with their friends, about how they feel. This is due to internalized feelings of shame and fear of not being accepted. Self-stigma for me for a long time kept me silent, but self-stigma stems from the social and public stigma of negative attitudes towards people living with mental illnesses. Imagine if we negatively judged someone for having a car crash and breaking some bones, or having a physical illness, we would more likely judge that person if they did not get the support they need. So why is it in society we judge people, and feel judged for seeking support for mental health illnesses? When what we should be doing is encouraging acceptance and educating ourselves on the impacts of mental illnesses on individuals who, every day, have an internal battle in their minds.
Acceptance can reduce the self-stigma, and there are many ways in which acceptance can be worked towards in regards to recovery. There are support groups with peer support workers, where someone with a lived experience of mental illness shares their story with mental illnesses and how they live well, this can give someone hope who has recently been diagnosed. By sharing our stories with mental health we can support others and build confidence, thus preventing relapse and also increasing awareness and acceptance. With connection and support it is possible to reframe someone's negative self-beliefs about their diagnosis and give hope, connection and acceptance is vital to relapse prevention and recovery.
When we alter our attitudes and beliefs towards people living with mental illness and ensure we grow our awareness in order to have more insight, we can help reduce the negative impacts of stigma. Positive attitudes are fundamental in awareness and acceptance for the people living with mental illnesses, it ensures that they get support and simply talk about what's going on for them. Acceptance is a stepping stone in the journey of recovery.
Heres some Positive affirmations that can encourage self-love and self-acceptance
“I accept myself for all that I am”
“I am loved, I am cared for by myself and others”
“I accept my needs and actively seek to fulfill them”
“I accept the things I cannot change, in doing so I am able to move forward”
“I lovingly accept myself exactly as I am”
“I am ready to accept love, happiness and joy into my life”
“I accept what is, with no resistance”
“I accept others exactly as they are, without trying to judge or change them”