I’ve been promising for too long to submit my story to help stop the stigma against mental illness. The reason it has taken me to so long to finally do so is not because I lack passion for the cause. In fact, the opposite is true. Honestly, I have started writing my story for the project many times. Each draft has been off the mark, in my opinion. The exact reason why has eluded me until the night before I sat down and started writing this draft that I sent. My epiphany was triggered by my boyfriend hearing what I consider “therapeutic music” for my month long depressive state. He got mad because he found the music dark and asked me if I was trying to make myself depressed.
I won’t lie, I was angry and hurt that he would suggest I would choose to be mentally ill. I expressed my anger and hurt; however, that resulted in me expressing my feelings in an unhealthy manner wherein I called him every name but his own. When my “anger tank” lost all its gas, my “hurt tank” kicked in, and I tearfully explained exactly why the music was therapeutic to me and pleaded with him to understand I did not want to BE bipolar. Because he does care for me, and did not intend to hurt me with his words, he said he was sorry and knew I was not trying to make myself depressed, but he still could not understand how that music could be therapeutic. I told him he did not have to understand because he had no idea what it felt like to be depressed.
It was at the ‘be’ that I had my epiphany. In my initial drafts, I was writing in hopes that others would understand what it was like to be mentally ill. I wanted them to be more accepting of how I am because I have mental illness. I wanted them to be proud of me because I survived having PTSD and being bipolar.
I am not famous, rich, or successful despite showing potential many times throughout my life to acquire these adjectives. When employed, I tend to get promoted quickly. When in college, my professors praised my academic efforts. Taking stock of my life, there is no doubt that my mental health issues are the primary reason I am not classified as a “successful person” in today’s society. I always start jobs, relationships, projects, etc. with grand intentions, fueled by hypomania, and try my best not to allow my depression to lower my production. But I eventually end up hitting a wall. How can I ration any blame for my burnout to my employers when they were unaware my mind kept working even when I was off the clock?
Even my relationships tend to fail because of my mental health issues. When my husband came to see me in the hospital after a suicide attempt he, in front me, turned to the doctor and said he did not know that woman. Who could blame him when I kept that part of me hidden? When I neglected to sit down and discuss my mental health issues with my daughter while she was growing up? How can I blame her for seeing my attempt to self-medicate my depression with meth, when she was seventeen, as abandonment by her mom?
I have lived my life trying to be the normal I observed around me. Before I was diagnosed as Bipolar, I believed I was a failure. When I was diagnosed, I was relieved to know the cause because I could fix it and be normal. After I tried hard to fix it and discovered that I could not, I believed I was a failure. Now, after all these years, I realize I have to learn to live with the reality of being Bipolar and suffering from PTSD. I have committed myself to be an active participant in medication and behavior modification treatment. If you are unaware, neither one of these treatments are easy. There is no one pill that makes any mental illness go away. Behavior modification is more than establishing and following a regular daily routine. I had to learn my reality is not everyone’s reality, so I have to make allowances for other’s behavior. An example of this is: how I feel that if I am late for anything, others will believe me to be uncaring and disrespectful; therefore, I used to think if others were late for a meeting with me, then they must not care about or respect me. This extreme black and white thinking of mine caused me a lot of pain and was unfair to the other person who did not intend to hurt me.
I have never claimed to be sane. I have never denied the validity of my Bipolar and PTSD diagnoses. Granted, I don’t take pride in having these mental illnesses as part of my medical record. But, truth be told, I do take pride in how well I function in life while coping with them daily. Essentially, what I had to learn to do is constantly analyze every emotion and thought I have to determine if what I’m feeling and thinking is rational so that I can act accordingly. Do I fail at times? Sure. But I’m still better off than I was before learned how to cope. Therefore, I forgive myself for those few times I don’t succeed.
I’ve come up with some rules that I try to live my life by:
1. Never ask how a person is if I don’t really CARE.
2. Do not allow others to steal my JOY.
3. Always see WHY people do what they do despite my resulting feelings.
4. Remember, my NAME was given but the meaning it has for people is determined by me.
5. When I fail I will LEARN from my error.
6. When I cry I will not say I’m SORRY.
7. It is ok to feel angry but I will not act angry until I take TIME to make sure felt because current situation and not because of past.
8. Tell people, “I LOVE you because _.’ Instead of the generic “I love you.”
9. If I have opportunity and reason to tell person something POSITIVE I will do it right then and not wait till later.
10. I am allowed to say NO.
Billie Ann Zahir will be 40 in January and wants to make the next 40+ years her own. She will continue to be a mom, sister, and friend to all those she holds dear. She will continue to cope with her own mental health issues. She will write whenever and in whatever direction her spirit commands. She will be a mental health advocate because the stigma has to end. Everything else in her life, before right now,is excessive weight and being left behind. She is looking forward to the adventure. You can email her at Billieazahir@gmail.com