I may be in the minority here, but I think living with mental illness is a blessing in disguise. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (II) in 2008 (I have been diagnosed with bipolar I as well, so who really knows!). Prior to the diagnosis, I battled depression and severe anxiety for years. Since my diagnosis of BD, I have experienced my best times and my worst times.

I tend to say my journey with bipolar disorder started when I was in high school. I became more aware of the symptoms at age 17. However, looking back (now knowing what bipolar disorder is), I have realized my journey started much earlier. It runs in my family (maternal grandfather, father, and older brother), yet I didn’t know much about it. The first symptom I experienced was depression. I would hear commercials on the radio talking about antidepressants, and I remember thinking, “That’s exactly how I feel.” But I told myself I was just dramatic, unhappy with my life, weak, and weird. When I was 17, after a traumatic turn of events (think a group of best girl friends, exile, and senior year festivities) triggered the first deep depression of my life. I couldn’t get out of bed, make friends, or go to school events. This is when I started therapy. The depression got to a point where my dad told me I needed to find a new place to live. It never actually came to that; my dad and I are very close. But I do understand that I was very difficult to be around (I was very angry and irritable).

Fast forward two years: severe anxiety kicked in. I’ve always had some variation of anxiety (I’m extremely claustrophobic). However, this was much worse. I was 19-years-old, and my anxiety became so bad that I couldn’t leave my house. I was able to go to work and my brother’s pool (but not in his apartment). If I left the house to go anywhere else, I would have a severe anxiety attack. During that summer, I had agoraphobia. That summer is when I started medication. I started to get better once I was forced to get on a plane for a conference for the newspaper I edited.

The next year, age 20, was when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had begun to self-harm. Daily. I had never done anything like that before this point. When I shared that with my therapist, she immediately referred me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed on October 23. Truthfully, I was a little relieved. I had an explanation for why I was experiencing all this, and I had a team of professionals helping me.

The hardest part of my diagnosis was telling friends and family, and finding support. My friends and family were very understanding, but when it came to needing support, they were lacking. I don’t blame them whatsoever; with the stigma behind mental illness, there is a lack of education. However, it was difficult not having anyone to talk to. It took years for my parents to fully accept that I wasn’t making it up (they never said it, but they often implied it). Luckily, my therapist was amazing and I shared everything with her. She helped me through my darkest times, and I am forever grateful.

I experienced an array of episodes: depression, deeper depression, hypomania, mania, mixed episodes, rapid cycling, and stability. It is an exhausting ride; however, I truly believe bipolar is the reason I am a creative and loving person! Because I have the ability to feel so many different emotions, I can relate to number of people on an empathetic level. I am able to feel what they feel, which helps me to connect with others better than some. When I am hypomanic or manic, I am extremely creative. I’ve noticed lately that this happens when I am stable, as well. I had the courage to move from Cleveland to Los Angeles because of bipolar (I was hypomanic at the time, but it worked out great). I attribute my writing, crafting, dancing, yoga, and more to my bipolar disorder. Side note: I used to be hesitant to say “my” bipolar, as it means you claim ownership over it (and I thought that was a bad thing). Now, I gladly claim ownership! “My” bipolar is my personal journey living with the disorder; it’s how “my” disorder affects me.

I’ve found that the most important thing for good mental health is having an amazing support system. After moving to LA (2013), I fell into the worst depression I’ve experienced thus far. It lasted 8 months. I couldn’t leave the apartment (agoraphobia again). I could have given up and moved back to Ohio, but my boyfriend was unconditionally supportive (having strong communication is key). I told him how I felt and what I needed. I wasn’t demanding; I simply stated things, as opposed to forcing him to guess what was wrong. We continue to do this in our relationship, and I believe it’s the reason we are such a great couple! In addition to my boyfriend, I have my amazing team of doctors. I have a great psychiatrist, an astounding therapist, and a holistic primary doctor. I have a small group of fabulous friends from the neighborhood. I don’t have family nearby, but I can call them anytime. I have a poodle, Archie, who is my bipolar support dog (he alleviates much of my depression). I also blog about having bipolar disorder, so I’ve created a community of online friends and supporters!

It has been a long, painful, beautiful journey, and it’s not over yet. There will always be ups, downs, cycles and episodes. However, there will also always be happiness, creativity, laughter, love and passion. It’s all a balance. I’ve learned to embrace bipolar disorder as a gift, and it has impacted my life. It’s not always easy to say this, but I am truly happy (even with my lows)!

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LyndsayBio: Lyndsay is a healthy living blogger (thebalancedbrunette.com) and social media manager living with bipolar disorder. She was diagnosed in 2008, and through countless struggles and pain, she is now thriving with her mental illness. Lyndsay is the social media manager for the International Bipolar Foundation’s Instagram account. She dedicates her life to spreading awareness about mental health conditions while eradicating stigma the best she can. Lyndsay lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and bipolar support poodle, Archie.

Lyndsay can be found on her blog