There are countless other mental illnesses besides depression which carry with them just as much, if not more stigma. I’ve spoken out about my experience with depression, but in truth it’s only part of my story. In order to continue to bring issues into the light, I’m led to take it a step further. What if I told you I have Bipolar Disorder? Would you think of me differently? Would you think less of me? Pity me? Fear me? I’ve attempted to describe what it’s like to be in the depths of despair. Imagine digging your way out, but then instead of resting at the top you wildly keep climbing higher and higher until you get to a point where you are flirting with disaster.

It’s a roller coaster that in reality never ends. There’s thrill and danger, anticipation and anxiety, moments you are holding on tightly followed by times you must let go. There are twists and turns that toss you around making your head spin. The dark tunnels often seem never ending until you are finally thrust back into the light causing a moment of relief, only to realize the ride is not yet over and you can’t quite see what’s around the next bend. You may be flipped upside down then thrown immediately into a spiral, not knowing whether you will end up crashing. When the ride suddenly comes to a screaming stop, relief sets in. You are breathless and nauseous while your head continues to spin. By the time you’re ready to scramble off you realize you’ll probably be back for more. Whether the wait is a mere ten minutes or an endless line of frustration and impatience, you won’t know until you get there, so with every step forward you wonder just how long it will be until the ride begins again.

The diagnosis is complicated. The medical treatment and process of finding a successful cocktail of medication is very long and difficult. I really want people to understand this illness better. Not from a medical standpoint, but on a personal level. I hear the word “bipolar” used so flippantly and with such a negative connotation which is so unfair. It’s a serious, debilitating illness that can have devastating consequences. I’m living proof that there are successful, responsible, loving people who suffer, but have also defied the scary statistics. What I want most is for the world to be more aware, patient and empathetic.

I’ve wrestled with the idea of sharing my full diagnosis because I’m well aware of people’s perceptions of this illness. It is less understood, especially the phases not associated with depression. But when I shared my story with a group of teenagers and was completely transparent, I could see that many of them were relieved to find out that I have struggled as well. In order to convince people to open up I have to be completely honest. I should not be ashamed that sometimes my brain backfires. I should not be ashamed that I’ve had to seek help. Looking back on my experiences I see judgment and misunderstanding, but I also see unexpected compassion and God’s miracles woven throughout in specific moments and through certain people. I want the public to see that a diagnosis does not define me. I want to shed the light on the misconceptions so more people will come forward and share.

I hope you continue to accompany me on this journey of opening up and facing the stigma of mental illness head on. We should all be open to each other’s struggles while loving and supporting one another in times of need. Once again I am stepping out in faith certain that this is what God is asking me to do in order to reach anyone who may be suffering in silence. I know He will lead me and help me during the process, so I will hold my head up, unashamed and ready to face whatever He has in store for me with confidence. I am ready to show the world that what has caused me pain, God is ultimately going to use for good and I will not let any of that go to waste.