About the Make a Ripple campaign
This series of blog posts are part of the See Change Make a Ripple campaign, an initiative to help end the stigma of mental health problems by sharing experiences and building public understanding. If you’d like to tell your story, you can visit the Make a Ripple stories portal. If you’d like to write a longer piece like the one below, you can contact a member of the See Change campaign team email@example.com or on 01 8601620
My name is Barbara. I’m 29. I’m an artist, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a friend, a manic depressive.
Being finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after 15years made things clearer certainly, but it didn’t make things any easier. Instead of being met with fear or confusion, I was shown the face of ignorance. Yes, re-naming Manic Depression helped reduce the stigma around it – most people don’t know what Bipolar Disorder IS!!! I didn’t even know what it was until I found out I had it.
I LEARNED how to be Bipolar. I started saying I AM Bipolar, instead of I HAVE. When we get a physical illness, we don’t say I AM Flu. Hi, I AM Cancer, nice to meet you. No, we say I HAVE, or, I SUFFER FROM. We get help. We get sympathy. We get support. Why should my mental illness be any different? If I wore a bandage on my head when I feel mentally unwell would that help others to understand?
Living most of my life in fear of my illness allowed it to control me completely. Like a bully at school, my illness tormented me, beat me senseless, and left me struggling to breathe on a daily basis. My illness became a horrific cloud, building in my chest and shutting out the light inside me. I forgot how to function. I forgot who I was, and how capable I am. For a very long time, I couldn’t understand the normal things, or deal with anything more than dressing myself and eating. I was medicated so heavily sometimes that even they became a problem. The fog of medication eventually became so heavy that it clouded my vision and my mind beyond reach.
After being out of work and education for so long, I had talked myself into believing I wasn’t good enough anymore. Having mental illness meant I was like damaged goods. I found it difficult to go back to college, or even go for job interviews – because, now that I had lived with mental illness I was different. Special. Broken.
I couldn’t take any more pain, or watch my family suffer any longer. I saw my 2yr old niece, and knew that I loved her too much to bring my mental illness into the rest of her life.
Enough was Enough. I took an overdose. I was put on life support after being found by my brother and sister.
After a week of being kept alive by machines, I started to wake up. BOY am I glad they didn’t have a power cut that week!
I had to learn how to walk again as I had such problems with my legs after being unconscious for so long. I was horrifically underweight. I could hardly breathe from pneumonia, and my throat was in tatters from the tubes that had kept me alive, so I had no voice.
Desperate to be alive, I FINALLY started my journey into recovery.
Today, I am healthy. I am well. I am very much alive. I bought my first house with my fiancé last year, and actually, we just got married last month, and are only shortly home from our honeymoon. I’m 2yrs off medication and I’ve managed to keep wellness and vitality in my life.
Today, and everyday, I want to speak out about the stigma around mental illness. If I had not been so frightened of what was happening to me, had I gone for help earlier, had I understood how much I actually COULD do for myself…. My mind boggles at how different my life would have been. And how the lives of my family, and all my friends – who spent hours and days praying like crazy that I wouldn’t die, or end up a vegetable – would have been had I never got that sick in the first place.
The sad thing is, that mental illness is completely avoidable, preventable, and curable. For years all I saw was a future of terrifying sadness and illness. Now, because I came so close to death, I live every day like it is my first and last. I understand now that my life is my own, and only I can be responsible for it. It’s not up to anyone else to fix me. It’s not the doctor’s job, or my family’s, or my friend’s. It’s mine. I have finally learned how to deal with stress and worry. I eat properly for my own body now. I sleep properly. I spend time with people I love, and who love me.
I get help when I’m not managing as best as I would like. I deal with things as they come up – and face up to every small thing – instead of burying it and allowing it to fester and grow inside me like a nuclear time bomb. I have learned to treat myself in a way that any good friend would, and that I am a good person who deserves all the best chances in life – just like everyone else. I’ve had severe mental health problems, and I don’t care who knows it.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in Barbara’s story, or if you need to speak with someone, click through for a list of organisations that can help
See Change understands that there is a complex multiplicity of perspectives on mental health problems and the experience of being unwell. See Change encourages the publication of material that promotes understanding of mental health problems, the experience of being unwell, and recovery. The opinions expressed by contributors to the Make a Ripple campaign are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of See Change, funders, or partner organisations.