How do I live a life of fulfillment? How will I accomplish all the things that I planned to do? Are the dreams I once had now gone now that I’ve been diagnosed with a lifelong illness? These are the questions I would ask myself daily when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19.
“I have learned that though this is a lifelong illness … it isn’t something that has to stop me in my tracks.
As I moved through my adolescence towards young adulthood with major depressions, suicidal ideations, manias and drug abuse, I thought my dreams were slipping further from my reach. With one little word—bipolar—I thought my life would end early, by my own hand. How was I supposed to accomplish my dreams when everyone with a mental illness was homeless, dangerous and unstable?
This was before I discovered the truth: mental illness affects one in four people. This was before I discovered the power of roll models, peers and organizations that remind us that dreams are possible. When I was the most unstable, and the most terrified of what my life might hold, someone gave me the book, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. Reading the words of someone with my same diagnosis who struggled greatly, yet was able to accomplish her dreams, shook my foundation and my self-imposed limitations. Suddenly the world opened up to me.
After I learned about Dr. Jamison, I grew more confident in my dreams and began to realize that it was possible to find the right treatment, make healthy choices and find support. I realized that with these in place, I too might have a chance to accomplish attainable goals. Because of NAMI and other organizations I learned that you can not only have people help you find treatment in your community, but that you can find and meet peers struggling with similar fears, pains and feelings of trepidation over life decisions.
Some goals and dreams have changed, but I have found new dreams that inspire me just as much and more. I am proud of the life I live and the choices I have made.
Though I have realized that I need to follow dreams that will still allow me to be healthy, I know now that I can find dreams that are attainable and exciting; dreams that give me passion and a feeling of accomplishment. In achieving dreams it is important to note that it is not a disability that keeps many people from dreams of being rock stars or presidents, we all need to make dreams, and ultimately goals, that fit our own individual abilities and needs. But we cannot be held back by our disabilities. We can exceed everyone's expectations time and again.
Through hard work, much luck and the support of peers I have been able to travel the world, publish a book, Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother’s Struggle to Save Her, am a national and international public speaker and am the associate producer on Hidden Pictures, the first full length documentary on global mental health. I have learned that though this is a lifelong illness, one that I need to work with and work hard to control sometimes, it isn’t something that has to stop me in my tracks.
In my travels I have met thousands of individuals living with mental illness accomplishing their dreams. I have also learned that of those who are living well with a mental illness, it is our responsibility to speak out and share our stories to fight stigma. It is our responsibility to show that mental illness is everywhere, not just the unfortunate individuals struggling to find help at the bottom of their rope. We are a community, and through the shared stories of peers we can spread hope and tell the world not only that we can accomplish our goals, but that many of us already have.
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