Childhood-onset Bipolar disorder impacted my life in significant ways. I experienced agitated depression, delusional thinking, and first attempted suicide at the age of 12. Several traumas occurred in my adolescence, which led me to eventually run away from home. I got married at age 15, and we moved dozens of times and were homeless at one point. It wasn’t until I turned 30 and had two hospitalizations that I received an accurate diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, along with generalized anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
During these early years, it was not uncommon for me to have grandiose notions or fall into a deep depression. I also faced the challenges of the stigma of mental illness and being uninsured. Stigma prevented me from building supportive relationships, especially in the faith community where having a “mental illness” was either characterized as lack of faith, sinfulness, or just generally misunderstood. There were few services promoting recovery. Fortunately, there are many more resources available to people now.
Without proper diagnosis, a therapist who held the hope for me, and effective medications, I would not have had the foundation for recovery. Peer support brought socialization and gave me the opportunity to lead a support group; being an advocate has brought me self-esteem, a purpose, and many friends. Teaching others recovery skills, sharing my story, and empowering my peers to live the lives they want despite a mental illness reinforces my own recovery.