In the past 7 years, I’ve worked for three museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, managed and run a small business, curated art jewelry, tended bar, been a cocktail waitress, facilitated support groups for young adults with mental illness, and programmed databases for a medical research team. Currently I’m pre-med, and I sell perfume.
I’ve also been diagnosed with severe bipolar type I with psychotic features, been manic for 2 years, been psychotic for 4 and a half months, spent 9 weeks in the mental hospital, been disabled twice - once for physical and once for mental illness - had three endocrine disorders, and beaten cancer.
I was listening to an interview on NPR with a man who is a double lower-limb amputee. People, including his interviewer, have a tendency to be awed when people with disabilities leave their houses and do productive and sometimes wonderful things. On the one hand, I think disability can be motivating: it can teach great empathy, and it gives the stubborn something to prove. On the other, what is the other choice? You can either choose to be disabled and suffer in isolation, or you can choose to use a thing you love to overcome it.
Maybe I’m just too stubborn to die.
People tell me how brave I am for fighting cancer. Cancer has great PR, but the hardest thing I’ve done is overcome mental illness.
When you have cancer, mostly all you do is show up: the doctor’s tell you what to do and where to be and you go and they manage the rigors of treatment. Meanwhile, you are surrounded by the support of those around you, labeled a fighter or a warrior or a survivor, and you fight the battle with those you love around you.
When you have mental illness, you have guidance – which is often limited – from your doctors, you manage most of the rigors of your treatment – including figuring out what is going to save your own life – on your own. Meanwhile, you can’t tell anyone about your disease – and, if you do, you risk being yelled at, ostracized, judged, beaten, spat upon, abused, and raped. (Many of those have happened to me.) Your treatment, if you end up in the hospital, may include practices that the UN calls torture.
Never feel guilt after a suicide. You couldn’t have stopped it. At least there is no more pain.
Go for a walk outside every day. Take some vitamins. Lay down and take some big, deep breaths. Take your meds. Try DBT. Try CBT. Learn your triggers. Get enough sleep. Trust your doctors. Talk to your doctors. Don’t lie to your therapist. Find acceptance. Find peace. Find what gives you joy. Find a reason to fight. Find a reason to live.
Let’s make the following hashtag go viral: #iammentalwellness
I am a daughter, an art historian, a cancer survivor, a friend. I happen to have bipolar I. #iammentalwellness.
Email me your wellness.