With the latest Kanye West ‘drama,’ the topic of mental illness has inevitably come up. Even though it’s 2020, there is still such a wide spectrum of understanding of things like bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.
I don’t have bipolar disorder and I’ve never met Kanye – so there are many other people who can speak with greater expertise on the subject. What I can talk about is my own experiences.
When I was 24, it became apparent that I couldn’t function without regular therapy and medication. I still remember walking into my psychiatrist’s office for the first time and feeling like nothing could change. I was self-sabotaging my relationships with friends and family and, even though I could see it happening, I couldn’t seem to stop it. I was barely functioning at work. The weight of my anxiety was causing awful stomach problems that led to me forcing myself to throw up after meals, because I couldn’t cope with the nausea. All I wanted to do was sleep – but even then, I dreamt of the anger and hurt I’d caused people and woke up never feeling rested.
Eventually, I agreed to attend an outpatient day program, which helped lead to a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, ADHD, anxiety and depression. I attended the program every day for a month – spending hours in therapy and learning about DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) and the skills I could use to help manage my symptoms. For a long time, even with a diagnosis and therapy, I couldn’t seem to stop my behaviors or come to terms with reality.
There is something enlightening, and also frightening, about reading about the symptoms of your diagnosis. So many things I had never understood about myself suddenly made sense. My intense desire to fit in and be liked, the lengths I would go to if I felt like I was being abandoned by someone, the intensity of my reactions to situations that other people seemed to be able to handle, my inability to quiet my mind, and the procrastination I couldn’t seem to get a handle on, as well as so many others. But it was also scary reading about traits that didn’t seem to apply to me, since I worried that I was just unaware of them or could suddenly develop them at any time.
Still, there was an intense relief to receiving a diagnosis. It was so crucial to understand the reasons behind my actions and reassuring to know that some of it was biological and out of my control.
The journey that led me to that place, however, was full of casualties. I did some unimaginable things to people that I loved. I hurt so many people and, because of that, ruined friendships that meant a lot to me. While I can understand now where it comes from, I can’t let it excuse my behavior.
I have to be held accountable for the things I did.
This is difficult when talking about mental illness. Sympathy can often lead to excusing the behavior of someone who is struggling. To write off harmful behavior as something that a person has no control over and therefore, they should not be held accountable. The hurt and anguish that is caused is very real and can’t be ignored.
It’s important that mental illness become normalized – something that can be brought up and talked about without fear of the stigma that comes along with it now. There should be a sense of pride for people who struggle, but are finding ways to not only get it under control but who find ways to thrive. Nobody should feel the need to hide a part of themselves for fear of being rejected.
The strides that I continue to make are without a doubt because of the support of my family and friends. I don’t blame the people I lost along the way – but it also has taught me so many lessons on the importance of friendship and unconditional love. My best friend, Leah, is a saint – she has held my hand through some of the roughest moments in my life and has always promised me that, together, we can get through anything. My angel of a mom, who has expressed disappointment but has always shown me that her love is unconditional and that she will do anything to help. My dad, who has held me as I broke down and refused to let me hurt myself. My sisters, who are unbelievably loyal to me, no matter what I do and who, when I am at my worst, will go above and beyond to try to help. My amazing husband who has always forgiven me, remained calm, and promised to love and care for me no matter what. My close-knit group of friends, who make the world feel less scary and who stop me from feeling alone every day.
I can’t imagine going through this alone. Kanye recently talked about how isolated and alone he felt – which is something I can relate to, but I am also so lucky to always have people attempting to reach into the darkness and pull me out.
Empathy and compassion are so important in how we treat people, no matter what they are going through. But that does not mean we need to blindly forgive all behavior. Doing that can often be more harmful than helpful.
There is no simple way to accomplish all of this and I am by no means an expert. All I can say is that the world would be a better place if we normalized talking about mental illness. Especially in these crazy times – if you feel like someone is struggling, make sure to reach out to them. Use kindness and compassion, but also don’t let that excuse any hurt that someone has caused.
And if you are the one struggling – please reach out. You are not alone, no matter how isolated you might feel. By having the courage to talk about what you are going through we can bring it to the forefront of the conversation and work to normalize it. There is no shame in struggling, there is no shame in therapy and there is no shame in asking for help.
If you’re looking to further your knowledge on mental illness, I've included some links below.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has great information not only on for furthering your knowledge but also to help you find support.
This DBT workbook is something that I come back to over and over again. It’s got wonderful worksheets and plenty of information to help guide you through them. I’ve done it both alone and with my therapist - always finding it helpful.
If you have a friend struggling with depression, I HIGHLY recommend this video which talks about the best way to connect with those friends. It's informative, but also really funny.
While I’ve never used Talkspace, I’ve heard good things and know that it can be very budget friendly.
Some of my favorite YouTube videos include this one about empathy, this one about the connection between anxiety and depression (all of her videos are amazing), and this great Ted Talk about living with anxiety.
And in case you want to know more about me