NAMI MEMBERS CORNER
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How Bipolar Support Groups Helped Change My Life
by Laura Riordan
Read Laura's recovery diary at OC87recoverydiaries.org
About Laura Riordan
After many years of riding the bipolar roller coaster, Laura is finally "living well" by working daily to tame the bipolar beast. She is an Account Executive for a tech staffing company and lives in the Philly suburbs with her significant other and their modern blended Brady Bunch family of 6 kids. She has facilitated meetings and participated on the board of a local DBSA support group for over 10 years. Check out dbsalliance.org to find out more and to look for one in your area! She also interacts online regularly in Gabe Howard's engaging and supportive Facebook group, Positive Depression and Bipolar Happy Place.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
First of all, what is the definition of the word stigma? A stigma means a " mark of disgrace, or infamy" The word infamy is defined as a " evil reputation, public reproach, or strong condemnation as a result of a shameful, criminal, or outrageous act." One might conclude from these definitions, that mental illness, in most cases, should not have a stigma. But nevertheless, it does. I hope this article sheds a beam of light, knowledge and hope for everyone who has dealt with the mental illness stigma.
I have lived with an anxiety disorder since young adulthood, but I have gotten better over time. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I knew my behavior and thoughts were disordered,i.e checking to make sure a door was locked over and over again, and a fear of germs, so I cleaned something that really didn't need to be cleaned. I also had obsessive thoughts, and a very difficult time making simple decisions. However, after reading and hearing psychiatrists, and psychologists, I began to know the difference between a severe neurosis, and a psychosis. At the onset of a psychosis- schizophrenia, depressive psychosis, etc.- people lose their grip on reality. They can be withdrawn, and exhibit bizarre, and sometimes delusional behavior and also intellectual and emotional deterioration. But here is the good news, modern medicine can greatly reduce these symptoms, and the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, among other mental illnesses. It was discovered many years ago that there was a biological explanation for these behaviors, the brain itself was diseased, and not functioning like a relatively healthy brain. After people took psychiatric medications, they began to experience a great decrease in their symptoms, and even at times total improvement. Medicines for the treatment of mental disorders have improved considerably. A person who even had a psychosis, can begin to think normally. I have written these things to let everyone know they do not have to be fearful with respect to their mental illness. I had a severe neurosis, an anxiety disorder, and when I felt better I had no fear of meeting people and talking to them about myself, or any other subject. I would even tell them that I suffered from a mental illness. And the most important thing is probably not to talk with someone right away about your mental illness. You should get to know them first, and they you. When you are friends, and when the right chance comes, then you can talk about how you suffered from a mental disorder, but be absolutely sure you describe the mental illness exactly how you experienced it, and they will know you are and never did lose touch with reality. Show people you are loving and caring, and they may even talk to you about some of their own difficulties in life.
You have to understand, and accept that you know more than others do! So therefore be confident because you're the teacher, and not them. If I said it before, I'll say it again, mental illness is more prevalent than you may think. Besides most people suffer at different times with some level of anxiety and/or depression. You can help them know that they are not alone, and they may even feel better, knowing they could be worse. Most importantly, of course, the stigma of mental illness will decrease, all for the good! You and other people will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!
Sincerely, and wholeheartedly,
William F. Eliason, BS