Photo Credit: Alex Iby, Unsplash.com

Written by Jeff Newman
August 28, 2019

“You are not alone.”

Before my diagnosis at the age of 52, I lived a life of love, joy, and harmony. I was living the American dream personally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially. I was one fulfilled, happy camper. 

I’m sure you’ve heard many people with mental illness say this, but I realized the danger I was going through . . . presenting to the outside world the same person I feel myself to be internally.

I live with bipolar.

To be in acceptance of my mental illness is to be unapologetically me. By practicing acceptance, I can acknowledge that my thought processes are different from those of other people, and even from my own conception of how they “should” be. When I share my authentic self, I share that identity integrated and whole, without separation from my illness (at least that’s what I tell myself), but it’s not always that easy. 

To begin with, I had to overcome my symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, worthiness, and paranoia, which essentially tell the thought-disordered mind that it doesn’t have an illness. A decision of awareness of the condition, if you will. It took a long time for me to accept that I have bipolar. From time to time I still reject my diagnosis. Like anyone, I want to trust what my brain tells me, and if it tells me that I’m not mentally ill, then I believe it.

I was well aware that these diseases could cause significant challenges, just as physical diseases could

Which “diseases” am I referring to? Let me first be clear that I personally refer to my disorder as a “disease.” You may be asking what defines mental disorder. Mental disorders are usually defined by a combination of how a person behaves, feels, perceives, or thinks. 

After researching my condition, I found that by being silent about my struggle I was both a part of the problem and part of the stigma. The social stereotypes of people living with my illness, bipolar, and the other diseases was all I had to go on.

Television and movie depictions told me that I’d soon be drooling in a corner, rocking back and forth, and laughing uncontrollably. The institutionalized men of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” were the template for my shame. The painters and poets with cut off ears and rampant alcoholism seemed the only role models for a person newly diagnosed.

So I shamed myself for being dimwitted and vague. I heard the voices of angels, saw demons that others could not. I was a saint, a ghost hunter, lost in my own mind. Everything was my fault. I was defective. Difficult. Unwanted.

Today, I have a different take on the stigma. I recognize the misconceptions and misinformation that leads people to mistakenly regard a mentally ill person. I can’t help those whose minds are closed, but if they’re open to learning, I’m happy to share what I know.

Ending the Stigma

The stigma can only end when I become vocal and ask and seek help from friends, family, medication, and psychotherapy, letting them know what I need from them to help me live with mental illness.

Organizations like DBSA (Depression Bi-Polar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), Mental Health America, Princeton House, Carrier Clinic, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) are just a few of the many organizations which spotlight awareness about the importance of mental health and to stop the stigma associated with it.  

Each illness has its own symptoms. For me, I experienced common signs which included excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or low, confused thinking, concentrating, and learning. I couldn’t understand why some people developed a mental illness and other people didn’t.

I did, however, know that mental illness is treatable. Through medication, talk or behavioral therapy, group therapy, support groups, family, and friends, I was able to recover.

Wellness is not a singular phenomenon; there’s a whole world out there that needs healing. If I take care of myself first and learn as much as I can about my disease, then I’m able to share my information with others. I can present my experience with hospitalization and medication to caring and curious people.

No one’s immune to these diseases. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, how many friends and family members you have. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Unlike other diseases, there are treatments and coping skills to live your life peacefully and successfully. There’s always someone out there who’s willing to help. I’m blessed to have had that support group who cared about me. 

If you’re struggling, if you’re going through anything—whether it’s a mental illness or just not optimal mental health—it’s so important to talk about it and not be afraid to say the words “I have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, anorexia . . .” or whatever you may be going through.

It’s okay and we have to be open about it by talking to friends, family, speaking in a crowd, or talking to a random stranger on a crisis hotline. I presently facilitate every week for the Mental Health Association of New Jersey. I’m living proof that taking on the “pain” of recovery can only reap the pleasures you’ll encounter by not giving up. 

It’s so important that we speak up. It isn’t shameful to have an illness that affects my thoughts and behaviors. Hiding my symptoms or ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away can make the situation worse. I did get better, but it took treatment, not just willpower. 

The “myth” that individuals with mental health disorders can’t get better is exactly that, a “MYTH.”  

When I can allow myself to respond to situations without feeling censored or judged, then I can be myself with another person. It begins with me accepting my disease. Correctly diagnosed and treated, I’m able to live with my bipolar, depression, and anxiety with a feeling of love, joy, and harmony. Millions of people do.

To find out more, I suggest talking to your health care provider or contact your local mental health services.  

You can visit these websites: 

If you’re in a crisis or are afraid you may hurt yourself, call 1-800-273-8255.

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Photo Credit: Alex Iby, Unsplash.com