It is with great pleasure I present to you my first interview with an everyday girl living with mental illness. Arlina (or Lina) is a highly functioning young lady currently in nursing school who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
How long ago were you diagnosed with bipolar?
A: I was diagnosed at 23 which was about 3 years ago now but started showing severe symptoms from about 17. The doctor was treating me for depression and, when I wasnt getting any better after years and years of drugs and therapy and treatment, I saw a tv commercial – something like a psa for how bipolar often gets misdiagnosed because your doctor doesn’t see you when you are manic. In those few seconds I recognised myself and asked my doctor. He told me my symptoms weren’t severe enough so there was no chance.
I lost all hope. I was suicidal. I thought there was no chance I could ever get well again. Asking for a referral to a psychiatrist for a second opinion was the last thing I was going to do, so I could be sure I had searched every avenue before putting my family through that loss. The day of the appointment I was certain I was going to go, have my GP’s diagnosis of depression confirmed, then come home to end it all because there was no hope.
Instead I walked out with a “classic and unmistakeable” diagnosis of Bipolar, a brand new drug to try and hope that i wasnt beyond help.
Within weeks my life was completely different, I could physically feel my brain changing – all the hard work of managing sleep and diet and lifestyle choices were suddenly actually having an effect. I felt reconnected to the world in a brilliant new way and actually started creating goals and reaching them. On my 24th birthday (in feb thats the beginning of semester 1 here in oz) I started studying for my highschool equivalency, by june I had multiple offers to university degrees, by christmas I had finished the first semester of my nursing degree with distinction.
I often meet people who are so close to giving up and I am living proof that you can never ever tell how or when things are going to change.
what stay-well strategies do you use?
A: I am lucky to have a lot of strategies at my disposal. I am medicated, not everyone with bipolar is but I find taking Lithium works really well for me. I use journalling a lot, i find it can calm my racing manic thoughts or help me get some perspective over depressive thoughts, it has also helped me to track mood and triggers over time to have it all down on paper.
But most important for me is being careful to manage my sleep by keeping to a fairly strict routine – I am not great with routines and I struggle with sleep most of all but putting in the effort does seem to help.
How do you juggle nursing school and staying well?
A: I’ve actually been lucky that being in nursing school has actually helped keep me pretty well, it forces me to keep to a routine and be a little more careful with my health. It has given me a purpose in life and a serious motivation to push through bad days, plus I love it – so it keeps me excited by life and curious to keep learning. Best of all it means that my life is no longer centred around my mental illness, it was all I was for a very long time and I had lost sight of being an actual person who just happens to have a mental illness! My uni has also been really helpful and supportive, I have access to many facilities if I need them and the few tutors and lecturers etc who I have told personally have been really positive about having someone with my life experience entering the nursing profession, and student pool to add some diversity and a different perspective.
Have you ever faced mistreatment based on stigma? How did you handle it?
A: I have to say that despite being really open (most would say too open) about having bipolar and most people knowing I have it, the most overt signs of stigma come from those closest to me who love me most. It comes from a place of love and worrying for me but they often find it hard to remember that I am a capable young woman who occasionally has health issues, not just a walking basket case. There is a very fine line between managing my illness in a way that allows me to live a full life and keeping life small and mediocre in order to manage my illness – keeping my bipolar as stable as possible is only worth it if I still have a life worth living through it. Unfortunately my loved ones would often prefer I just avoid ALL possible triggers, living the safest possible existence. I am lucky to have people who care about me so much so I try not to let it bother me.
Lina’s positive attitude and determination to help herself are so admirable and I thank her for being so honest with her personal struggle. Every day, millions of people live with mental illness and we’re not scary, dangerous or unworthy of love.
If you have any questions or comments on Arlina’s story, please share!