In early 2014 I didn’t know I was bipolar when a strong mania slipped my mind into psychosis. I spent one night in the ER, a week in a psych ward and a month at an outpatient recovery center before moving home to live with my parents at the age of 24. We were exhausted and devastated, but hopeful.
Throughout the hospitalization my parents kept communication open with my friends, who were very worried. My mom dug for information from those who had been with me in the days leading up to the psychotic break. Had I been drugged? What had we been doing? She wanted to know what happened to me. She kept those same friends informed of my progress. My parents never treated my illness like it was a secret or anything to be ashamed of. Friends and family came to visit and talked to me on the phone. They encouraged me to take my medication, a challenge for me. Their encouragement helped me make that leap and accept the medication that saved my sanity. Friends and family visited a lot to disrupt the tedium of hospital life. Nobody that is hospitalized wants to be there. I hated it. It was miserable but also totally necessary. Having people to distract me made it possible for me to stay there.
When I reached my outpatient aftercare program I called and texted more friends to tell them what happened. I also reached out to some people who were maybe acquaintances at best, but who deserved to know. And in some cases an apology too. This process was really important for me to heal, to move forward. Mania is a weird thing. I did a lot of weird things.
Upon moving home I told people on a case-by-case basis. This is how I operated for much more than a year. If I thought that disclosing would strengthen our relationship, new or old, and it was relevant to our conversation I would let them know. However, many times I would leave it out just as I do in my everyday life now. Not everybody needs to know everything about me.
I also let my friends and family know that it was also OK to share with people. My inner circle, the people I trust the most, experienced everything with me. They had their own stories to tell and support to seek. I wanted them to know that they could speak their truths too. What happened is a fact, nothing to hide. Because of this my mom soon began fielding phone calls from friends going through similar situations asking for advice. To this day people reach out all the time. It feels good to know I can help.
Coming out of psychosis I knew I would want to write about it. What a wild ride I had been on. I had a feeling that my story was powerful. I worked on writing a book a few times, but figured out quickly that I had a lot of personal work to do before I would feel comfortable with my story. I needed to find my happy ending. Finally after two years of hard work I felt like my life was stable and I was ready to start sharing in a small way. On Valentine’s Day of 2016 I had just broken up with my boyfriend and felt strongly compelled to tell my Facebook audience what I was truly thankful for that day. Amongst all of the posts of adoring couples, I wrote my first public message explaining what had happened and how grateful I felt to be alive and well. It was short and sweet and the response was overwhelming. I remember feeling a wave of massive anxiety after I hit ‘post’. Would people care? Was I being dramatic? I curled up in a ball on the carpet inside my bedroom closet. I have a tendency to seek small spaces when I’m scared. I sat there all day watching the likes and comments roll in. Soon I realized that this was going to be the biggest post I’d ever had. I cried a lot that day. It was a relief to feel all of the positivity that people sent my way. I had been through so much. On that Valentine’s Day I felt incredibly loved. That day changed everything for me. I realized how incredible it felt to speak publicly and really how important it was. People cared, and they appreciated what I had to share. That was when I decided I would be a real advocate. In many instances over the years people have told me that my words, my openness, simply watching me be healthy has helped them. There is nothing really better than that.
I don’t think that such a public form of advocacy is for everyone. I just happen to be a person who enjoys the spotlight. It took me another year until I would start my Instagram @julia_lives_bipolar in June of 2017. I write short stories about my experiences. It’s fun for me. I am careful about what I write, how I frame things. I won’t put out any content I haven’t mulled over a lot. My goal in advocacy is to share deep, meaningful snap shots of what I’ve been through in hopes of inspiring others. I’m not a doctor; I’m not any sort of health professional. I’m just a girl who has some experience, a big heart, and a passion for good stories. The memoirs I read while recovering drove me to keep going in hopes that I could share my own story some day. I want those who read my work to be inspired too. The passion I have for advocacy gets stronger all the time. I think that the mental health community is really on to something. People want to know more, to be more open, to read more success stories. I’m so excited to be able to contribute. I am currently writing that book and navigating the world of publishing. I also seek to speak publicly. I want people to know that they are not alone, that hospitalization is not the end but just the beginning, and building a life worth living is absolutely possible.