So the comment went something like this: “I can’t understand why Robin would want to post anything like that on her Facebook wall. Why is she putting up that stuff?” My sister, my defender, answered in her tactful, but direct former-call -center -employee way, “…she’s trying to get rid of the stigma is all. She’s not trying to embarrass you.” The other individual is a family member as well, and the aforementioned “controversy” was my account on participating in the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research program at the University of Michigan Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg and Family Depression Center. Stigma bustin’, you bet. I’ll talk about my recovery process to anyone who wants to hear, for the good of all.
Now that I have my “thesis” out of the way, let me clarify something. I have decent boundaries; in other words, I take my time in judging if someone is “safe” to share my story with. I’m not the chatty lady in the grocery check-out line who starts by saying, “Some kind of weather we’re having…” and proceeds to tell her life story to the unsuspecting shopper, encapsulated and Cliff-noted down to fit the “Express” lane experience. Take your time, judge the situation, and share in a natural and easy-going manner. Here’s the thing - everyone has a story, and you’ll find that there’s this “Seven Degrees of Separation” thing with mental illness. Once someone hears part of your story they will tell you about their situation, or of someone they know who is affected.
Recently, I had a quite touching moment with my “p-doc’” – psychiatric doctor for those who are thinking, “what?” It was a moment where I had a chance to offer him a listening ear (what irony, eh?) and in turn, talk about my journey to recovery. He tells me “I just lost a patient the other day. How do you stay healthy?,” and in my usual comedic form I begin by saying, “by taking your meds like the doc tells ya!” From there I laid it out: everyday is new, every minute is as well. Feelings are just feelings and they shift just like the weather does. Stick around long enough and it will change. You have to put off any and all irrational thoughts and urges until they wither to nothing. Every thought and mood is a reaction to something that happens earlier, duh. Back the thought train up and put it in perspectives as best you can. Seek counsel from good friends. They’ll tell you if you’re full of it or if what you’re thinking is legit. Pray, pray, pray as well. If you feel like God’s abandoned you, He hasn’t. Just tell Him to hang on to you because you haven’t the strength to hold on yourself.
All of that and what about the thesis part with the research bit? How’d that go, you might ask? It challenged my Stigma Bustin’ paradigm in that I had to truly bare my bones as it were for the research staff. Quite a bit of time was spent on my diagnosis and the details that lead to it. Even though these were trained, compassionate people, the shame that is natural in most of us wanted to rear up and cover up or downplay my history; however good old self-talk wouldn’t have it, “You’d be a hypocrite. Don’t be an ass, just be real.” At the very foundational level, research and the understanding of bipolar illness is what will lead to greater acceptance in the end. I’m proud to say I was part of it.