I grew up in a foster home for the first six years of my life in Oakland, California, where I witnessed abuse and neglect. At six years old, I was adopted. It was then that I learned that my birth mother gave me up because she was too sick to take care of me due to her struggles with bipolar disorder.
For years, I was warned about my increased susceptibility for developing bipolar disorder. But no one ever told me what it would feel like if I did or that I had a good probability of developing it even as I got older.
When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to go into psychology. My interest was inspired by the fact that I had always wanted to understand the state of mind my birth mother may have been in that prevented her from raising me. Whenever the word ‘bipolar’ came into a conversation, I felt ashamed. I felt that way even before I was diagnosed with the disorder myself. I just knew being mentally ill meant being treated like an outcast.
At college in Colorado, I pursued a degree in psychology and neuroscience. I loved school and did more studying in the library than going out and having fun most weekends. Although school came easily to me and I was set to graduate in May 2014, I was not feeling the passion that everyone had told me one should have for a profession. In March 2013, I had a psychotic break and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I went through almost two years of ultimate hell. However, in recovery I unexpectedly rekindled my passion for pursuing a career in psychology and advocating for the people like my mother, who had originally inspired me to help others with mental illness.
The struggle that someone with a mental illness must experience to recover and live a productive life is understandably difficult in many ways. I am lucky to have a loving family and access to medical care, both of which have made my recovery possible. But I was not supported through some of the hardest parts of my recovery.
The parts that I was not supported through are what have inspired me to volunteer with organizations like Young Minds Advocacy Project. I want to fight the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and the people who have them, but I also want to draw attention to the fact that people with a mental illness often lose the support of the people and institutions they count on. For example, I was not able to attend my friend’s college graduation in Colorado because, as my school put it, I was “a danger to others simply because of my diagnosis.”
In the past, I struggled with suicidal thoughts and attempts. Looking back now, it frustrates me that the reason why I thought life was showing so much hatred towards me was actually because of the stigma around the mentally ill. People with mental health issues are still people. If anything, living with mental illness has made us stronger and given us the capacity to be even better friends to the people we care about.
I find love in writing, and I hope through writing about my experience with a fairly new diagnosis I can inspire others to take action to change the stigma around mental illness. I now think of my bipolar diagnosis as a blessing in disguise.
Anything that we fight with determination will make us better people, and I know my bipolar diagnosis has made me see the world from another perspective. For the first time I see the world as a beautiful place, not a place that hates me for who I am.
Susan Page is a guest blogger for Young Minds Advocacy Project. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Young Minds Advocacy Project or the organization’s staff.
[Originally posted on “Hear Me Out,” Young Minds Advocacy Project’s Blog – 11.5.14]