(Men)tal Health Needs To Be Addressed

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“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.”

– Carl Jung

 

Please allow me to get this possible controversial bit of opinion out of the way: most men, especially latino men, are a ridiculously stubborn bunch.

 

Goodnight folks, thank you for coming! *walks off stage while being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables*

 

In all seriousness, as far back as I can remember we have been raised, programmed, and indoctrinated to be alpha males, hunters and gatherers, strong, unbreakable, stoic, etc. Human males are expected to be the protector, the guardian, the provider, yada yada yada yada ad nauseam.

You see it all the time in old school TV shows, sitcoms, and movies, those classic tropes:

Image result for archie bunker

The Portrait of a Real Man – back in the 70’s; *insert sarcastic social commentary here*

 

“Men talking about their feelings? Are you serious?! What’s wrong with you?!”

 

“The only “men” that talk about their feelings are either gay, emo, or both!”

 

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t bombarded with that macho, testosterone-laced rhetoric, day in, day out, constantly.

And bullied, beaten, and criticized for thinking and feeling otherwise.

There’s that word again.

 

Feeling.

 

Seriously guys, you didn’t see that one coming?!

 

I understand that we live in a day and age where our senses are constantly violated through the media, having the “ideal” image of what a man and woman should be casually shoved down our throats, without realizing – or caring – the hurtful impact it has on the general public’s psyche. As a collective, we have become victims of our own fantasies, obsessed with our media darlings, our aspiration to be models, entrepeneurs, tycoons, ninjas, sleek and stylish rogue agents, modern day samurai. We have stunted our emotional growth in order to foster a fairly unattainable lifestyle which leads most people to mental health ruin, among other things.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be our best, that we shouldn’t attempt to achieve our goals – it’s commendable to challenge yourself on a daily basis, set goals, brainstorm ideas, and find your calling in life; my point is that you have to set those standards WITHIN REASON.

You don’t plan to run a marathon for the first time with the expectation to finish top tier if you’ve never run in your life, do you?

 

If you do, please seek immediate professional help before you hurt yourself.

 

The sensible thing to do is to begin to train slowly – start running; set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, patiently creating endurance and strength, both physical and mental – all the while keeping realistic expectations in mind, with the possibility that you may or may not achieve the finish line.

And that’s perfectly fine.

That’s what second chances and opportunities are for.

Unfortunately, a lot of men seem to suffer from what I like to call emotional dysphagia – the inability to swallow your pride.

 

There has been a very peculiar trend I have been witnessing lately while scrolling through social media – so many brave women finally finding the courage and will to empower themselves, to make themselves be heard, invoking their well-deserved right to be respected, to be taken seriously, taking their lives back, gaining control over their mental illness and molding themselves into these amazing reborn Phoenixes, ready to take on the world through positivity, education, physical fitness, self-motivation, support groups, etc. The most beautiful part is that they empower each other as well, encouraging each other, cheering others on to take the path of resistance and challenge, to overcome, to persevere, to triumph.

Yet in comparison, there are very few men that have taken active roles in taking those examples and help their fellow male brothers out.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are not out there.

Sisyphus and the rock – no, not THAT Rock

 

Huge shoutout to my boy Sisyphus for showing my boys the strength to deal with the eternal struggle – for another great read, check out this article on an inspiring interpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus.

 

View story at Medium.com

What I am saying is that many men keep silent; they suffer in silence, out of fear of being ridiculed, emasculated, because they might be mentally ill and don’t realize it, don’t want to face it, and are unable to acknowledge it and keep themselves in denial, whether it be out of fear, socio-economic reasons, cultural pressure, or physical/emotional abuse.

 

And that, my friends is something that needs to be addressed. Pronto.

 

It took me a very long time to finally accept my mental illness and get the proper treatment. As a male Latino, I was the odd minnow swimming among a school of barracuda, and if I was to be allowed to swim among the predators, I was expected to learn to act like one or else be swallowed whole.

Feelings were for the weak; leave the touchy-feely stuff to the queers and weaklings that can’t fend for themselves – we’ve got beers to chug and bitches to fuck. All of that machismo and bravado dripping from alcohol sweats and insecurity, hiding behind a mask of “strength” through emotional attrition.

 

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Bada-bing-bada-boom, yeah, I’m emotionally progressive and in touch with my feelings – wanna smash?!

 

And yet behind that veneer of illusory confidence, inflated egos, and puffy chests I posit that inside laid many broken hearts, fractured minds, and wayward souls that wanted to cry out for help, but they didn’t know how – eventually leading to their emotional, and in some cases fatal, downfall.

They fell victim to the ideal of what a “real man” should be.

And that needs to stop.

If you are a man who is currently reading this, you probably have a sensible head on your shoulders, for you’re seeking the same community full of support, compassion, and understanding that we know will lead us to a healthier understanding of ourselves and those around us. Sadly, there are many more of us who aren’t that lucky or receptive. Let’s reach out to them, let’s let them know that it’s ok to lend a helping hand, that it’s not taboo to seek professional psychological and psychiatric help.

Mental illness is a beast that will attack anyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation, it does not discriminate according to the color of your skin, it cares not if you believe in God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Odin, Joe Smith, Xenu or whatever religious denomination you choose to believe in – mental illness transcends all barriers and belief systems.

 

Forget about the concept of being a “real man”.

 

Instead, let’s learn how to be genuine, compassionate human beings – the first step is to seek help.

 

 

 

 

Love Thyself, And The Rest Will Follow

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

So I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed today, and I noticed a few key words and hashtags yelling out at me through the rolling sea of text: self-love, self-respect, among others.

I paused for a second because it struck a particular chord, a dissonant note that irks me when I think about past transgressions – a classic record-scratch moment, if you will.

 

I am a recovering attention-seeker-monger-whore.

 

Allow me to explain.

 

For as long as I can remember, I was always an awkward kid – I was extremely shy, my body kept fluctuating from slightly chubby to abysmally skeletal year after year. I was clumsy, naive, and gullible.

 

Image result for bullyingIn other words, the perfect target.

 

My social interactions were basically reduced down to yes-or-no answers, and would usually devolve into incoherent babble if I became too excited. It was nearly impossible for me to hold any conversation with my peers – just the mere fact that the immortals chose to come down from Mt. Olympus to tolerate my presence was a blessing that must be respected with reverence and silence, for if I dared utter foolish words I would lose their favor and be banished once again to an existence where only my books and broken heart belonged.  I used to walk with my eyes firmly beelining the ground at my feet since more than a second of eye contact with anyone would throw me into a sweaty fight-or-flight fit of discombobulation.

And those were on good days.

As is the status quo of all children who deem others to be inferior, I was to be teased, pushed around, bullied – trips to the principal’s office were a common occurence as I would often lash out violently at my transgressors. For me, school was not about learning – it was about survival.

And so began what became the routine cycle of violence – awkward kid gets beat up at school, awkward kid strikes back, awkward kid gets in trouble, awkward kid has no eloquence to stand up for himself and explain what happened, awkward kid gets sent home, awkward kids gets punished and beat at home by exasparated parental figures, awkward kid cries himself to sleep, hoping he never wakes up again.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

 

And then puberty hit.

 

You know those summer growth spurts you see in movies? It’s a thing – by age 14, I reached 5’6″, weighing 160lbs of muscle and anger, which back in 1991 Puerto Rico was NOT a common thing.

I got into sports for a while, but I had the finesse of a drunk rhino – all strength, no coordination.

Not only were other kids annoyed by my awkward demeanor, now they were intimidated by the size that came with it – so they left me alone for the most part; the bullying stopped after I knocked out an upperclassman who kept smacking another shy bespectacled peer – who was afraid to fight back – upside the head one day in PE class. Unfortunately for that knucklehead, I no longer wasn’t.

You see, my bipolar disorder kicked into high gear, nitrous oxide packed, ready to raise some hell and payback.

High school came and went, a haze of teenage rebellion – I entered high school with straight A’s, but by graduation….well, let’s just say there was almost no graduation ceremony for me.

 

Now, college rolled on by, tabula rasa, the clean slate I was pining for after watching so many 80’s teenage rom-coms and college/frat/bro morality tales – the protagonists always got away with the girl after conquering insurmountable odds against the evil jocks, the stuffy, faculty establishment, handing them their just comeuppance. Let’s party!

 

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Vote for Ogre 2020! NEEEEEEERDS!!!!

 

College was a fresh start, a blank canvas with which I would paint my masterpiece, subject the world to the ideal me: and thus I created Sebastian.

 

I created a monster; I became my own worst nightmare.

 

I thought that what I was missing all those years was a carefree attitude – if you would define carefree as delving into extreme psychological manipulation.

I used exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive methods of manipulation to advance my own interests and agendas, often at the expense of others – textbook negative social influencing aimed at changing other peoples’ perceptions to fit my needs, as distorted and outrageous as they seemed.

I became a hustler, a scammer, a con artist – I could easily sway my way among any manner of crowds and cliques. I thrived in this new environment, because now I had a few dangerous weapons at my disposal – lack of impulse control, manic episodes that would fuel my party-obsessed mind for days on end, and an insatiable appetite for getting people to like me, to love me, to give me the recognition and notoriety I so richly deserved.

Reckless behavior became my modus operandi –  “everybody loves crazy Sebas, he’s capable of anything! Look at him go! He’s confident, brash, takes no prisoners, gets along with everyone”, etc. ad nauseam. I was a proverbial walking social network before the Internet was ever a thing – or so I imagined in that delusional wasteland in my mind.

And for a while, it actually worked.

I was the life of the party – everybody wanted me around, I had friends everywhere! I paid endless rounds of drinks, partied hard every night until the wee hours of the next day – an endless cycle of pleasure, endorphins, alcohol, drugs, stimulants, the works.

I lived the lifestyle I so desperately craved and dreamed of for so many years – until manic depression  and suicidal behavior reared it’s head.

And then the weight gain ballooned my body exponentially; I went from 160lbs to 345lbs in two years.

That grandiose sitcom world I produced called Everybody Loves Sebastian was cancelled; my world came crashing down.

After years of alcohol and drug abuse, declining health, and a nearly botched bariatric surgery, my brain couldn’t take it anymore –  I crashed.

 

Hard.

 

That was then; this is now.

 

It took me nearly dying, losing so many good people in my life that I took for granted because I was too self-indulgent, egocentric, narcicisstic, it took nearly losing my family, my loved ones, the folks who cleaned up my vomit, who nursed my wounds, who took my verbal and physical abuse, it took looking at myself in the mirror one single day, thick tears cascading unto my cheeks, my chest imploding with hatred and self-loathing, screaming like a child, feeling the backlash of all those years of violence, of fear, for me to realize that all I had to do was one simple act of compassion – to forgive myself.

 

That single act took every ounce of energy and courage left in me, which honestly at that point was not much – but the moment I forgave myself, the moment I let go of resentment, of envy, of hatred – that day, I learned that all was not lost.

 

That day, I passed out from the strain, the mental toll it took for me to learn and accept that I am not my sickness; my illness does not define me.

 

From that day forth, every day I choose:

  1. To love myself – When you love yourself, you realize that no one can dictate how you feel, how you see yourself, what you give and what you get out of life – you are the sole proprietor of your emotions, the gatekeeper to a better life.
  2. To respect myself – When you respect yourself, you learn the value of self-esteem, the beauty of self-worth. You also learn the value of others, and how to avoid people and situations that will take away from your hard work on core values and virtues.
  3. To educate my mind – A healthy mind leads to clarity, knowledge, and wisdom; through introspection, honesty, and self-evaluation you learn to make good decisions that not only favor you, but will do good for others as well.
  4. To treat my body with respect – Physical ailments will always be a catalyst for emotional breakdown; treating your body with the respect and value it deserves goes a long way to foster mental health and stability, whether it be through exercise, nutrition, or abstaining from reckless, destructive activities.
  5. To nurture my soul – I personally am not religious, nor do I believe in dogmatic conventions, but I do believe in a higher power, a higher purpose, a higher consciousness; I personally believe in the concept of a soul, as I find it to be the repository for all experience, without a concept of good nor evil – an endless library. And like all libraries full of precious knowledge, I believe they should be curated, protected, and taken care of with the utmost respect and due diligence.

 

Every day I choose to thank the Universe for every opportunity I have been given and I appreciate the lessons I have learned, however harsh they may seem.

 

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

 

My understanding of self-love and self-respect did not happen overnight, and I still have much to learn.

 

The important part, though, is that I choose to continue learning.

 

Choose wisely, my friends.

 

Image result for choose wisely indiana jones

 

 

 

The Wheels On The Bus….

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
― Plato

 

A comedian once quipped, “The good die young, but pricks live forever!”

So do daily habits.

Case in point? Smoking, for example.

I smoked menthols like a Victorian chimney for nearly two decades; my lungs may look like they were mined out of a coal mine, a thought that makes me shudder in disgust.

 

Image result for victorian chimney smoke

A typical mid-day smoke break for me

 

I am proud to say, though, that I have been smokeless for nearly 4 years now – the mere smell of cigarettes is enough to induce violent dry heaves.

What miraculous, expensive nicotine patch did I use to cure myself of this addiction, to curb my cravings and anesthesize the poking demon urging me to suck on a cancerous paper phallus?

What techniques did I utilize to program myself into taking better care of my health?

 

Simple.

 

I stopped.

 

Image result for cold turkey

Extra points if you guess 

 

I made the choice – I even had an unfinished pack that I crumpled and threw away the same day I decided to quit smoking.

 

Pretty anticlimactic, right?

 

Not really.

 

Change is rarely ever easy – in reality, we program ourselves to resist change, to rationalize our comfort zones, to justify behaviors and habits because they are not daunting, uncertain, nor scary.

 

I bring up how I quit smoking because I compare it to how I came to take my treatment for Bipolar II Disorder seriously, and how it changed my life for the better – it came down to a simple choice:

 

Do I want to stay feeling sick, or do I want to feel better?

 

And so, unwittingly, I went through the Transtheoretical Model, better known as The Stages Of Change.

 

In the 70’s, two brilliant folk, Prochaska and DiClemente, were observing and recording the experiences of smokers who quit on their own comparing them with those requiring further treatment to understand why some people were capable of quitting on their own.

It was determined that people quit smoking if they were ready to do so.

And so in 1983, the model below was born, which can now be integrated into any system of change that needs to take place in human behavior. As I stated before, I unwittingly used it to treat my Bipolar II Disorder symptoms, and to this day I use it as powerful tool for daily introspection, a framework to fuel whatever changes I need to make in my habits in order to live a healthier life.

 

Stages of Change graphic edit.png

 

  1. Pre-contemplation – Better known as “I Don’t Have A Problem, You’re The One With The Problem” phase – there is no intention on changing behavior. Things are the way they are, and always shall be. Everyone’s happy, except they’re not; there is a problem, and it needs to be addressed.
  2. Contemplation – Better known as “Well, I’m Screwed Regardless, So There’s Nothing That Can Be Done”  phase – there is at least an awareness that a problem exists but there is no commitment to action. Here’s where the see-saw of decision-making begins. You realize the problem is real, something needs to change, but you don’t know how – or you trick yourself into self-sabotaging your opportunities to change. Here’s where people rationzalize and justify toxic and destructive behavior, yet they are teetering on the edge of a breakthrough – all they need is a little push.
  3. Preparation – Otherwise known as the “Suit Up!” phase – the INTENT on taking action to address the problem takes place. This is a crucial step – this is where plans and promises are made, but everything is still up in the air; hopes are running high, moods are positive, the sky looks clear and blue, flowers bloom, cats and dogs get along….you get the point. I wouldn’t be celebrating just yet, but at least now there’s a promising outlook on the horizon.
  4. Action – Finally, we arrived at what I like to call the “Bingo!” phase. This is the bread and butter, meat and potatoes of the process – this is where plans come to fruition, steps are taken, and it’s time to put in the hard work, the time, the dedication, all that spunk and moxie you built up to prove that you can get the job done. Did I forget to mention this is the easy part? Which leads me to…..
  5. Maintenance – I like to call this phase the “Wait, You Mean To Tell Me I Also Have To Clean Its Poop!” in honor of pet owners who think their little bundles of cuteness come with an automaintenance robot kit to do their dirty work for them. This is the hard part, where change is sustained, and new behavior begins to replace old behavior. Plants need to be watered, cars need to be tuned-up, and human behavior needs to be kept in check – awareness, discipline, introspection; these are key components to make certain changes permanent. Sadly, this is where most people lose their footing, and end up in….
  6. Relapse – Sadly, this is the “It Was Just One Drink, Just One Fix, A Quick Smoke To Take The Edge Off” phase – Old habits die hard, especially when we are referring to addiction, whether it be to drugs, alcohol, or any other negative coping mechanism we desperately hold on to. Most people consider relapse a failure; in my opinion, it’s not – relapse is an essential part of the cycle. Relapsing does not mean you failed; it just means that the cycle starts again, with a new opportunity to do things right, and strive for a permanent change.

 

And soooo…. – sing along with me now! – the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

 

Life is full of change at all times – chemical reactions, biochemical and electrical impulses, an ever-flowing dance of beautiful, contradictory chaos filled with purpose and intent. Yes, there are an infintessimal amount of variables that are unable to be perceived, categorized,  and predicted, but within reason we can all make changes that we can control, witness, and nurture.

 

True change, my friend, starts with a single individual – yourself.

 

I made a “simple” choice, years ago, to make a change – I have wavered, I have stumbled, I have struggled – yet I continue to foster the belief in myself that I can still do things better, because my goal is not to be perfect – my goal is to look at myself in the mirror every day, smile, and know that in even the most microscopic of ways, I was an agent for positive change.

 

 

For me, the importance of walking down the path to prosperity lies not in reaching the destination, but in going through the journey.

 

 

*turns around, walks away, happily whistling The Wheels On The Bus*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Bipolar, 2 Bipolar, 3 Bipolar, 4 Bipolar, MWAH HA HA HA HA HAAAA!!

“You know how most illnesses have symptoms you can recognize? Like fever, upset stomach, chills, whatever. Well, with manic depression, it’s sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse—and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!” – Carrie Fisher

 

My legs couldn’t stop shaking, sitting in the inner sanctum of the psychiatrist’s office – no 14 year old wishes to spend an afternoon being forced to answer awkward questions, feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and judged. The old mahogany chair with thick leather padding was oddly comforting, though – small streams of sunlight broke through slits in the window shades, shining on to what seemed an endless collection of musty old books, weird statuettes, and myriad pieces of art. My eyes darted from corner to corner, taking in all the details, avoiding the doctor’s eyes, feeling like they were going to swallow me whole, pull me into a black hole of shame that I would never escape – just another adult telling me that I was fucked up, unfit, hyper, pointing out how useless and disruptive I was and send me on my way.

The doctor sat behind his enormous, beautiful oak desk covered in papers, trinkets, and other little knick-knacks, unlike other places I had visited – this office was different, messy yet organized, retro yet familiar (even for the early 90’s). His eyes were wide, yet kind – crystal greyish-blue, like a calm ocean of patience and understanding; his white hair and beard, along with his Spaniard accent, reminded me of Don Quixote – I thought of the irony behind that thought and chuckled softly. At first I was terrified when he brought out what seemed an ancient tome of magical power, full of demonic incantations and necromantic rituals. He put on his glasses, slowly slid through the pages, with careful, painstaking precision; he then handed the book over to me.

 

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Also known as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis – just kidding. 

 

“Read what’s on the page. If you have any questions, which I am sure you will have, feel free to ask – we have time”, the good doctor said.

 

Image result for don quixote

Take your time, dear boy, I’ll go chase a couple of windmills while you finish reading….

 

Big words, clinical terms all dizzied my brain yet I took my time; the more I read, the more I strangely wished to understand the alien language laid out in front of me, to decipher whatever code would unlock the secret behind what was wrong with me.

We spoke for what seemed a lifetime – but the doctor was kind and patient. He answered all questions, cleared any doubts I had, treated me with respect and compassion – he did not treat me condescendingly, like a walking pack of dollar bills, a future renovation for his swanky home.

 

He was preparing me and my family for a diagnosis that would change our lives forever.

 

I sobbed as my parents were called into the office. For most of my childhood, I was being handled as a child with ADD/ADHD* – back in the 80’s, that was the big trend: “Your child’s just being hyper, he’ll get over it; give him some pills, smack him upside the head if he gets too rowdy, and he’ll be fine”.

*For more information, feel free to click the links: ADDAttention Deficit Disorder, ADHDAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

 

The doctor carefully explained the scenario to my family –  the lack of impulse control, my sudden outbursts of anger, terrible fits of crying and wanting to disappear, wishing to die, aggressive behavior, etc. I was the perfect Molotov cocktail of mental illness, a ticking time bomb that if not treated soon enough, would’ve exploded into a full blown danger to myself and others – I had just hit the height of puberty. The sudden change in hormonal balance, exacerbated by an already pre-existing chemical imbalance became too much for my mind and body to bear.

 

In 1991, I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.

 

It is very important to note that back then, diagnosing Bipolar Disorder was still fairly uncommon – the mere fact that my doctor at the time was willing to put in the extra effort to rigorously tend to my plight is a testament to the dedication that many mental healthcare professionals need to strive for. Unfortunately, that is a topic for another day.

 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) breaks down the disorder into 4 types:

  • Bipolar I Disorder defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia) defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

 

In my years combating the disease, I have learned a thing or two which I wish to share with you:

  1. When most people think of Bipolar Disorder, they typically default to Type I, or may confuse the behavior with another mental disorder that shares similar symptoms: Borderline Personality Disorder. It needs to be said that even though they share symptoms, they are NOT treatable in the same manner: therapies and medication always vary, and it is of the utmost importance that a mental health professional, a patient, and their family/support system work closely together to correctly identify the symptoms in order to get as clear a picture as possible – one simple lie or omission can turn into a cascade of complications that may aggravate the condition if the wrong therapy or medication is administered.
  2. Bipolar Disorder is not curable. Fortunately, there have been many strides made in treatment options, and with further education to the public the medical community has been able to reach out and better inform the general public about new medications, natural remedies, and all sorts of options available to alleviate certain symptoms.
  3. Bipolar disorder can be successfully treated. Just because the disorder is not CURABLE does not mean it is not TREATABLE – it does not mean that one cannot live a functional, even fruitful life full of success. Many successful high profile artists, authors, business people, and many more live with the condition and have been capable of excelling at their fields because they chose to take treatment seriously, to follow-through on their commitment to themselves, to their health, to their loved ones, to those around them.

 

Just like any disease, there are variations, and with those variations come options: not all diabetics need to inject insulin, not all cancer patients go through chemotherapy, nor undergo invasive surgical procedures as part of their treatment plan. The key to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion, comes down to a few key details:

  1. Know yourself – A huge pitfall of many folk who deal with bipolar disorder is blurring the lines between personality flaws/virtues/characteristics vs behavior that is attributed to the disorder. Attempt to identify a baseline for your personalty and behavior; define those details and anchor them – they will be your point of reference if you ever feel that your symptoms are starting to rear their ugly head.
  2. Be honest with yourself and others – Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you have a handle on your symptoms on any given day that you’re honky dory and ready to dance. You will always have the condition – you cannot afford to rely on complacency and blind yourself to the fact that symptoms can not only exhibit themselves in the blink of an eye by some internal/external trigger, but they may escalate just as quickly, if not exponentially quicker. If you feel that you are off your baseline, evaluate, act accordingly and alert someone you trust who knows of your condition of the situation.
  3. It is OK to take a break – They are not called Mental Health Days for nothing; everyone is entitled to have a bad day, maybe a few bad days in a row in some rare situations, and that is perfectly fine. Mentally ill patients sometimes need to distance themselves from certain sources that may possibly aggravate their condition, especially if they are aware they are off their baseline. Distance and rest is good, but, just like anything else, it is only healthy in moderation – distance must not be allowed to turn into permanent isolation; rest must not turn into hibernating in bed for days on end, without the will to see the light of day.
  4. Be diligent with your treatment plan – I cannot, CANNOT, stress this enough. All the medication in the world might curb a symptom or two, but if you do not seek psychological therapy as well as pharmacological treatment, and formulate a stable treatment plan including your doctors and family in the process, you will never, EVER learn to harness the powerful tools and techniques that will give you an advantage over the beast the lurks inside the ill mind. A basketball team full of point guards isn’t going to be competent team, let alone a winning team – it takes different elements, with different skills, that work together in harmony to succeed at any endeavor, and that includes mental health treatment.

 

Yeah, big words, lots of words, ocean full of words, big ocean….wait….

 

Almost went off track.

 

Look, I know – it’s a long preach, there’s no entertaining narrative trope to make it noteworthy nor interesting, and it seems like a never-ending, lonely path to uncertain doom, but trust me when I tell you: it’s not.

 

You are not alone in this.

 

You can do this.

 

I have lived, I have lost, I have learned, I have suffered, I have laughed hysterically, screamed my throat to hoarseness, sobbed ’til my eyes throbbed, stabbed and put out cigarettes on my arms in acts of desperation, cut my thighs in penance, drank myself into filthy gutters and pools of vomit, woken up in strange places with strange people, I have been institutionalized, scrutinized, analyzed, poked and prodded – I have lied, I have manipulated, I have confessed, begged, pleaded, bargained, coerced, faithfully promised.

 

The point is….I am lucky to be alive and healthy(ish).

 

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

 

And I am grateful for that.

 

I was 14 when I was diagnosed – I am now *ahem ahem* an undisclosed age which I will not divulge out of personal pride and because I just don’t feel like being roasted even though I maintain my ruggish, handsome good looks *ahem ahem* – and yet here I am, alive and kickin’, working hard, focused, determined.

 

If I can do it, so can you.

 

I trust you can.

 

I know you can.

 

We all do.

 

Every day I wake up, open my eyes, and thank the Universe for giving me the opportunity to allow myself to be the eternal student, to keep learning about myself, to learn more lessons about life, the Universe, everything, and to share those things with you guys.

 

Life begins anew daily when you learn to love it, to love yourself, to sincerely fight the good fight, to not give up.

 

There are good days.

 

There are bad days.

 

But there are still many more days to come, and that’s what matters.