In one word, that is how I cope with mental illness and the emotional journey to find effective treatment.
Accepting the reality of my mental health has taken time. It all began in 2008 when, within months of giving birth to my first baby, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. During what I thought would be the happiest time of my life, depression robbed me of the joys of life with a new baby and the simple pleasures of life in general. Despite medications and therapy, it took me over a year to recover from the episode — time that I can never get back.
Unfortunately, that year was just the beginning of my struggles with mental illness.
Suffering from postpartum depression had been such a harrowing experience that I was very apprehensive about having another baby. But in 2013, I gave birth to another beautiful baby girl. Again, the monster that is depression attacked. This time, I gave up breastfeeding early in hopes that my hormones would balance themselves out sooner and the depression would subside.
Again, I went through the maze of trying to find the right medication regimen and therapist. But just like the first time, it took over a year to find balance — a long time to wait when every minute is a struggle. But eventually, the fog cleared, and I got my smile back. That’s the thing about recovery: My smile was brighter because I was so thankful to be on the other side of depression. I found strength in having overcome.
I thought that with the end of having babies came the end of suffering from mental illness, but in 2016, I found myself wrapped up in a full-fledged manic episode. I was going through a rough time at my corporate job, having issues with my boss and trying to juggle work with family life.
Before long, I started to lose sleep over these challenges, and after a few sleepless nights, I began behaving so erratically that I ended up at an acute psychiatric clinic. I remained there for almost two weeks, surrounded by nurses and strangers, away from my kids. Thankfully, however, I received the treatment I needed. Shortly after, I made changes in my professional life until I no longer had work stress to deal with. I decided to become a stay-at-home mom, hoping that would improve my mental health.
After addressing the issues in my professional life, I thought I was in the clear — and that the mania was a fluke due to an unprecedented amount of stress. However, another period of depression (which, I learned, usually follows mania) set in. By this time, I had no faith in any medication, but I still tried to find something that might work; anything to ease the pain.
I also continued to see my therapist, but relief felt unattainable. I tried all the common recommendations, but no amount of clean eating, exercising, strolling through the park or getting sunlight did the trick. As with the first two bouts of depression, it was over a year before the sun finally began to peek through the clouds.
All was well for some time, until 2020 rolled around, and I decided to pursue creative ambitions. I signed up for a writing workshop and became so enthralled in the delight of the work that I began to stay up late, night after night, sometimes until 5 a.m. Before I knew it, I was once again spiraling rapidly in a manic tornado that spit me out into another psychiatric care facility.
As with my previous hospital stay, I got the care and medication I needed to control the mania. Again, the mania was once again followed by depression — and this is a cycle that I am still battling to this day. But rather than fearing what’s next, I face the future with continued therapy, medication and hope that my struggles will subside as they have in the past.
I now accept that I suffer from mental illness. I accept the good times and the bad, the past and the present, and the uncertainty of what my future looks like. I recognize that resisting the reality of my situation was part of the problem. I also recognize my red flags for heading into mania (loss of sleep, mind racing uncontrollably and rapid speech) and depression (low energy and loss of interest in everyday life).
I could go back and count all the years that I lost to depression, but what would that do aside from rob me of more time? I could dwell on all the hurtful words and insults I hurled at family and friends while in a manic state, but I’ve apologized as much as I can, as well as recognized that these reactions were often beyond my control.
One step to arriving at self-acceptance was reading through the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It was sobering to see so many of my behaviors plainly listed in the manual and learning about the disorder within that context. I wish someone would have handed me the DSM-5 for my review when I was having a hard time accepting my diagnosis from my medical team. I probably would have arrived at self-acceptance sooner.
There might not be a perfect cure for my mental illness, but each time I’ve grappled with it, I’ve found an effective treatment and not only survived, I’ve come out stronger and wiser. I may not be able to control whether I’ve passed those genes on to my daughters, but what I do know is that I will be here as a resource for them, and for anyone else who could benefit from my experiences. For that, I am grateful.
Bianca Valentin is a mom and wife. She currently enjoys being a stay-at-home mom and is working on her first book titled “Solace: A Bipolar Story.”