I was 19 when I was hospitalized for bipolar II disorder. In the years that followed, I did everything I could to cover up what happened. I swept my diagnosis under the rug and lived my life like a normal 20-year-old. I was on the road to normality. Life was good. However, I felt like the chapters of my life were filling up with words but words without meaning. My therapist encouraged me to get involved in the local mental health community and so I did. In 2014 I started volunteering at the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) office. I did small jobs around the office, and after spending some time with the organization I was asked to speak at the annual conference about my experience with bipolar as a young adult. I said
My therapist encouraged me to get involved in the local mental health community and so I did. In 2014 I started volunteering at the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) office. I did small jobs around the office, and after spending some time with the organization I was asked to speak at the annual conference about my experience with bipolar as a young adult. I said yes. I had not spoken about my diagnosis since the day I left the hospital. Most of my friends and close relatives were in the dark about all that had occurred.
The day of the conference I was nauseous. I went to the bathroom waiting to vomit and looked at myself in the mirror, What the hell are you doing Hannah? Every seat in the room was filled. I went up to speak. The first minutes went smoothly. I revealed my diagnosis of bipolar II and used symbolism to quickly wrap up my speech.
“Building my dream home is how I like to think about my mental health. Every day I place one brick on top of the other, each one representing something different. Strength, positivity, perseverance and so on. Some days I place more bricks on my foundation and other days no bricks at all.”
All of the sudden my chest got heavy, my palms sweaty as I looked at the next sentence.
Today might be sunny, however, I am aware that at some point the storm will come back again…
I was speaking on my future as a young adult, except one with bipolar. At that moment it all became real. I looked up at the crowd of people and crumbled, “I’m so sorry, I have never talked about this. I just can’t believe it really happened. I can’t believe I have bipolar.” I gained enough composure to say my last sentence, “but I will be prepared next time, and although I may lose some bricks, my house will still be standing at the end of the storm.” I walked off.
I felt like it was a disaster. I was ashamed of myself. I went back into the room to grab my belongings. To my surprise there stood a line of people waiting to talk to me. I could not believe it. For the next hour, I was greeted with positive words, gratitude and questions. Some with tears in their eyes grabbing my hand and thanking me. That was the day my path changed forever.
As much as I wanted to pretend like I was never hospitalized. I was. As much as I wanted my diagnosis of bipolar to be a mistake. It wasn’t. As much as I wanted to forget the parts of my life that were the lowest. I could not forget them. I should not forget them.
I was told that coming forward about my diagnosis would be the biggest mistake of my life. It would reduce the chances of finding a career, maintaining a relationship and I would pay major consequences for revealing my biggest weakness. So I didn’t. I revealed my biggest strength.
I blame bipolar for my struggle, for the internal pain that has been so difficult to explain to others, but I also blame bipolar for feeling emotions so deeply that I crave to help others. I blame bipolar for allowing me to find my strength at my weakest point. If it were not for my struggle I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I am not ashamed of my biology anymore. I am ashamed of stigma and those who participate in spreading hate instead of love. In January 2016 I published Halfway2hannah, a blog opening the conversation about mental health with a bold and compassionate attitude.
To all my mental health warriors who are ashamed to tell their story. You are bold, beautiful and brave. Your story is meaningful and meant to be heard.
The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.-Steve Jobs