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Regardless of the illness type, everyone who experiences mental illness experiences it differently. Those of us with bipolar disorder experience difficulties with how our moods and energy are regulated. We experience depression and sometimes mania. However, we all experience these in unique ways. My mania, for example, manifested in excessive spending and grandiose thinking. My depression was complicated by bouts of extreme agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house) and generalized anxiety with panic attacks.  We are all unique and we experience our illnesses differently. We also respond differently to treatments, especially medication.

I was first diagnosed with a mental illness in college, given biofeedback training and medication for anxiety. That was over 30 years ago. During that time, I saw numerous psychiatrists, tried more medications than I can even remember, numerous therapists, attended group therapy, went to an out-patient day program for an eating disorder at a psychiatric hospital and suffered a severe manic episode, which added bipolar disorder to my list of problems.

I had been dealing, ineffectively, with mental illness for decades when I finally took a course offered by my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Even though I didn’t think I was going to learn anything, I went to the classes. I was surprised. For the first time, I sat in a room with people who talked about getting better. We didn’t focus on being ill. We focused on ways we could be better. We were encouraged to believe that we could get better. Best of all, we were offered a wide variety of coping tools and relapse prevention ideas. It was completely understood that some stuff would work for some people and some would not. This sampling and exploring helped me find healthy coping techniques that worked for me. I discovered that I also could recognize before an episode of depression or mania would begin. I found things that helped when I was unable to stop the slide into the disease.

At 51, I consider myself in recovery from my mental illness. I have held a meaningful job (part-time) for over six years as an independent contractor, directing and managing the social media presence of Central Florida Behavioral Health Network. I have financial independence and health insurance. Most importantly, I am happy.

Life is now a journey that I am on. And that is great! It is far  better to be going somewhere than stuck in the limbo I used to exist in. I didn’t have hope before. Not only do I have hope now, I have a life I am proud to be living, especially on the hard days.

About the Author:

Stacy Wells has been working in the field of technology and communications since obtaining her 1997 Master of Science in Library and Information Sciences from Simmons College in Boston, working as a webmaster in the late 1990s. Stacy is involved with with NAMI as a Peer to Peer State Trainer and Mentor. She established and maintains the social media for CFBHN under the guidance and leadership of Doris Nardelli, Director of Communications. Stacy also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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