Suicide Prevention Month: I Am Not Bipolar

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Welcome to the Suicide Prevention Month blog series. During this awareness month, we’ll be sharing stories from suicide survivors, suicide attempt survivors and mental health advocates. 

imagesMy name is Ashley and although I have bipolar disorder, I am not bipolar. This is a condition I have, and will have throughout the remainder of my life. But this is not an illness that comprises my identity. Not anymore.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April 2011 when I was 20 years old. This came as a giant shock to me. My family and friends around me could see a definite shift in my personality, but I was so intertwined in my illness, I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary.

I enjoyed the manic highs, and while they always led to a giant and devastating crash, I thought they were worth it. I would become so creative, so outgoing, so “sped up.” I would go 3-4 days before getting even a wink of sleep. To me, this was terrific.

These highs always got me into trouble and each time I got higher, the lows became lower. I could not see that my illness was becoming a part of me.

I was in and out of jobs, in and out of hospitals, in and out of my house, and on and off medications. I became a person almost no one could deal with, including me. But my patient family and friends stayed by my side and proved to me that I could live a normal, happy, fulfilling life.

To date, I’ve been hospitalized seven times and lived through three suicide attempts.

I used to think this made me cowardly and weak, but the more I talk about my story, the more I realize this gives me every ounce of strength.

I once hid myself in a closet for an entire day because I knew that’s where monsters hid and I believed myself to be a monster. Now I openly discuss my story with anyone and everyone, because I know that there are others still out there hiding in the closet. I hope by sharing my own, I can give them the voice and courage they need to seek the help they need and deserve.

Since I began complying with my treatment regimen and became substance free, I have been able to return to that fulfilling life my friends and family always spoke of, and I always dreamed of.

I returned to school full-time in September 2013. This time around, I switched my major to psychology and have since realized how passionate I am about the field.

I have been able to keep the same job for almost 5 months now and I have started volunteering everywhere I can. I am a blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation, I lead the promotion and education for Active Minds at university, and I have just received a tremendous volunteer opportunity at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).

I would not be where I am today for it not for my support system. I have had access to tremendous care, including a mental health and addictions facility; and I have had tremendously patient professionals, family and friends. Although I don’t believe in luck because I worked so hard to get to where I am, I do believe I am lucky in the sense I have the world’s best support system possible.

Today, I am as happy, healthy and productive as possible, and I hope that I am proof to everyone out there that just because you have bipolar disorder does not mean that you are bipolar disorder.

Do you know someone in crisis? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).