‘I was unable to rest or sleep. I didn’t realize how sick I was until I could no longer take care of myself.’: Woman with acute mania, bipolar urges, ‘You are so much more than your diagnosis’

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“My name is Jordanna. I am a registered nurse who has suffered with bipolar disorder since I was thirteen. I wanted to come here and be real about what I have been through in my life that has brought me to the happiest place I have ever been mentally and emotionally. I can honestly, genuinely say I am happy to my core. I would love to provide insight to anyone interested in learning how to manage a mental illness.

I am extremely grateful I only suffer from a rare version of bipolar where I only have manic episodes, not any depressive ones. Well, I have had mild lows here and there…but I definitely wouldn’t label what I struggle with as ‘depression.’ But I have been manic many, many times. Mania has disrupted my life in so many ways over the years, causing significant stress and heartache throughout my life.

Woman with bipolar and man together at Playmobil
Courtesy of Jordanna

Mania is like riding a roller coaster. For me, it includes severe racing thoughts, moderate anxiety, inflated sense of self, sense of invincibility, and lack of self-awareness. I am incredibly emotional and sensitive, and my moods can change on a dime. Thoughts and ideas overwhelm me, to the point where I am unable to rest or sleep. To me, my ideas are amazing, and I cannot wait to share them with the world…but in the peak of severe mania, my speech does not make sense. Then the compound exhaustion from lack of sleep hits me, but I am still going so fast mentally that my mind and body do not agree anymore. This state is a terrible state to be in and can make the illness unbearable.

I am fortunate that there is a gradual incline of symptoms to this illness. I have built strong enough insight that most of the time I can catch my symptoms before they get too severe, but every so often there is a perfect storm of stressors that can push me to my limits.

In the last few years, my perspective on my mental illness has changed. I honestly feel fortunate to have bipolar, because I don’t think I would be at this happy stage of my life had I not gone through the significant struggles of this illness.

My mental illness has helped me find my true self. It has provided me with such deep reflection and inspiration that I can truly say it has contributed to me finding happiness. If it wasn’t for my mania, I may have still been in a loveless marriage, stuck working on the same old nursing unit, without any aspirations of becoming a best-selling author one day.

This positive self-reflection did not come easy. Everything changed dramatically after I went through the most traumatic experience of my life.

Man and woman together outdoors
Courtesy of Jordanna

Four years ago, I hit the highest high of my life. I had a perfect storm of stressors that contributed to me reaching the most acute version of this illness, called psychosis. I did not have enough insight then to realize how sick I was getting, so things snowballed into such an acute illness I could no longer take care of myself. I required hospitalization and close monitoring at the peak of my illness.

So how did I get here, from there? How did I build this strong emotional and mental health empire that I live in every single day? It’s all about reflection. Reflecting on your flaws, your weaknesses, and how you can better manage your mental health. Growing and learning from your mistakes.

After I was hospitalized, things changed dramatically when it comes to how I manage my mental illness. It was a huge wake-up and taught me such a significant life lesson. There was a moment when I realized I needed to take my health into my own hands and not only rely on doctors and my support system to help me find stability during each episode.

Four years ago, I took control of my health as a whole.

Woman with bipolar sits by lake outside
Courtesy of Jordanna

I decided to use the skills that I have learned over the years as a nurse to truly take care of myself. I’ve been building insight about my mental illness since I was a young kid, but over the last four years, my level of reflection has significantly increased.

I think it has to do with my support system. The loved ones in my life have provided me with this emotional environment filled with such love and genuine support, it created mental space for me to truly connect and find myself. It allowed me time for such significant reflection, I was able to find my passion in blogging about mental health and advocating for people with this illness. I was able to connect with myself enough to realize I have this gift with my words and I can truly make a difference in this world.

Woman with bipolar hugs friend who supported her
Courtesy of Jordanna

Writing my thoughts and emotions into blog posts while battling my acute illness is very therapeutic. I could openly reflect, and it also gave me a sense of purpose during my illness to help people with similar struggles.

Over the years, I had grown this confidence with my blog and was excited to try something new.

So, I created a mental health podcast. I wrote about my journey through life with this illness and all my bumps and bruises along the way. I wrote all my advice on how to better manage your mental illness.  It turned out beautifully, and I am proud to say this podcast could help someone else who has bipolar and make them feel like they are not alone.

I have already had people from around the world reach out and connect with me about how much it helped them with their mental health.

I feel like I have superpowers. I feel like I have this responsibility to help people. I feel like the experience and knowledge I have built over the last 18 years with this illness could really help someone struggling.

Therefore, I’m so positive about my mental health. When I’m manic, I can get the most amazing ideas and have contributed beautiful things to my blog and my podcast. It has given me such a positive perspective on my mental illness. Even though there are significant negatives to this illness, there is still this positive piece that keeps my head up and a smile on my face.

Woman struggling with mania pets big dog
Courtesy of Jordanna

I recently had the most life-changing manic episode. I had previously made an adjustment to my medication regime that gave me so much empowerment I was literally in tears when I finished my doctor’s appointment. I had a clear moment of maturity where I realized I do not need to call a doctor anymore when I get acutely manic. I can completely manage my illness safely on my own. Of course, I still follow up with my doctor and adjust things accordingly…but during the initial stress of getting sick, I am able to manage my acute symptoms with this new medication regime.

It has completely changed the game. This was the first episode where I remained calm and collected the whole way through, putting my trust in the course of the illness. I had such control with my medications and have become very aware of my trends and illness progression over the years. I had finally built enough confidence at managing my mania, I could just relax through my acute episode and enjoy my mania for what it is.

I could not be happier.

Woman photographs self in bathroom mirror
Courtesy of Jordanna

So, my advice for those of you who battle a mental illness or for anyone interested in learning about it is to work hard at finding insight. Insight is the awareness of your symptoms and your ability to react to your episode before it gets too severe. Be patient, because building insight can take years of genuine, honest reflection.

Building insight involves analyzing details of each episode and trying to learn from your trends. So, taking mental notes of your thoughts, emotions, what season is it, cycles, medication doses, or any other stressors that contributed to the episode. Basically, ask yourself, ‘Why did I get sick?’ and reflect from there.

Everyone can build strong insight. It just takes a lot of effort, time, and consistency. Over the last 18 years, I have built strong enough insight that I don’t know if I will ever reach psychosis again. I can’t tell the future…but I feel strong enough at battling this illness that I feel I have enough insight to prevent it, no matter what life throws at me.

Woman stands with dog on the beach
Courtesy of Jordanna

It is important to note that it is very common to relapse with this illness. It is very rare to be stable 100% of the time. It’s important to cut yourself some slack and realize that sometimes the stressors in our lives are too great for us to handle, which in turn leads to instability.

So, my advice is to take your time to reflect before, during, after, and even when you are feeling totally stable. Any time in your mental health journey is a good time to reflect on how to better manage your health. Talk about your needs to your loved ones and come up with an action plan for the next episode. Be open and honest with your doctor and put your trust in their knowledge and experience. Another important aspect of building insight is understanding what healing techniques work for your mental health (such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga for example).

Finally, try to have a positive perspective of your illness. Everything can always be so dark and dreary when it comes to mental illness. It’s so important to keep your head up and realize you are so much more than your diagnosis.

Let’s end the stigma, together.”

Woman sits on couch with big dog's head on lap
Courtesy of Jordanna

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jordanna of Chilliwack, BC, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog, and you can listen to her podcast on Apple Podcasts. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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