Since the onset of bipolar disorder symptoms in my late teens, I have been working toward my recovery. Despite struggling with my mental health in high school, I decided to move to Chicago for college. This meant leaving my family, friends, and my mental health care providers in Massachusetts. I managed to attend school full-time for three years. During that time, I struggled with intense mood swings, overwhelming anxiety, and self-harm.
I was in-patient hospitalized three times while in college. Finally, I realized with the help of my parents that I couldn’t continue in the same way. I moved back to Boston, and I started to engage more in treatment and began taking better care of myself. This included focusing on my career, engaging in more intensive therapy, improving my sleep habits, eating healthier, exercising, and reaching out to friends. By the summer of 2013, I felt stable and genuinely happy. I was enjoying my career, my regular yoga practice, and my friends. I had made huge steps forward in my recovery. I thought I was going to stay in this “happy place” forever.
Then on October 5, 2013, the unthinkable happened; my dear friend and life mentor, Alissa, took her own life. Losing her to suicide was unlike any other loss I had experienced. I felt overwhelmed and unable to manage my mental health without more intensive supports. As I checked myself into the hospital, I felt that all of the forward progress I had made since 2009 had come crashing down. I was devastated by the loss of my friend and felt frustrated that I had taken steps backwards in my recovery.
It was through peer support in the hospital and the Samaritans Safe Place Support Group, a peer-led support group for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, that I began to think about recovery as a nonlinear path. I was reminded by other people that even if I was struggling with my mental health again, it didn’t mean I would be stuck there forever. I had the potential to make forward progress again, just as I had done before.
I have taken steps in the right direction since then. I continued my self-care practices and added mindfulness to my life. I reached out for support from friends, family, and other people who have lived experience. Though I generally feel stable and happy, there are still days I feel overwhelmed by my mood swings and anxiety. I recognize that living with a mental health condition means there is a variable in my life that I cannot fully control. I remind myself on those tough days that recovery is not linear and there is no perfect path to follow.