The other day, someone who had known me since childhood was reading my story and said she just couldn’t align me back then and me now. I was so happy and bubbly all the time. I didn’t seem to have any problems. I was good at everything I tried to do….maybe not the best…but good. And now I can’t even hold a job.
Mental illnesses are hard to understand. They don’t even have a diagnosis of Bipolar for children under the age of 18. You can’t just go to the doctor and they send you to a psychiatrist, a lot of family doctors don’t know how to identify a mental illness – it’s just not in their training. That’s why we have specialists.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I had a mental illness. My emotions were always extreme. The part that most of my friends saw was the intense joy and excitement. The zest for life. The parts that my mom saw were devastation and lack of hope. Plus, as my mom says, I didn’t really sleep right from birth!
But the thing is, no one knew that there was anything wrong. That was just how I was for all of my life, we didn’t know any different. Plus, I didn’t tell anyone my hopeless thoughts, or what the talking in my head was saying. I just kept pushing through, assuming that was how it was supposed to be.
In addition, back then there was such a stigma about mental health that no one spoke about it. There weren’t commercials or shows or stories that explained mental health issues or that suggested you should see a doctor. My mom did the best she could, but she just didn’t know what to do.
Then, and this is the most important, I got older. It’s not uncommon for mental illnesses to get much worse and get diagnosed in your early twenties. Mine really amped up when I went to college, but I didn’t receive a diagnosis until I was about 25, even then, I didn’t get the correct diagnosis, but it was my first hospitalization, my first time on medicine.
Just like my friend, I had no idea that this was what my life was going to be. I had great dreams of being an incredible special education teacher and changing lives everywhere I went. I had no idea that my illness would make me so unstable, that my dreams would have to change.
But I’m still me. I’m Elizabeth Marie Orvis, MEd. Or just Elizabeth. Or just Liz. Or even Lizzie! Whatever you want to call me, whatever my labels, I am me. As I said, I had to change my goals and dreams, and life is a LOT harder than I thought it would be, I’ll never have children, but I’m still me. I am proud of all I have accomplished, despite my challenges, and I am SO proud of the fact that I am about to publish a book that I really think will change lives.
So my adult life is not the way we envisioned it, but who is? We all grow and change. I just had to change a little more than we expected. Am I glad I have a mental illness? No. Never. But will I use it to fight for others like me? Every. Single. Day. So if your life didn’t exactly turn out the way you wanted, or if you have a medical or mental challenge, know that you are not alone and different does not mean worse. Welcome to the club! Love, Liz