Please welcome Elaina J. Martin

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 I first met Elaina through #MHBlogs, a special Facebook group which a mutual friend of ours started. It's a place for support, networking, and sharing, and Elaina's passionate writing captured me from her first post. In September she began blogging for PsychCentral.com in a space she's titled "Being Beautifully Bipolar".
 
Elaina also became a member of the Consumer Advisory Council for the International Bipolar Foundation this year. She wants to share her experience, the same experiences of many of the mentally ill, so that others won’t feel so alone in their own battles. We are so grateful for her advocacy work and her open heart and desire to make a difference. Elaina's personal blog is ElainaJ and you can also follow her on Twitter.
 

The Struggle Has Been Worth It

I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 until I nearly killed myself in October of 2008. My attempted suicide wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened. I know, I don’t understand it either. But I am thankful for it because it allowed me to be properly diagnosed. My mind became something I could try to understand. I read memoirs by Jamison and Cheney and Hornbacher and Wurtzel. I read everything I could get my hands on. I joined a support group for bipolar consumers. But with the exception of close friends and family, I didn’t tell anyone I was bipolar.

The first person I really tested the water with is my now boyfriend of over 4 years. I whispered the words late at night into my cell phone with him on the other end of the line and he asked if there was anything he could do. He didn’t freak out. He didn’t run. Over the years he has seen the good and the bad. He’s had to take me to the emergency room. He’s had to call my mom. He has been incredible.

For a couple of years I hinted about being sick on my personal blog, ElainaJ.com. I just couldn’t come out of the closet yet. I was so afraid I would lose friends and followers. I felt ashamed of my illness, but then I started to toy with the idea in therapy of coming clean. I eventually wrote a blog, “Be Brave, ElainaJ,”and told my readers and friends that I had bipolar disorder along with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and, at one point, post traumatic stress disorder.

I had trouble sleeping the night I published that post. I laid in the dark, listening to my boyfriend breathing, and imagined hurtful words being flung at me. But an amazing thing happened, people sent me positive messages and “love you’s.” A new friend offered to climb trees with me the next time I was manic, something I had admitted to doing in a sequin dress during a particular manic episode. And even more amazingly, I felt incredibly free. I wasn’t hiding this diagnosis like a dirty secret anymore. Because it never was dirty and I never should have felt the shame that stigma created for me.

Since that post was published I have made great strides in the acceptance of my mental illnesses and I think that has made all the difference. How could I expect anyone else to accept me when I wasn’t ready to accept myself?

Today I am a mental health advocate. I serve as a member at large of the International Bipolar Foundation. A couple months ago I began writing the blog, “Being Beautifully Bipolar” on PsychCentral.com, which is viewed by thousands of readers a month. I’ve been interviewed by Bp, Bipolar magazine, for an upcoming issue and by an editor at Psych Central for an article coming out later this month. None of these things would have happened if I hadn’t been brave. My story would still be locked away in a dark corner of my heart.

I’ve written a memoir about living a life with mental illness that I am currently shopping around for a literary agent. And one day it will be published and someone out there will read it and feel not so alone, because they aren’t. There are a lot of us.

Today I am proud – of where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through and that I am still here to write this post. I’ll never say it was easy, but I will say it was worth it.