“Kevin, your Bi-Polar is in remission,” she says.
It is Monday, October 7, 2019. The first few minutes of a 45-minute, afternoon appointment with my knowledgeable, thoughtful Kaiser psychiatrist. The appointment is a yearly requirement to continue receiving the medications that keep my brain from spinning out of control with thoughts of grandeur or despair – the same medications that help me sleep each night and help stem the deluge of anxiety that comes relentlessly, every day. The medications that have kept me stable, without a major episode, since 2006. The medications that, in all honesty, keep me alive.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as remission for a mental illness,” I say in response.
It’s a plain office in the Kaiser Mental Health Department, and I hope that what my doctor says is true. Or at least that it could be true some day. Remission. Remission. But I also silently commit, in no uncertain terms, to not. change. a. thing. about my mental health routine with this remission possibility.
I will continue on as I have done for the last 14 years: a regiment of a regular sleep/wake schedule, daily strenuous exercise, a mindfulness practice via the Headspace app, moderation in my consumption of alcohol, a healthy diet, journaling, repetition of passages from important texts (from the Bible and other readings), being honest with my loved ones about how I’m holding up amidst the ups and downs of life, checking in with my doctors whenever a need arises, prayer, and always, always staying on my meds.
Maybe it’s the memory of my descent into darkness – one that took place over my final quarter at UCLA – that keeps me so focused on this life-saving routine I’ve constructed with the help of my Kaiser team and my family. Maybe it was spending my graduation day from UCLA in a mental hospital in Oakland – being diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder after trying to take my own life – that keeps me from fully embracing my doctor’s remission possibility. It’s been 14 years without an episode. But 2006 still haunts me.
What I know for sure is that living for more than a decade with a mental illness takes work. And it will continue to take work as long as I live. In the beginning, it took humility to listen to the doctors as they prescribed a new way of living – for me, a life without the hard-driving, high-achieving mania that had been my bread and butter up to that point. It took reading everything I could get my hands on about my mental illness so I could know what was coming and what I, my family and friends, and my doctors could do to manage it.
It meant that mental health became my #1 priority, through the ups and downs that hit all of us, because I knew that if I wasn’t able to be mentally healthy, my mental un-health would upend my work life, destroy the relationships closest to me, and/or even end my life.
Today, October 10, 2020 is #WorldMentalHealthDay. With the ok from my family and colleagues, I wanted to share some of my story as a way of grafting my experience into today’s larger discussion of mental health across our various platforms. The diagnosis of a mental illness is devastating. Living with a mental illness can be extremely difficult and isolating. But I know, from my myriad conversations over the years, that mental health is a topic that affects everyone. Nobody is immune to the realities of Depression, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, severe Anxiety, Postpartum, or any number of mental health challenges. Mental illness touches us all, and COVID has only exacerbated that reality.
I just hope today, as you read this, that you know you are not alone as you do your best to stay mentally healthy. Mental illness is a hard road, especially in 2020. It takes humility and work, and it is sometimes two steps forward, one step back. But you are not alone in this fight.
Maybe #WorldMentalHealthDay can be a day where we link arms and practice mental health awareness – while working to end the stigma of mental illness. That’s my hope, anyway.
Take care of yourself and each other today. We all need the support in this and every season.