To say I remember the first time I had to be hospitalized in an inpatient psychiatric care facility wouldn't be wholly accurate. I remember flashes of that awful day in May 2015: I remember feeling fear, helplessness, and void of all hope. But what I remember with perfect clarity was walking out of those hospital doors on May 22, 2015, after twelve long days of treatment, and the promise I made to myself: I would never allow myself fall so deep into my illness that I would require hospitalization again.

I couldn't have been more wrong. July 28, 2017, now forever marks the fourth time I've been discharged from a psychiatric hospital to stabilize my bipolar disorder and manage what felt like a laundry list of mental illnesses with various combinations of medication and endless therapy.

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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder - less commonly referred to as manic-depression is a mood disorder characterized by severe shifts in one's mood from depression to mania, or hypomania. While bipolar disorder is a #Mental illness it definitely affects the body physically too. Mentally, bipolar disorder complicates people's ability to carry out their routine daily activities due to feelings of despair, hopelessness, irritability, low self-esteem, a lack of motivation, impulsivity, and a number of other mentally inhibiting symptoms. To make matters even worse, a bipolar episode can leave an individual who suffers from the illness with physical symptoms: such as sleep problems, changes in appetite, and bodily pain. When an episode is severe it can be completely incapacitating, leaving one unable to manage accomplishing even the most basic of tasks; including but not limited to showering, eating, or even getting out of bed.

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Oh, the Shame!

I spent the past two years in the deepest, darkest depressive episode I have ever experienced. And while I can't fairly wholly contribute our culture's negative stereotypes and stigmas, I can definitive attribute credit where credit is due. In my mind - as I've been socialized to believe - to not be able to function made me weak, a failure, lesser-than. No matter how isolated I felt I convinced myself that wallowing in the depths of depression alone was better than admitting I needed help and being labeled "crazy." I felt the effects of the stereotypes and #stigma so strongly I never even told my roommates I was in the hospital - not even after I was discharged.

The Journey to Recovery

So now, once again, I find myself on this tricky, narrow, windy path of recovery. While I hate that I've found myself on this road once again, I've realized I feel stronger and better equipped each time I step out of the depths of the forest's dark heart, feel the illuminating rays of sunshine on my face, and a complicated - but sturdy - path beneath my feet. #Better Than Ever