I am NOT my mental illness.

I throw a dinner party at my apartment every single Wednesday night. 

This usually results in things like enough rosemary garlic chicken and twice-baked green bean casserole (yeah, I go hard) for 10 people when there are only 5 around the table that night, which is fine because I keep a stash of to-go boxes on hand. Chicken alfredo night is sort of like that children’s book where that old lady accidentally uses some magical stock pot to make spaghetti and it keeps overflowing until it fills the whole town with pasta. That’s basically what happens to my kitchen. This past week, though, was a four-course breakfast for dinner spread where the runaway hit was the make-your-own Belgian waffle bar with blueberries and chocolate chips and also pancakes shaped like elephants and enough bacon for 20 people that the 6 of us packed away no problem. And the pumpkin spice cupcakes and gourmet s’mores bar and and champagne kept us going until late into the night with telling stories and laughing until we cried.


You guys. I’m back.
Not “I think I’m back. – I AM.
Not “I think I feel better than ever.” I DO. I do feel better than ever.

I’m assuming, if you’re reading this, that you know I’ve struggled with depression for the better part of the last five years. Have had that label slapped on my forehead since ’09, baby. (If you didn’t know that, there you go.) What you probably don’t know, because I haven’t talked about it a ton, is that we (my family, doctors, support team of Guardians and Warriors) found out that I have something more complicated than just depression. I have bipolar disorder – type II.

You can react to that however you’d like to.
But what I want to do now is talk about how I reacted to it and am continuing to react to it.

On one hand:
THIS MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE. Bipolar type II is also called manic depression. It means that sometimes I get really sad, and sometimes I get really euphoric and not sad, and have a hard time being in the middle. UNTIL. We found this really great medication that lets me live in the middle. And THAT is where I’ve been hanging out for the last 6 months and LET ME TELL YOU – IT IS WONDERFUL. I have never felt this good. For the last five years, it felt like the antidepressants never really did their job all the way, because I was either still really, really sad all the time or really anxious all the time or couldn’t actually feel any of my feelings and instead had the emotional capacity of a rock. The past year was a lot of really sad and a lot of feeling like a rock. Extra points to my roommate, because we never really knew which one we were gonna get when I woke up in the morning. Anyway, type II doesn’t really “show up” until your early twenties – it’s often misdiagnosed as “just” depression before then. BINGO.

On the other hand:
The fact that the word “bipolar” is in my chart is REALLY, REALLY SCARY. It felt, at first, A WHOLE LOT SCARIER than just “depression.” I was like, “Well now people are going to think I’m CRAZY instead of just SAD. I have to keep this a SECRET. Being bipolar is BAD and SCARY and it REALLY means there’s something WRONG with me. I don’t WANT to be bipolar.”

Oh, no. No, no, no.

(Are you ready for this?)
*steps onto soapbox*

I am not bipolar.

You see, me saying, “I’m bipolar,” gives people permission to go grab a copy of the DSM and open up to the page that says “Bipolar Disorder Type II” and go,
 “This is who Amanda is.”

I have a mental illness.
I am not my mental illness.
I am not bipolar.
I am Amanda Eileen Phillips.

I am kind and have a heart full of love that lives for throwing dinner parties and dance parties in Bath and Body Works. I am a student. I am a work in progress. I am a rap music aficionado and a spin class addict.

I have a mood disorder that I am thriving in the face of because I am successfully managing it through counseling and pharmacotherapy.

There is a very big difference between what I have and what I am.

And I refuse to succumb to the dialogue that I have to go live a certain way and act a certain way and wear a scarlet letter because I have bipolar disorder. The world does not get to tell me what I can and can’t do because of my mental illness. (It is mine, don’t get me wrong. But it is not me.) People have tried. BELIEVE me, they tried. Don’t get me started. And I believed them for a while. The critical people the you’re-a-liability people and the shhhh-don’t-say-it-out-loud people. And I have nothing but love and respect for them, because they were just doing what they thought was best for themselves or for me. I don’t want to call people ignorant here, because a lot of people just don’t know better. Or they’re getting information from sources that don’t know better. And I didn’t know better until I was here. And a lot of people who are where I am can’t or don’t want to talk about it. And that’s okay. I couldn’t for a while. But now I can and want to and am. And so I forgive the people who counted me out. (I counted me out for a while, too!) Because I have a lot of other people who never counted me out, or who have seen me grow and don’t count me out anymore. I have people who believe in me, and there are a lot of them (of you, I should say). It’s not just one or two; it’s a lot and I figure they must all be onto something.  And so I choose to believe them.

That was a very hard place for me to finally arrive at. For a very long time, I prayed that all this would go away. I wanted to ignore it. I wanted to be like everyone else, to be normal, to be free. And now, I am seeing, I was free before I ever asked. And that was a truth I had to arrive at all on my own, when I was ready, when I could accept it. And now I do. And so…

There’s a stigma surrounding mental illness in this country.
It’s powerful. It’s pervasive.
And I’ve been marginalized and told that I’m not as good as other people and treated differently and discriminated against and have suffered because of it. And I hate it. Deeply. Unabashadly.
(The stigma—not the people who perpetuate the stigma. I still love them and have lots of hope there.)
But I’m not submitting to it because I’m not afraid of it anymore.
That’s a lie. I am a little afraid of it. It’s all over the place and people listen to it.
But I’m still not submitting to it simply because I believe that God is more powerful, and I believe that my story isn’t for nothing.
And I think telling my story – telling the truth about THIS – is going to change the world.
And if the stigma gets to have a voice in this narrative, then so do I. 
 
I'm tired of glossing over the part where this is the hardest thing I've ever encountered (and hope to encounter...) in life.
Let's not miss the part of this where having depression, bipolar disorder -- whatever, is hard. 
And when I say "hard," know that is not a term I use lightly, and that I mean something a lot closer to "a living hell."
The last few years were, at times, a living hell. I'll probably write about that in depth one day, but not today. 
This is not me trying to "out-oppression" anybody else. The world is full of atrocities. Everyone's horror is horrible, and some horrors are certainly more severe than others -- but all the horrors are real. 
I never want to go back to the horror, the dark places I've been. 
I was there -- and praise the Lord  -- I'm not there anymore. 
But a lot of people are still there. There were some points where I didn't think I'd get out. And again, not the time to talk about that, but let's all take a moment to realize that there are people walking around everywhere who are going through a living hell because they feel too ashamed to go get the help they need to manage their mental illness or struggles -- whatever those may be. And let's realize that it's because WE ARE TOO QUIET, as a society, about how IT IS OKAY TO GET HELP AND STRUGGLE OUT LOUD. And let's realize that WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT.
 
 
Okay. I'm done yelling.

I’m tired of acting like this isn’t a really important part of my life.
I refuse to be reduced by it, but I also refuse to act like it’s not there.
What a shame that would be. What a waste.
I can’t do anything about it. Recovery, or stability, is a really hard process, and it's something I have to wake up and participate in every day. Praying for all of this to go away just resulted in a very big power struggle between God and me.  And for a while I was pissed and said, “REALLY? You’re not going to take this away?” ...and long story short, being pissed at God is exhausting and I don’t like it, and so I said, “Okay, truce, I’m sorry and I love you, and I can rock this if that’s really what You want, but FEEL FREE to change Your mind at any point here.”
And so I went to Monkee’s in Blowing Rock and bought an orange leather snakeskin too-expensive pillbox, because if I’m going to be on this medication for the rest of my life (not yet confirmed), I’m gonna LOOK FLY doing it.
Yes. I get to live my life, every shining day of it, with my pretentious orange pillbox and with some of the wins and losses that everybody else has, and some of the wins and losses that only I have, and then I get to say, “Look! Life is hard, and I’m doing it anyway. And I’m doing it with a mental illness! Because guess what – I’ve got a whole lot else goin’ for me!”
 
I’m not sitting in the corner anymore. 
I’m not keeping my mouth shut, not keeping my head down.

No. I get to tell a really important story about living my life with a mental illness, being brave enough to say that out loud, and giving people and America and the whole world a person to look at and HOPEFULLY think, “Huh. Well look at that. She’s really making that mood disorder work for her and that’s a cool pillbox and she’s brave and not perfect – HOW REFRESHING!”

Please, please, please, please, PLEASE let people be able to look at my life that way. PLEASE let that give people hope and optimism and actually change the dialogue about all this SOMEHOW.

Also, I’m tired of acting like I got to this place without Jesus. This was all Him.
I take zeeeero credit. I was mostly very whiny throughout the duration of this process.

One of my prayers – that I’ll be able to face hard things with magnanimity and equanimity, with generosity and grace -- IS COMING TRUE. Something bad/sad/disappointing happened the other day, and I was doing the dishes and started to get sad, and then I said “oh helllllll no” and remembered that I’m awesome and I went to spin class, where that awesomeness was further confirmed, in that I out-beasted a girl who is a BODYBUILDER. Woo-hoo! I’m getting stronger mentally and emotionally and physically and SPIRITUALLY.
That's the other thing. This process has been THE BEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED FOR MY FAITH.

Something sad/bad/whatever happens, and I’m able to stop, and look up at God, and say, “Okay. I don’t get it. And I’m a little pissed about it. BUT. I know that You’re up there and You’re good and the only thing I’m actually sure of at the moment is that YOU LOVE ME, and so I’m good. I’m okay. I’m sad, this is hard, but I’m gonna keep going, because I trust You. (Special request for some extra credit for trusting You even though I’m pissed? That didn’t used to happen.)” 

Writing this, telling all the truth about this part of me was a hard decision.
I was warned heavily before doing it.
I considered those warnings, and gently set them aside and said, “No thank you. I think this is what I was born to do.”
 
And so, I get a lot of questions about it. About the truth-telling. From myself, from my family, from friends, concerned third parties:

“Don’t you want to fight the system and go to law school and actually DO SOMETHING about this?”
 
Mmmm, sort of. I think that law school would either suck my soul out and turn me back into the competitive intellectual shark that I used to be or steamroll right over me because I tend to be an over-forgiving mercy-loving doormat (and I’m good with that). And I only have two pantsuits. Right now I’m working toward becoming the very best passionate-about-mental-health-advocacy-and-suicide-prevention school counselor I can be so that I can go hang out with kids and tell them that they’re loved and believed in and that they can do hard things. And then I’ll probably go do that in private practice somewhere. And I’ll definitely do it with my own kids and within my own family and neighborhood and community. And maybe I’ll write a book. I don’t have to go to law school to DO SOMETHING about this. If that door opens down the road, okay. But I ALREADY AM doing something about this.

“Aren’t you scared that telling your story will open the floodgates for people to judge you and look down on you? Aren’t you scared about getting a job? Dating? Getting married? Shouldn’t you just pretend to be normal?”
1. Scared? YES.
2. BRING IT.
3. HAHAHA. Pretend to be normal. That’s a good one. I’m TERRIBLE at normal.

If telling someone this story makes them not want to hire me (in the counseling field…), then that’s a school/agency/place that wouldn’t have been a good place for me to work anyway. Same thing for dating. If my story sends someone packing, THEN OKAY! It wouldn’t have worked out! I’m a handful, I get that. Like my roommate from last year said at our last dinner party, “You’re a lot more than I bargained for, but I love ya.” Mental illness stuff aside, someone not wanting to date me has nothing to do with my value or worth. Dating aside, Jesus is the only one I listen to when matters of value and worth are concerned. And I pray for Future Husband all the time, because again, I am a handful. But I’m incredible.
An incredible handful. Bless his heart.

I was telling one of my coworkers the story about how I thought “Houston” was a job at NASA (instead of you know, the place…since in the movies the astronauts are all, “Houston, we have a problem,” and then some guy on a headset is all, “Yeah, what’s up?” – I thought it was HIM), and she goes, “….youuuu are ridiculous.”

And I SMILED.
Because “ridiculous” is a synonym for “fun” and “vibrant” and “you started a dance party in the middle of Bath and Body Works the other day.” And it’s a word people called me long before I got sick, early on in college before the 5 years of sad hit me. HOORAY. I’M BACK. I’m back, I’m back, I’m back.

So. I am not bipolar.
I am ridiculous.
I am full of life. I am a child of God. I am loved and blessed and safe and I am trying my very, very best. I am messy and hilarious and flawed and bright and vibrant and I am absolutely yes going to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I run so I can eat s’mores for dinner. Sometimes I am sad and sometimes I prefer the company of a dog. I laugh too loudly. I throw dinner parties.

And I am back in action.

The best compliment I think I’ve ever received is when somebody said to me,
“When you get passionate, when you step into your power, it makes me want to rally behind you and I’d follow you anywhere.”

Well, friends.

Let’s. Go.

dinner.jpg

*****
 UPDATE: (9/22/13 -- 9:30pm)
 
HOLY WOW. When I sat down to write this, I had NO IDEA that it would spread around the Internet like it has. 
Sorry about the liberties I take with proper use of punctuation and talking in all caps and starting sentences with prepositions. 
I've been inundated with KINDNESS and LOVE and SUPPORT and stories from brave friends and courageous strangers. 
 THIS IS MY DREAM. That this message gets spread and that we learn that we can suffer out loud and that the mental health stigma REALLY CAN change! We're doing it! Woo hoo, y'all!
 
I've had so many messages and e-mails and texts and phone calls and have spent most of today in tears of joy and unbelief and awe and gratitude. Thank you, friends. I am honored and flattered and floored and so humbled by your graciousness to hear and share my story. 
 
 To answer the most popular questions:
 YES, you absolutely can share this!  With anyone and everyone. What a dream. 
 YES, it's okay to friend me on FB and send me messages! 
If you knew what a Facebook stalker I am, you wouldn't think twice about this. 

 If you want to get in touch with me  via something other than Facebook, use this e-mail address:

helloamandaphillips@gmail.com



 ******


If you -- or someone you know -- is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts or sadness or a case of the Mondays or a bad mood or a bad day -- SAY SOMETHING. TALK TO SOMEBODY ABOUT IT. If anyone ever makes you feel like crap about that, pat 'em on the back and tell them you love them, and then COME TALK TO ME ABOUT IT because it's actually BRAVE. Check out my "Contact" tab up top. No one should ever feel like crap for struggling. 
Ever, ever, ever. 
 
If you don't want to talk to me about, talk to a good stranger about it here.
And remember that you are brave and loved. 
 
******* 
Do you want to know more about this stuff?
You should. I want you to, at least.
Keep in mind that this is all very clinical and cold and eww.
Not a lot of narrative “this is what this is REALLY like” stuff out there.
That’s where I come in.

Bipolar Type II
FORGIVE ME for sending you to Wikipedia, but it’s a good jumping-off point
 
Caterine Zeta Jones has this too!
(Maybe we can start a club.)
 
NAMI PDF: Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Recovery

Bipolar Disorder Fact Sheet