Candace, age 42
“My life has been hard due to personal choices, but I've learned to reach out more. I don't let my mental illness define me. I choose to accept it. It has made me stronger. The biggest key has been getting help and taking care of myself.” Despite being very private about her mental illness, saying most people don't know about it, Candace wanted to lend her voice and quiet determination to the project by sharing her story about how her mental illness feels. “I want others to understand that people with mental illness are normal.” She lives with bipolar depression (meaning moods can swing between very depressed to very manic) and is also a recovering alcoholic.
Symptoms began around age 10 or 11, but it took ten years for Candace to be formally diagnosed with a mental illness. Her bipolar depression wasn't diagnosed until she was admitted to the state hospital at age 20. Despite the court order to live in a group home, she embraced being there because she learned how to cope and focus on herself. A couple years earlier she had attempted suicide and was admitted to an inpatient mental health facility. Her alcoholism also began around that time, drinking to help bury the emotional pain. Most of her family were fairly supportive, but she told very few people about her mental illness.
One of her low points in life was when she started a house on fire and went to jail. “I didn't know what I was thinking.” Afterwards, Candace committed herself into a state hospital. To others dealing with a mental illness she says, “It's ok to get help and reach out. Gotta take care of yourself to enjoy the life you were given to the best of your ability.”
Candace admits that life can still be difficult today. She's dealing with a lot of issues. She hadn't been to counseling for years, but when her husband died a couple years ago, she sought help. She also attends AA more often. Candace feels like she has limits. Her mental illness has “changed who I am. I feel like I have a lost soul. Hurt. Abandoned. It robbed me of my life. It's scary because I don't know when my life is going to be manic or depressed. I have feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, but it is slowly getting better.” She continued, “When in a manic state, people love the rush and throw their pills away. But that isn't the right thing to do, because the worst thing about being manic is the crash afterwards. You just lay in bed. The dishes are on the floor.”
“You can be supportive by being patient. Listen. Be accepting. Get involved if you can by supporting them emotionally. Please be there for them if you can.” Candace wants you know, “We can survive. We're normal like other people, just in a different sense of the word. Don't judge us.”