I have a mental illness, bipolar disorder, and have been in recovery for 30 years. My recovery is defined as a never-ending journey of learning to live with mental illness.

My recovery did not begin until I was able to accept my illness. I could not blame circumstances, other people or be in denial of my illness. I had to learn that mental illness is just like any other illness. I had to follow my doctor’s and therapist’s orders, and follow a treatment program. This treatment program can be different for each individual.

The key to my journey of recovery was education. I had to learn about my illness so I could understand how medication was able to help me focus better, slow my thought patterns and lessen the stress in my life.

While educating myself about my bipolar illness, I learned that events and memories could cause my emotions to swing up or down. As I began to recognize these swings of emotion, I learned skills to stabilize my emotions.

Therapy was an important part of my recovery. Through therapy I learned more about my illness and its symptoms. One of my symptoms was the feeling that problems were way too overwhelming for me to deal with, which added to the stress in my life. My therapist taught me problem-solving skills which gave me the power to manage and solve problems, and alleviate stress.

Another symptom was either not getting enough sleep or sleeping way too much. If I did not get enough sleep, I could not focus and became very irritable. It was difficult for me to get along with others, especially my loved ones at home.

The manic part of my illness would not let my mind rest. I could not stop thinking about issues and would worry excessively about certain situations. This lack of rest for my body and mind led to exhaustion, depression and isolation. Learning to identify these symptoms and discuss them with my therapist was a key part of my journey to recovery.

Education, therapy and medication were not easy fixes for my bipolar illness. It took years for me to recover and become a strong, healthy advocate for mental health. I now have an associate degree in social work and a rewarding job in that field. I am a volunteer with NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and am involved in several support groups.

Meadville is a wonderful, supportive community with many opportunities for mental health recovery. If you want to learn more about these opportunities from professionals, peers and families, I encourage you to reach out and talk to someone. You can contact CHAPS at 333-2924. Also, please consider attending NAMI’s Mental Health Awareness Week Candlelight Vigil on Thursday at 6 p.m. The vigil will be held in the Journey Center at CHAPS, 944 Liberty St., Meadville.

Sally Burns is the coordinator for CHAPS’ Community Education and Outreach Program, and also works in the Journey Center Clubhouse. She can be reached at (814) 373-5094 or sburns@chapsinc.org.

You can go

To learn more about opportunities for mental health recovery, attend NAMI’s Mental Health Awareness Week Candlelight Vigil on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Journey Center at CHAPS, 944 Liberty St., Meadville. More information: Call CHAPS at 333-2924.

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