Emma Barrera is a student undertaking a degree in Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April 2017 and has turned her recovery into advocacy; sharing her story in the hope of inspiring others to take charge of their mental health. Emma also works as a Young Adult Speaker for Minding Your Mind, a non-profit organisation that provides free mental health programs. She spends most of her time riding bikes that go nowhere – a SoulCycle. To keep up with Emma’s journey and to see more of her work, follow her Instagram account @crazywithaconcept.
I struggled with my mental illness, bipolar disorder, for so long that I was afraid to be healthy. I got comfortable with pain, so much so that I felt that being unwell was where I had to stay. Something I’ve been struggling with lately is how to share my mental health message even though I’m physically healthy. I felt like I was making the most impact by sharing my struggles. Nonetheless, I’m still working on being comfortable with my triumphs.
Fear of happiness
I remember getting so caught up in how mentally unwell I was that I simply assumed it would be my forever, my new normal. Following this dark realisation, I decided to find comfort in my illness. Eventually, it wasn’t the daily struggle of my bipolar disorder that scared me, it was the concept of happiness. I was terrified of being happy and healthy, for so long I had survived so far from those concepts. When I really think about it, I don’t know how long I’ve had my illness for. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago, however, my symptoms were present long before that. I was too uneducated to know what they meant.
Finding myself again
Honestly, this is the first time I’ve been truly happy and healthy in years. I told my psychiatrist that right now I have no complaints. I don’t get enough sleep and I don’t drink enough water but otherwise I’m thriving. That alone is terrifying. Not because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but because I don’t fully understand this place yet but I’m learning, its as much of a journey as being sick was.
The facts are I will get sick again. If I don’t take my medication I won’t make it through the day. I have to go to bed early, I can’t go out partying or I experience brain fog. These are all things that used to infuriate me but now they’re a part of my radical acceptance of my condition. This is who I am and this is how I have to live my life. I’m really starting to get the hang of it.
Daily recovery is just as difficult as sickness. You try things, they work. Life is trial and error. Living a life full of constant uncertainty about your health could be scary but with the right tools, support and you guessed it, radical acceptance, you can push forwards.
After to years of living with bipolar disorder I think I’m finally at peace with that. This IS my new normal.