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Let’s Talk About Mental Health

By Fermina Ponce


Thinking in terms of bipolar disorder is complex because it involves accepting a condition in

which many components are at play, such as memory, sleep, weight, sexuality, judgment,

behavior, and mental clarity, among others.


I am not bipolar; I have bipolar disorder. One does not cease to be a human being because of a

mental health condition; they remain the same, except now they need professional help to address the mental aspect, just as professional attention is needed for conditions like hypertension or

diabetes, for example.


In the Hispanic community mental health is not discussed within families, let alone in public, as

dirty laundry is supposed to be kept at home. What nonsense! I wish more of us would dare to

normalize the conversation; surely, we would help many to finally speak about everything that

lies in the midst of this silence, about everything that comes between the throat and the heart.

Yes, that which makes our days gloomy, empty, dissonant. Yes, that which gnaws at our skin and

makes sweat sting our backs. Yes, mental health conditions.


I remember my maternal grandmother, who would wake up singing like a nightingale on so

many days, and on others, she seemed like a torrential downpour of tears, crying without

knowing why, or perhaps knowing but unable to express it. Sometimes, I believed it was because

of my grandfather's abandonment, so many years ago. But now, knowing my illness, I would

dare say she lived with depression and abrupt mood swings. Obviously, she was never

diagnosed. Poor grandmother, how much she must have suffered in silence.


The World Health Organization tells us that 280 million people suffer from depression, and it is

50% more common in women than in men. More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year,

and it is the fourth leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29. Numbers don't lie, they

say, and these statistics are powerful indicators that debunk the idea that mental health conditions are just inventions of the idle. They are so real that they can cause death.


I remember when I was first diagnosed, many well-meaning people (I don't doubt it) would send

me messages: think positively, be optimistic about life, engage in things you enjoy, be grateful,

look at all the blessings you have in life, as if all that would correct the chemical imbalance in

my head. I have never given up on gratitude, but it's very hard to see those blessings when our

vision is clouded. It's impossible to see through a pair of broken glasses. I don't know if I'm

explaining myself.


This is not intended to be a lecture. I just want to say that normalizing conversations about

mental health should be imperative in families, schools, corporations. Everywhere should talk

about it, just as we talk about cancer, arthritis, allergies. Mental illnesses are silent, but they have

symptoms, and if they are not treated properly, they can lead to fatal outcomes.


So, what is bipolar disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar

disorder is a chronic illness characterized by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and the ability to

think clearly. It used to be known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness. People with

bipolar disorder experience high and low moods, known as mania and depression, which differ

from the typical emotional changes that people experience. "(...) bipolar disorder is a genetic

disorder that involves the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine." "(...) symptoms

typically worsen if left untreated. However, with a structured lifestyle that includes self-control

and a good treatment plan, many people live well with this condition. Although bipolar disorder

can occur at any time in life, the average age of onset is 25 years. Each year, 2.9% of the U.S.

population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and about 83% of cases are classified as severe.

Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally."


For a long time, I have been in crisis, with long episodes ranging from hypomania to sometimes

mania and depression. It wasn't until a year and a half ago that I found a balance, especially in

recent months. As I write this, I am under the care of Dr. F. He not only oversees my medications

but also provides the therapeutic aspect, which is vital. Seems like we just had Christmas, and it

was the first time in many years that I was able to take care of the festivities entirely, from

buying gifts, sending them, decorating the house, and making various Christmas dishes. This

would have been a monumental task for me months ago; it would have caused me stress, anxiety,

and a depressive crisis. I cannot remember the last time I did it all; usually, my husband took care

of the chores of the season, and I barely decorated the house to give it a bit of Christmas spirit.


I have lived in the hell of bipolar disorder for a long time, on that roller coaster that makes life

intense but inconsistent. However, today I can speak of a balanced life in which the keyword is

recovery. Recovery does not mean the absence of the disease but the ability to live with it in a

controlled manner, where mood swings have a smaller gap between them, making emotions less

abrupt and more akin to how they are managed by a person without a mental health condition.


Reaching a state of recovery is not easy, but with the support of a therapist, medications, and

positive changes in the environment, it becomes possible, because the last thing to be lost is

hope.

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