This is an interview with Shawn Edwards who has founded an organization to fight mental illness stigma: StigmapuzzlezUS. You can learn more about it on his blog. You can connect with Shawn on Twitter here. @stigmapuzzlezus.
1. Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I AM a mental health advocate, blogger and founder of StigmapuzzlezUS. I’m currently working to create a networking website for advocates and professionals to connect, share and fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.
2. What events led to you receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder?
I took some pills bought at a smoke shop labeled as Kratom. They contained synthetic opioids which created a drug-induced psychotic episode I experienced on St. Patricks Day 2017. Which also happened to be the day of my grandma’s funeral.
I had quit drinking alcohol and was working overtime, stressed not sleeping enough all while mourning the death of my late Grandma J.
Note from Molly: Very sorry for your loss.
3. If you don’t mind, can you share how old you were at the time of diagnosis and what type of bipolar illness you have i.e. Bipolar I Disorder (BP-1), Bipolar II Disorder (BP-2), Cyclothymic, etc.
I was 35 and it’s documented as unclassified Bi-polar disorder.
4. Do you have other diagnosed medical conditions besides bipolar (physical or mental)? For example, I have fibromyalgia and deal with chronic fatigue. I also have a form of subclinical hypothyroid. All of these have affected my bipolar states and when treated successfully my severe bipolar illness states (mania, suicidal depression) improved much.
I currently have no other physically or mental conditions besides suffering from Stigma being judged by others labeled as mentally ill.
5. Now for the good stuff! What things – medications, vitamins, therapy, books, alternative treatments, etc. – have helped you to not only survive this difficult illness but thrive in your life?
Number one thing that has helped me is my faith in God. As growing spiritually has made me mentally and physically stronger. Next, is MindFullness and Meditation Taking a few minutes throughout the day to check-in with myself, body and mind relax and re-balance my emotions.
By practicing positivity I accept myself regardless of the label society has put on me and focus on recovery. Looking through the perspective that a diagnosis can be a blessing not only a curse. I am grateful I can help others by sharing with them my own experience.
6. What advice do you have for others who may be overwhelmed by the symptoms (hypomania leading to impulsive behaviour, rapid cycling mood changes, hospitalizations due to severe depressive episode or a manic episode resulting in psychosis…) and feel discouraged or without hope?
Take it one day at a time. You can only control it moment by moment. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Hang in there, there is hope. Your a Human and we all experience tough times throughout our life.
Do not allow others to judge you by not judging yourself. Keep the Faith and follow your path to peace because It’s following you!
I AM Stigma Positive. Shawn Edwards
Very sorry for your experience, and I know how incredibly frightening that must have been. I so agree with you about stigma, it’s almost like there is a ‘before diagnosis’ you and an ‘after diagnosis’ you in the way you are seen and treated by others.
And it’s a bit ridiculous. The reality is, many have brief periods of mental illness (severe depression, a psychotic episode like you describe above), receive care, recover, then go on and live their lives.
I think one way stigma may change eventually is when the physical aspects of mental illness (root causes) are better identified and treated. That’s my advocacy focus. Psych meds can stabilize someone in a crisis but longterm lead to serious health consequences – and for bipolar folks, more unwanted mood issues.
I don’t share your religious beliefs (spiritual yet agnostic) but I know that is very helpful to many – glad it helps you. Thanks for the interview and best of luck with your mission. We are all in this together.