My Name is Mara McWilliams
by Mara McWilliams
First published in The Bright Side Professional Center, June 2003
My name is Mara McWilliams. I want to take a moment and thank you for taking the time to read my article about being bipolar. This article could change your life or the life of someone close to you, so I hope you continue reading. FACT: Bipolar Disorder has a 30% SUICIDE RATE. What do WE need to do to lower that number, saving ourselves and our loved ones?
I believe the more we educate each other and unite for the sake of mental wellness for all, our world would be a better place for our children to play. I hope you share this believe, if so, welcome on our journey…
My name is Mara and, quite honestly, I have been to hell and back and I am proud to be able to stand here tall and say I have survived and I am continuing to survive my illness and society's stereotypes of me. I am also simply a woman, mother, wife, artist, poet, author and an individual with bipolar disorder.
While growing up, my parents thought something was a little "off" about my mood swings and preoccupation and fear of dying; they took me repeatedly to my pediatrician where we were all told I was simply going though puberty and my extreme mood swings would submerge as I developed hormonally. After my mother taking me to this same doctor several times a month over the course of a year, we were finally referred to a psychiatrist. I was a scared 16-year old girl with severe anorexia. The doctor instructed me, during my initial appointment that: If you do not gain weight I am going to have you thrown into the psych ward. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but he frightened me beyond anything I had ever felt before. I refused to go back to that doctor for help, I was afraid I would be wheeled out in a straight jacket.
That experience caused me to put off seeing another doctor until I was 19. When I was finally able to get over my fear of psychiatrist, I met with a wonderful doctor who took the time to properly diagnosis. It was then that I was formally diagnosed with Manic Depression with Major Recurrent Depression and Borderline personality. I was also dually diagnosed as I had previously abused substances to desperately try to find the balance my brain chemistry lacked. The doctor immediately put my on a medication that not only helped my manic depression (now called bipolar disorder) but my eating disorder as well. At that point, I had already member a member of a 12-step program and was clean and sober 2 years prior to my diagnosis.
I have lived with this illness all of my life. I can look back at my childhood now and see the waves so high, then crashing so slowly. I have lived with awareness of my illness for 14 years. Those 14 years were the most difficult period of my life. There definitely were times where I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. The realization that my brain chemistry really is different than the majority of people did not sit well with me. I fought that fact for years.
I viewed my illness as a personal weakness. It has only been over the past few years that I have discovered the unique beauty of my illness. It was then that I decided to share my art and poetry with the world. Hoping above all hopes that one person would be able to relate and it would help them. The goal, share the beauty with the, so maybe we can come together and build a bridge of health. As a society, we need to focus on the beautiful unique differences between us rather than continually be fearful of others differences and view them as a threat to one's stability or safety.
Over the past 5 years I have found that through acceptance of my illness has given me the opportunity to live a rather "normal" life. At least as normal as I have ever experienced.
It took over 10 years to find the right medication combination that worked well not only for my illness, but worked well with my body. Some of the side effects of the medications we are given are sometimes much worse than dealing with the symptoms of the illness. A lot of the medications cause weight gain, generally around 15-20 pounds that is a hard thing to accept. But when you have to choose between looking great and feeling balanced, I'll choose feeling balanced any day.
I have been sober now for almost 4 years (June 24). I have used that time growing into the person I have always dreamt I could be. I've made a decision that I am not going to allow myself to be stigmatized. And, if you do want to label me, make me the Bipolar Poster Child, because I believe together as a mental health community we can educate society to the many precious gifts we have to offer our society.
It too often seems in the movies and on TV, or in the news that when a bipolar individual is mentioned it has to do with some negative activity done by the bipolar person. Well, where are the stories about the bipolar people who are MAKING IT? I know where I am at: I'm riding that daily bipolar roller coaster, sticking my arms up in the air, enjoying the ride because it only lasts so long and when I get off, willing and ready to love and teach.
Who am I? What am I about? I am a survivor.
I feel honored that I get to actively participate in the mental health movement. I have discovered that art therapy, in addition to following medication regimens, has been instrumental in my healing. Due to my disorder, it has taken me a long time to learn how to identify my actual feelings. Through art therapy, I can freely express myself without fear of being offensive or harmful to anyone. If I feel anger, I can paint the anger onto the canvas, using whatever colors feel angry at that moment. I firmly believe that art therapy, journal-ing, any form of self-expression is key in the recovery process. All feelings must find away to be vented, especially for an individual with a mental illness. It is much easier to find ways to vent happy emotions, but when the intense negativity rolls in and begins to engulf one life, the afflicted MUST find a constructive way to release those emotions or the individual could end up in a suicidal depression.
Again, I found that simply crayons, paper, and my hand was flying through emotions I had no idea existed inside my little heart. But they were there. Hidden under the scars, waiting to be released. Art allowed that release to HAPPEN.
It is my sincerest goal to help not only other bipolar individuals, but help our society re-evaluate their misconceptions about people with a mental illness.
Hopefully, along my travels, I will be able to help another person or two who has felt the intense feelings I express in my book, poetry, and artwork. If you would like out more about me, please visit me at my web site RECOVERY THROUGH ART at www.maramcwilliams.com
Thank you again, for taking the time to learn more about mental health.