Being A Badass Despite a Mental Illness

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults or 43.8 million people experience mental illness in a given year in the United States.   Never in a million years did I think that I would be included in that number.

People with mental illnesses were portrayed by the movie industry as dirty, disheveled, and those who talked to themselves.  They were modern day lepers who should be avoided at all costs. I have to admit, I was uninformed about mental illnesses and people who suffered from them.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder when I was 36 years old. Bipolar disorder is an illness where the person has extreme mood changes which include severe depression, and mania.  The depressive state can leave one really sad and low and the manic state can cause extreme energy which may lead to risky behavior. Generalized anxiety disorder is an extreme case of worrying about things that are part of normal everyday life.  

There was a surge of emotions when my psychiatrist delivered my diagnosis. My mind instantly drifted to people’s perception of me when they learned of my diagnosis.  I was not ready to accept being a person who had a mental illness. I was in denial. In my mind, my illness would overshadow who I was as a person as well as all of my accomplishments.  

Losing my mother at age 24 was the turning point and the beginning of a battle with myself and my brain that would take nearly fifteen years to get under control.

Who was I before bipolar and anxiety took over?  I was smart, creative, and ambitious. I was a badass in the making!  For years, I let bipolar and anxiety take over my life. My dreams took a back seat to the havoc that my unmanaged illness would wreak on me and the people around me.

Two years after being diagnosed, I still didn’t take the management of my illness seriously.  I would take meds and go to therapy for a couple of months and then when I felt like I was better, I would stop. I was hurting myself and that young ambitious woman with big hopes and dreams was long gone.

Who was my inner badass? Well, she was a woman who did whatever the fuck she wanted to do, lived with intention, followed her intuition and nourished her creativity. I suppressed that part of myself for so long and she was crying, begging, and pleading to come out.

When I turned 39 last year, I decided that I wanted to take a year to prepare myself for my 40th birthday.   Deciding to take my mental health seriously was the epic 40th birthday present that I needed. Taking my mental health seriously unlocked my inner badass.   It was, of course, a feat that took a lot of work, introspection, tears, and realizations. I was determined to make level 40 one of the most memorable ones, and it was.

I found an amazing therapist and a psychiatrist who would manage my medications. My therapy, in the beginning, was intense. What I learned by seeing her was that I could manage my illness, fulfill my dreams, and unlock my inner badass. It was of course not going to be an easy journey. I learned about my illness, identified my triggers, and how to effectively manage them with different tools and lifestyle changes. I also began to look at some of the past traumas that took place in my life that contributed to my fragile mental state and stagnation.  

Who was my inner badass? Well, she was a woman who did whatever the fuck she wanted to do, lived with intention, followed her intuition and nourished her creativity. I suppressed that part of myself for so long and she was crying, begging, and pleading to come out.

This is my reality. I live with a chronic illness, which happens to affect my brain. I am also a woman who knows who she is and is doing some amazing things (like writing this blog post), working on my mental health blog and a few other special projects. My illness doesn’t define me. It is a part of me and I refuse to let it take me out and kill my dreams.


Photo by Rodrigo Borges de Jesus on Unsplash

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Andrienne Kennedy, the founder of Beautiful Brain Collective knows all too well the stigma and shame that surrounds mental illness. After being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder in 2013, Andrienne began her mission to raise awareness and shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness.  The lack of education about mental illness and her empathy for people who live and thrive with mental illness were the motivating factors to start her company, Beautiful Brain Collective.  She is certified in Recovery Education by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). She is also Certified in Mental Health First Aid.  

Beautiful Brain Collective is an online company based in New Jersey y whose mission is to shatter the mental health stigma by promoting positive well-being for high functioning professionals with mental health disorders.  The company provides products, services, and events to help those in needs.  

When Andrienne is not blogging on mental health issues and contributing to various sites to bring awareness to the mental health stigma, Ms. Kennedy can be found visiting museum exhibits, thrifting, and reading.  Follow her on Instagram here.