I’m 23 years old, and at 17 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I grew up familiar with mental illness, what with having some close loved ones who also live with it. But the entirety of my time in high school was dark, to say the least, and during my senior year I finally sought help for the first time. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I really started treatment, though- I began seeing a psychiatrist, who prescribed me medications that helped more than I ever thought possible. When I was 20, though, my mental health took a turn for the worse. I had my mom take me to the emergency room, and was admitted to the psychiatric ward. So many people these days seem to think of the psych ward as this scary dark place we shouldn’t talk about. For me, though, having had the clarity of mind to check myself in was one of the best decisions I ever made in my recovery. I learned what it means to accept help, what it means to truly begin to recover, and I started making steps towards the goal of recovery. Nearly a year later, though, one of my best friends did not seek or accept help; the loss of such a close friend threw me for a loop, and I ended up back in the psych ward 11 months after the first time. I felt so weak- I should’ve known what to do in order to move past my grief and continue on my journey to recovery. I learned this time, though, that recovery is not a linear process. It has its ups and downs, and there will be things that occur to throw you for a loop, as I said. That’s fine, and it’s normal. It’s all part of the learning process. Now I’m 23 years old, a senior in college, working towards a higher management position at my retail job that I love. I have friends I can lean on and hobbies that make my time worthwhile. Most importantly, though, I am happy. When I look back at my 16 or 17 year old self, I often wish she’d known how great her life would one day be. I wish I could go back to that sad scared girl who saw no hope and no light in the darkness and let her know that recovery is possible. I’m not cured, of course- bipolar disorder is something I will always have, and something I will always have to work with. Some days are better than others, but now I have the knowledge that I can get through anything. One day I hope we live in a society free of the stigma against mental illness and seeking help- until then I will do everything I can to help erase said stigma. We are all so worth it, every single one of us, and to anyone reading this: you are loved, and there is hope.