An Open Letter Vairi puts her thoughts down in a candid letter to anyone who has ever struggled with mental health. I've been writing about my life with bipolar disorder for a while now, mainly for myself, to help me release the uncomfortable feelings it so often brings to the surface but today I was drawn to take it back to the beginning, to my diagnosis, to write what I so desperately needed to read back then. I've always believed that I would grow out of my mood swings, it never occurred to me that the sadness I so deeply felt in my entire being would follow me for my entire life, I mean so often I was so high on life, I just didn't think someone like me could be mentally ill, I just needed to settle down a little and all would be ok. However, I was wrong, in February 2018 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the moment the words left my Psychiatrist’s mouth my world changed forever. I remember that evening after my best friend had left to go home. I stared in the mirror and I did not even recognise myself. I cried for months, I felt so alone. I had support but i felt so misunderstood, nobody really seemed to understand why my whole existence had been shaken to the very core. That's the thing about receiving a diagnosis like bipolar disorder, reading the symptom sheet was like reading the blurb of my autobiography. My diagnosis made me feel exposed, like my deepest darkest secrets were out there and everyone I told I felt suddenly knew things about me that it was likely I never wanted them to know. It also made me question if these major life events and trials were a product of my illness then who actually was I? I was 31 years old and I suddenly felt like I had been living a lie. In one moment, everything made sense, yet nothing made sense at all. If you are reading this you may empathise, you too may currently feel there is no hope. You may feel like these thoughts consume you, overtaking reality and overpowering all rhyme or reason and right now, that's ok. In the early days of my diagnosis I was on auto pilot, stuck between my old life and my new, Like a butterfly struggling to escape her chrysalis I spent hours trying to imagine how I would ever live a normal life with this condition. Everything I read scared me, every article, every information leaflet, every book led me to the same conclusion I was always going to suffer. I took to social media, searching hashtags and reading blog posts, everything I found reinforced my belief that life could not be "normal" with bipolar disorder. So I guess that's why I decided to write this open letter, I wanted to be the voice from the future to tell you that it can be ok. You can change the way you feel right now, recovery is a journey that we can all go on, you just need make the decision of where and when you choose to start. As I sit here, typing away, I cannot really believe I've reached a place where I can look back and be proud, but here I am. I don't want that to sound smug, I want you to read it and realise that you if I can, you can too. I am nothing special, just another thirty something female who is stumbling through life. one day I just reached a point in my life where I decided I was not going to allow myself to be controlled by my illness. I made a conscious decision to learn everything about my nemesis, my biggest opponents in life. My Depression and Mania were not going to go anywhere so I needed to do all I could to understand them and that in itself has been the toughest and most life changing decision I have ever made. It wasn't really all that long ago that just a few days after I received my diagnosis, I found myself zoned out in the middle of my street, not really knowing how I had got there. I remember the look the lady who came to help me gave, pure pity, she thought I was mad, and at that moment she would have been right. In that moment I was probably in a similar place to you, trying not to face the reality of my current situation. Two and a half years later, here I am still fighting but with a greater understanding. When an episode comes now I can have such a clearer understanding that my feelings are symptomatic of this illness I live with. It's not always an easy distinction to make and let me not fool you into thinking I don't still have more than my fair share of pity parties and duvet days. When I find myself unwell and in the midst of an episode now, I am armed with my own self care routine, I know what I need to do to manage it. The highs and lows still come, I just have learnt how to ride them and not allow them to change the way I see myself. It's taken time, lots of medication changes, gallons of tears, a long spell under the care of the crisis team, a year of therapy and lots of self-development but I've actually found myself in a place where I accept my illness and in the process I have learnt to accept myself. When I look in the mirror now I don't see a victim of a cruel illness. I see the fight in my eyes and the smile on my face and every now and then I remember that girl in the middle of the street lost, scared and confused and I want to hug her and tell her that there is a stronger, healthier version of her in the future who is going to use her story to change someone else’s life. To the person reading this who is struggling with their mental health, please, no matter how hard it seems right now imagine a future version of yourself who is so grateful that they never gave up and on your most difficult days bring that version of yourself to mind. I promise you, although it's far from easy. It's worth it.