'I'm not defined by it': Advocate shares her journey of living with bipolar disorder
Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015 9:11AM EST
It's been more than five years since Victoria Miller received a diagnosis that changed her life. In 2008, after a frightening bout of depression, doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. Rather than let the diagnosis define her, Miller is learning to live -- and flourish -- with the illness.
On her blog, In The Swing, the 33-year-old has adopted the motto "I am not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder."
"I immediately likened the idea to something like a patient with cancer or diabetes. They would never say 'I am cancer' or 'I am diabetes.' They don't define themselves by their illness," Miller told CTV's Canada AM.
"With a mental illness, just because it's a brain issue, because it's a mood disorder, it doesn't define you. It's not who you are.
"For me, I'm successfully living with my bipolar disorder -- I'm not defined by it."
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes people to have extreme mood swings. The disorder typically consists of three different states: a high state called "mania," a low state called "depression," and a well state, in which the person feels normal and functions well.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, approximately one to two per cent of adults have the disorder, with men and women equally affected.
Although she wasn't able to identify them at the time, Miller said that she can now recognize signs of the disorder dating back to her childhood.
She recalls going through intense mood swings in her teens, which she at first attributed to a typical teenage rebellious attitude, and the breakup of her parent's marriage.
But her symptoms began to worsen in her early 20's, after her long-term relationship ended and her sister moved to Europe. It was at this point that Miller began to use recreational drugs.
"For years I was self-medicating, because I didn't understand what it was that I was dealing with and I wasn't comfortable enough to reach out, and I excused my symptoms as a reaction to that drug use," she said.
After an initial misdiagnosis in 2004, Miller was at last diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 – an event she says changed everything.
"Realizing that there's an answer to what I was going through was just so uplifting," she said. She notes, however, that the correct diagnosis was the start – not the solution – to managing her illness.
On her blog she writes: "What most of us who are on this journey don't see at the outstart is how long the journey to a better quality of life can be. It took me almost two years to find the right medications, learn coping skills, strategies and treatment philosophies to finally achieve a period of stability."
Now, Miller continues to manage her disorder through medication, wellness strategies and recreational therapy.
As she works towards a bachelor's degree in social work, she continues to work as an advocate and spokesperson, sharing her journey with others.
She said talking with others who may be going through a similar struggle is one of the best ways of coping with her illness.
"Being social is one of the biggest pieces of my puzzle," she said. "It keeps me well every day when I interact with others."
Bell Let’s Talk Day for 2015 is Jan. 28. CTV News is a division of Bell Media.