1. Every time you say “I’m bipolar” people respond with a chuckle, until they realize that you’re serious. Describing someone as bipolar has become such a popular saying that I don’t even think people realize that it’s an actual mental illness. The depictions of people with bipolar disorder in the media doesn’t help either. People with bipolar disorder are usually portrayed as angry, over-exaggerated, constantly irritable, and un-approachable.
But in reality most people with the disorder are able to live productively in society just like everyone else. Most people can’t even tell that I’m bipolar until I tell them. And I actually choose not to tell people until I get to know them better, just to show that my bipolar disorder doesn’t necessarily effect my personality or how I interact with other people on a daily basis.
2. Being high off life. The mania (or hypomania). Before I was able to identify my mania I took full advantage of the feelings of over-confidence and indestructibleness. Being so productive and energetic after dealing with such a deep depression felt amazing. It still does. At one point in time I told my therapist that I was excited to be manic again. It’s kind of like being reunited with a friend that you haven’t seen in a while; but that friend happens to be you, just a different version. And of course in those moments of mania nothing matters, you follow your impulsivity without any acknowledgement of possible consequences; until what I like to call a “crash” happens.
Just like being high off of a drug, you suddenly don’t feel high anymore and come to your senses. The feeling of regret is so familiar to me now. The guilt, sadness, and embarrassment that I feel after realizing all of the things that I’ve done while manic ultimately sends me back into depression. And the cycle continues. I find myself seriously questioning if I actually did those things. At this point I know this version of myself so well that I can believe it; but before I felt like a stranger to myself.
3. Blaming my mental illness. I’ve always struggled with this concept. Ever since I was around 11 or 12 years old I’ve built and destroyed so many relationships, platonic and romantic. I never really looked into why I lost so many friends over the years, I just attributed it to “growing apart.” But now that I have a better understanding of my mental illness, I’ve been able to identify some of the things that I’ve done to cause those relationships to end. So many times have I found myself trying to explain to someone that “I wasn’t in my right mind.”
And that excuse works the first couple of times. But after a while people get fed up, and can you expect them not to? You can fuck up time and time again but it’s okay because you’re bipolar, right? Wrong. No one deserves to constantly be hurt by the same person, bipolar or not. No relationship is going to last with this dynamic in place. Yet I still haven’t found a way to handle this issue. I have so much more to learn about managing my bipolar disorder, and I know there’s a long journey ahead. But the thing I fear most is that I will go throughout life not being able to maintain a stable relationship.
4. That one time you stopped taking your meds for a while. Probably one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. Everyone has their own views on taking medication to treat mental illness. Some people are able to manage without the help of medication which is great for them. While others need medication in order to control their disorder, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. I am one of those people. Medication has helped balance out my mood so much; but at one point I decided that I didn’t need to take them anymore, for a number of reasons that I wont get into.
I hit my lowest point when I wasn’t on my medication and had stopped seeing a therapist. I had no sense of self-control; I had become so reckless. I was risking the well-being of myself and those around me and didn’t think twice about it. By the time I did decide to go back to therapy I had almost hit rock-bottom and I only had a few options. I had to stop judging myself for being on medication and stop worrying about what other people would think if they found out. At the end of the day my mental health is more important than the stigma and negative connotation attached to treating mental illness with medication.
5. Realizing that bipolar disorder doesn’t define you as a person. You are not bipolar; you HAVE bipolar. Don’t let the diagnosis overshadow who you are as a person. Your amazing spirit is still there, don’t let it become masked by your mental illness. When I was first diagnosed and people would ask me to reveal something about myself, my go-to response was to mention that I was bipolar. But being bipolar isn’t a characteristic. So many people in the world have bipolar disorder and we are all not the same, though the stigma attached to mental illness causes us all to feel the same pain and frustration.
If I had the choice to live without bipolar disorder I wouldn’t. Living with this mental illness has allowed me to be so self-aware; I feel as if I know myself so well. The fact that I have to be so aware of my mood and feelings, and how it affects those around me, allows me to grow and learn with every high and low that I experience. It’s not easy, but it’s life. And I hope that reading this will help you feel less alone in dealing with bipolar disorder.