“I have Bipolar Disorder.”
Even now, years after receiving my diagnosis, those words are still practically impossible for me to say out loud. Because of the society we live in, it has subconsciously always seemed like some sort of taboo, some secret that I should keep to myself, tucked away in the darkest corners of my mind. From the moment that my therapist gave me the news, I instantly felt a wave of shame. I didn’t want to be “crazy”, and even though I had been displaying all of the symptoms for years, I refused to allow myself to accept it. I convinced myself that it was just typical mood swings, or at most, seasonal depression. But Bipolar Disorder? That couldn’t be right.
This might be the hardest article that I will ever have to write. I have started, deleted, restarted, and deleted again more times than I can count. The hardest part about being Bipolar is the stigma that our society has created. Most people don’t understand, or choose not to. But looking back at my past, seeing all of the damage that I’ve done and the people that I’ve hurt because of my fear of admitting to myself that this is real, that I’m living with this disorder, this needs to be said. There are too many people living with mental illness, refusing to acknowledge it, because they’re scared and they feel alone. The truth is, you aren’t alone. Texas has a wonderful organization, “It’s Okay To Say”, trying to destroy the negative connotation associated with mental illness. They have statistics and stories associated with their website. They have taken on the stigma, repelled the fictitious rumors designed to make people with any mental illness feel insane and out of control. That has been my biggest downfall: feeling out of control. I have had multiple hospital stays, with therapists and psychiatrists making my disease seem as though I couldn’t take control of my own life. I have handed my mental care initiative over to my mother, who has been very cautious with her privileges in that sense. I love my family, I am so grateful for all of their support and forgiveness throughout all of this. I have made many mistakes and hurt many people that I love. I take responsibility for that.
But, my story isn’t about myself, alone. It is about the people that love me; it is about the people that I have hurt. This is about the people that I occasionally continue to hurt, unknowingly. So, I asked these questions to some of the people who have been closest to me – the people who have witnessed my disorder, who have felt pain from my actions. This is to help those who love, and are in love, with the people who are scared to get help, themselves. People with Bipolar Disorder can love so deeply, but the people who love them back can suffer from a lack of understanding, which in turn makes for challenging and sometimes irreparable relationships. Hopefully this will allow me to give my voice to help the lovers of the voiceless gain some understanding.
How Has My Bipolar Disorder Affected You Personally? Have There Been Any Times In Particular When My Bipolar Disorder Has Caused You Serious Pain Or Struggles?
Dad: “It has caused some sleepless nights and unplanned stress, likely the cause of my graying/loss of hair, (he likes to believe that he’s funny), in seeing how it affects you. Because I love you, it therefore affects other parts of my life and relationships. There is always a bit of anxiety as a parent (late night/early morning phone calls are never good) but it becomes magnified with an adult child in how you can help. I have an evolving knowledge/acceptance of your disorder, but still struggle sometimes to recognize that there are times when you are not able to deal as rationally as I know you can. That always tends to frustrate me in the moment.
As for particular times causing serious pain or struggles- Nothing long-term. Aside from the darkest moments in my life spending time in an ER with you, I have found the ability to accept your journey and am fortunate to be able to lean on your mother for strength and support. (The Serenity Prayer has also always been a saving grace).”
Mom: “As a mother, it is always difficult to watch your children struggle through anything. It is part of the role of being a parent. With bipolar, it is different because the struggles are ongoing. When you were sick as a child, I always wished that it were me instead of you. I would take you to the doctor, and I always hated hearing ‘It’s viral.’ Because I knew that what came after it was ‘It just has to run its course.’ There was no medicine, just time. Bipolar is somewhat like that. I have learned to realize that the depression and mania just sometimes have to run their course. I know it gets better, but it is so difficult to watch you suffer. I struggle when you make the choice to not take your meds, because it is just a matter of time until the struggle starts and just has to run its course. I know that there will always be days, even if you are on your meds, but they are not as extreme. That is why it is so frustrating when I think you have stopped taking them.
There have been numerous times when I have struggled with your being bipolar. That is why I found a therapist for myself for over a year. I spent a lot of time wondering if I had done something to make you that way. The mistakes that you made when you were manic were also very difficult. It was always a struggle on how much we could help and whether or not we were really helping by bailing you out. The suicide attempts were some of the most frightening moments that I have ever had. Anytime you watch your child struggle, it causes a heart wrenching pain as a parent. I don’t think that that feeling can really be described. You can only experience it.”
Former Boyfriend/Good Friend: “When you’re in a relationship with someone with Bipolar Disorder, you’re either their entire world or you’re not. And vice versa, you have to cling to them as hard as you can or else you’ll have nothing to hold on to. Dealing with bipolar is more than putting up with mood swings, it’s being strong enough to revolve your entire world around someone unconditionally.”
How Can You Tell When I’m Becoming Manic?
Dad: “You may go for long-continuous soliloquies without taking a breath – for one. Or, you become fixated on a new/multiple projects with a ferocity. You become Frantic, with a “this has to happen right now” attitude.”
Mom: “You talk incessantly, and very quickly. You are impulsive, all over the place, in your thoughts, language, and lashing out, although the lashing out works for both the depression and the mania.”
Former Boyfriend/Good Friend: “Symptoms always vary. In my experience, being more prone to self-destruction was actually more of an indicator of a manic stage than a depressive stage. Self-destruction came in all forms, from actual self-harm to taking destructive measures to the relationships with the people closest to you.”
How Can You Tell When I’m Becoming Depressed?
Dad: “Lots, and lots of tears. You tend to completely lose interest in singing, writing, or doing anything that you are passionate about.”
Mom: “You become easily upset. You lose motivation and drive, and you refuse to see past the negative and towards the positive. You seem to lose all hope.”
Former Boyfriend/Good Friend: “Isolation. Definitely.
Does My Mania or My Depression Affect You More?
Dad: “Mania definitely causes more stress based on potential for uncontrollable actions.”
Mom: “Easily the mania, because the consequences from the mania are always way more far-reaching.”
Former Boyfriend/Good Friend: “In the beginning, I thought mania was the ecstatic, fun, careless stage of your personality – the times when there was nothing to worry about. I thought depression meant self-harm, absence, listlessness. While the latter isn’t necessarily false, it took me a long time to see that the manic stages were the ones that took the biggest toll on me. When you were manic, it meant that I never knew if you would be in a ditch, thrown through the windshield of a wrecked car, on a plane to Dubai, coked out of your mind in a drug dealer’s basement, or on the borderline of suicide. It was unpredictable, to say the least.
Was It Hard For You To Accept My Diagnosis?
Dad: “Yes. Undeniably hard.”
Mom: “Of course. No parent ever wants their child to have something that they will struggle with for their lifetime. But I also know that there are a lot of people with the diagnosis that lead healthy lives. I choose to see the positive, even though in the beginning it was much, much harder.”
Would You Be Ashamed To Tell Your Friends/Coworkers That I Am Bipolar?
Dad: “Nope. I have shared that and I don’t feel compelled to hide it when it comes up. It continues to amaze me that people I have known for a long time, have a close relative that battles similar issues and it had never come up until your diagnosis.”
Mom: “Absolutely not. It is not a choice you made or I made. It is part of life that we have to deal with. I have also found there are a lot of people that have mental health issues personally or in their family. The more we know, the more we can help each other. The best thing for everyone is a bigger support system. That is why I love the “It’s Okay To Say” initiative. It IS okay to say.”
Former Boyfriend/Good Friend: “No, not any more than I would’ve been ashamed to tell them that you were diabetic or had flat feet or six toes on one foot. While it is certainly a private matter, there’s no shame in being sick.”
I've been lucky enough to have some amazing people in my life who have, over the years, come to acknowledge my disorder and grow with me in learning the best ways to cope with it. For some people in my life, this took a little longer than for others, but it took me a long time, myself. I have a wonderful support system, a loving family and amazing relationships with the most understanding and compassionate souls that I could have ever asked for. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones, but if society took the initiative to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, than maybe there would be a lot more people as lucky as I am. Admitting that you have a mental illness should be no more difficult than admitting that you have a cold. If that were the case, than more people would get the help that they desperately need and come to terms with their illness much sooner than I did, so that they can avoid making the same mistakes that I’ve made.
But for the people who love those suffering from a mental disorder, just know that there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to be open to growing and understanding. And as a person with a mental illness, you have to be willing to stand up and admit that you need help sometimes. I have Bipolar Disorder, but that doesn't mean it's my fault. It doesn't mean that I'm not who I've always been, even if I need to ask for help sometimes. Everyone does, and everyone living with a mental illness needs to be able to say the same thing.