Although there has been progressed conversation surrounding the topic of mental illness, it isn't a secret that many disorders are still highly stigmatized. With lack of knowledge comes misunderstanding, and with misunderstanding comes fear and stigmas. I never felt the true strength of these stigmas until I was diagnosed with one of these disorders.
I'll be straightforward: I have Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar I to be exact. I've always suspected I did, but was never officially diagnosed until recently, which honestly didn't come as much of a surprise. But what did come as a surprise was the reactions I received from opening up about my diagnosis.
The first stigma I experienced was people questioning if I even have Bipolar Disorder. I don't know how many people have actually thought I was joking or just being overdramatic when I told them.
"I feel like you're just exaggerating."
"Are you sure you aren't just moody? Just control your moods, it isn't that hard."
No, I'm not exaggerating; I have a medical diagnosis. No, I'm not "just moody" and I sure as hell can't just switch off my mood swings. I can't just "relax," I can't just "get over it." Bipolar Disorder is as much of an illness as any other mental illness, it isn't something I can just wish away.
The second stigma I experienced was people actually becoming scared of me. Even though I haven't changed, as soon as people find out that I have Bipolar Disorder the way they treat me changes. Bipolar Disorder is viewed as so abnormal, that those who are diagnosed are labeled as "other" and placed into a very small box that society has created. They're feared, they're looked down on.
"Bipolar people are dangerous, you don't seem dangerous."
No, I'm not dangerous, having Bipolar Disorder does not automatically make you a danger to others. To be honest, I'm more of a danger to myself than to anyone else. I haven't changed, this disorder has always been there. But once society places that label on me, I'm viewed in an entirely different light, even to people who have known me for most of my life.
The most important thing people need to realize is, like Depression and Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder exists on a spectrum. It's not the same for everyone. I've noticed that when people think "Bipolar" they have a distinct schema in their mind that everyone who has it acts the same way, and that just isn't the case. There are different types, and the extremes affect everyone differently. Just like any other mental illness, it is different for everyone.
We have come a long way in understanding and accepting the validity of mental illness, but many stigmas still exist on some disorders that society views as "severe." And I believe this stems from lack of knowledge. I don't tell people I have Bipolar Disorder because I want them to feel sorry for me or to be scared of me, but rather I think it's important to try and educate people so those stigmas can begin to be erased. Bipolar Disorder is very real and very scary, but it shouldn't be scary to those who don't have it.
My disorder does not define who I am, and I refuse to let society make me feel that way. I'm still me, my diagnosis doesn't change that.