When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I was terrified of what people would think of me. Even as little as 10 years ago people didn’t know as much about mental illness as they do now. I might have finally had a name for my illness, but I certainly didn’t understand it. How could I expect anyone else to? I wanted to know as much about this monster as possible so I read as much as I could get my hands on and asked my doctor a gazillion questions, and what do you know… it’s not a personality flaw. It’s a brain disorder.
While that didn’t make my symptoms easier to deal with, bring back the years of my life stolen by Bipolar Disorder, or erase the pain of broken relationships, it did make communicating with my family about my illness a little easier. Little by little we learned together that it wasn’t my fault and that I had no reason to be ashamed. Maybe I was just using that as a way to convince myself that I should not be ashamed, because for a long time I was.
Before my friends and family knew anything about Bipolar Disorder they were fed up with my “mood swings” and “drama” and didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “get over it” and take my “happy pills”. I’d get questions like, “Why are you being so dramatic? Didn’t you take your medicine today?” I’ve even been asked, “Are you going to go postal or something?” I think that’s my all-time favorite. Luckily I don’t get offended that easily, and I know that people who say these things generally just don’t know any better, but there are things someone with a mental illness would prefer not to hear.
The following are a few examples:
“I thought you were taking your medication.”
“You don’t need medication. They’re bad for you.”
“Everyone is a little Bipolar.”
“What are you depressed about?”
“But you seem so normal.”
“Maybe you’re just overreacting.”
Examples of what might be better to say are:
“That must be difficult.”
“What can I do to help?”
“I’m here for you.”
“I love you and your pain is valid”
“I’m always here to listen to you.”
Be there, stay calm, and know that the more you learn the more you can recognize any mood changes or emerging symptoms.
My mother has told me that she wonders what it’s like for me. Trust me, for what I’ve put her through she’s a warrior, but she still understands that she doesn’t fully understand. She’ll never be able to walk in my shoes, but she’s always willing to learn and that speaks volumes. She knows that I can be happy or sad or angry or excited and it’s not a Bipolar episode. She also understands how to help me if I do have an episode because she knows the difference.
Until now, I had never advertised my illness. I disclosed as I felt necessary only. That’s all gone out the window now, but this is not about pity attention. I don’t need or want anyone feeling sorry for me. Every day I tell myself, “It is not my fault. It is not my fault. It is not my fault.” That is my mantra. It is also not something that I have to continually teach others anymore. It’s something the people I love remind me of every single day.
Someone told me recently that I am a hero. I am no hero. I’m just trying to change the world. That is all.
Below is a link to a fantastic article about how to deal with that person that just doesn’t get it.