When Does Having Bipolar Become Who You Are?
I’ve had bipolar disorder for more than a decade – at least. Some might argue I’ve had signs of it since I was a child. That’s a very long time. That’s so long a time that it’s almost impossible for me to imagine myself without bipolar disorder. I suppose I can imagine it but it seems so farfetched that it’s barely worth the bother.
And for most of that time, the bipolar disorder has not been well-controlled. I’ve not only had bipolar, I’ve been manifesting those bipolar symptoms for most of my life. And while bipolar is not all that I am, it occurs to me that it absolutely is a part of who I am.
I’m a Writer
When I meet people and they ask, I say that “I’m a writer.” I’m not so much as person who writes for a living as much as I am a writer. It holds more of a place in my life than merely a job. It affects how I think, what I think and how I approach the world. Words are my life. Wordplay is my life. It’s just how my brain works.
Much like I’m a writer, I’m also bipolar. Bipolar is my life, which is to say that bipolar symptoms are my life, which is to say that dealing with bipolar symptoms is my life. Literally, every day of my life is dictated by an attempt to control the disorder. It’s controlling from the time I wake up in the morning and take my medications to the time I go to bed at night right after I take some more medications. And in the middle of the day? It’s controlled by recognizing the illness symptoms and using all my coping techniques to deal with those symptoms. Bipolar affects how I think. Bipolar affects what I think. Bipolar affects how I approach the world. It’s just how my brain works.
Bipolar is Part of Who I Am
So it occurs to me that bipolar is a lot more than just an illness that I have. Bipolar disorder is a fundamental part of who I am. I know people hate hearing this. I know everyone wants to individuate themselves from the illness. I know everyone wants to politically correctly say that I have bipolar disorder and not I’m bipolar. I get it. I know.
But that doesn’t make it accurate. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a me outside of the illness. There’s lots of me outside of the illness. But there’s a whole lot of me trapped inside the illness too. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that an illness that has disordered my brain has fundamentally changed who I am. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that bipolar is not the same thing as a broken leg. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that something that has to affect everything from sleep schedules to thought patterns is a part of who I am.
I’m not saying that everyone experiences the illness that way. I think that many people are lucky and many people have well-controlled bipolar disorder and this allows them to live a more normal life. But many of us are not that lucky. Many of us really are affected all day every day but an unrelenting mental illness that attacks the fundamentals of who we are. Again, I’m not saying that all we are is bipolar, but I’m saying that a big chunk of who we are is bipolar.
Being Bipolar Sucks
I’m not saying this is a pleasant reality, it isn’t, but then bipolar disorder generally isn’t pleasant. What I’m saying is that it is a reality. And it’s okay to admit to that reality. It’s okay to say that bipolar is a fundamental part of who we are. It’s nothing to hide from. And maybe accepting it can bring us a little more peace. Because bipolar is really hard enough – we don’t need to be denying reality just because it’s more politically correct and makes other people feel more comfortable.