I want to be happy. It’s been a long time since I, genuinely, have been. Yes, the bipolar medications do their job and keep me alive; and yes, I’m less depressed than when the bipolar medications weren’t working, but, still, I’m not happy. And while some people seem to think differently, I really, really want to be happy. It’s not my fault I can’t be happy.
Myths about bipolar disorder abound and, honestly, most people don’t know anything about bipolar except the myths, or common misconceptions. On World Bipolar Day, it makes sense to me to spend a little time pointing out bipolar myths and addressing them.
When you think about your history, what do you wish your (or other) parents knew about bipolar disorder or mental illness? My parents, like many people, knew nothing about bipolar disorder and this, undoubtedly, harmed me. Their lack of knowledge and lack of openness about their own mental health/illness history made my life and my bipolar journey much harder than it had to be. Here’s what I wish my parents, and other parents, knew about bipolar disorder and mental illness.
Yesterday I got the news that I’m losing one of my best friends of 16 years. He’s someone I’ve known pretty much since birth. He’s giving and loving and very furry. He’s my cat.
And while I can understand that not everyone will fully comprehend the bond between a human and animal, you will just have to take my word for it that the news put me into shock and I am now grieving what will very soon become a physical loss.
And, of course, a trauma like this (yes, it is a trauma) will make my bipolar disorder blow up. Bipolar makes grief worse and grief makes bipolar disorder worse.
Recently a received a message from someone who was very distressed because her family wouldn’t accept her because of her mental illness. Her family hadn’t cut her out of their lives, necessarily, but they didn’t understand bipolar disorder and just waved her off telling her to “take her meds.” They made no effort to support her dealing with her mental illness.
And to this woman, family was everything. She didn’t think she could live without the support of her family.
And while I know that family is critically important to some people, I’m here to tell you: you can live with a mental illness, with bipolar disorder, without the support of your family.
For weeks people have been asking me my opinion of ABC’s new show Black Box. According to Wikipedia, about 6.9 million people watched Black Box’s series opener and it seems like about half of them have contacted me about it.
People are wondering about this show because Black Box’s lead, Catherine Black, (played by Kelly Reilly) is a neuroscientist who has bipolar disorder. In fact, the first episode of Black Box details the Black’s descent (ascent?) into mania after she stops taking her medication (which includes lithium, an anticonvulsant, and an antipsychotic).
In short, I think Black Box tries for accuracy and they hit it here and there but, as with all television shows, it’s dramatized and so bipolar disorder isn’t terribly accurately, or fairly, portrayed.
Some people say there’s no way that someone without a mental illness can understand what a person with bipolar disorder goes through. I suppose there is some truth to this; I’m sure I don’t understand what it’s like to be paraplegic even though I have a sense of what it would be like not to be able to walk.
Many of us hear condescending, stigmatizing and prejudicial remarks about bipolar disorder in the workplace – a place where everyone should be treated with respect and as an equal. This lead one reader to ask me this question (reprinted with permission):
I’m not sure how to deal with an incident at work. The company brought in a trainer who when talking about difficult coworkers said “for example have you ever worked with someone who is bipolar.” I spoke with him afterwards and he said he meant to say when unmedicated. I’m disturbed because that seemed very stigmatizing and prejudiced either way yet it was accepted as appropriate . . . I hear how difficult people with bipolar are frequently, like we are 10 to 100 times more difficult than other people just because of our illness. Can you please offer any insight so I can stop feeling like a plague on humanity?
I read this question and I was pretty much incensed.
I’ve written a couple of posts on the worst things to say to a person with bipolar disorder and saying, “Isn’t everyone a little bipolar?” certainly ranks among the worst.
It’s so unbelievably dismissive and invalidating of a medical illness that I can barely fathom it. One very mature person on Facebook simply said, of this statement, “I guess our work fighting stigma isn’t done yet.” That’s an awfully gracious way of putting it.
Isn’t Everyone a Little Bipolar?
The answer to this question is “no.” No, no, no, no, no, a thousand times no. Seriously. To suggest that everyone is a little bit bipolar shows an absolute ignorance of bipolar disorder and of mental illness in general.
I’m a mental illness advocate, but quite frankly, if I wasn’t, I could be an anti-gun advocate. I’m not a fan of guns. Not in the least. Pieces of metal designed to kill strike me as being archaic and barbaric and speak to the basest nature of humanity and are not particularly enlightened. This is not to suggest I would ban guns (if anyone cares) but there are types of guns I would ban and laws I would enact to limit access to weapons.
So now that you know my political leanings I say this: you cannot take away a person’s (legal) access to guns just because they have a mental illness. It’s wrong and it fundamentally violates their rights.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to give a presentation on mental illness to a group of ninth-graders through the Bipolar Babe project. I spoke about stigma and my personal story of mental illness. I told them all about my bipolar disorder, my diagnosis, treatments, treatment failures, vagus nerve stimulator, electroconvulsive therapy and more. And at the end of the presentation, the kids had a chance to fill out feedback forms, and one of the words they used surprised me – inspirational.