When I have to look at a person and say, “I’m bipolar”, they get a bemused expression on their face as if they’re waiting for the punchline. That’s all there is to it, and believe me, this is not a joke my friend. I can’t think of many more things as infuriating as someone using a mental illness as an insult. You’re going to hear, “Oh my God! Don’t be so bipolar!” much more than you’re going to get, “Wow, do you have to act so diabetic all the time?”
The truth is that many people are bipolar and have done horrible things. Things like theft, murder, even rape. That does not mean that all of us are capable of such unspeakable acts. Hollywood doesn’t help matters at all. Have you ever been using one of the movie streaming services and caught a glimpse of a film that might be interesting? Sure, many people have. How many times have you clicked on the description of that film and discovered that the lead in the story is a horribly insane person, and you guessed it . . . bipolar.
What is the real difference here? Bipolar disorder is a disease of the mind, but it manifests itself in physical ways all the time. Just ask anyone who deals with it. Conditions like Fibromyalgia, Cancer, and AIDS begin as physical conditions and can eventually have a negative impact on your mind. I know I’m walking a fine line here. I would never tell a Cancer patient that their disease isn’t as serious as mine. I’m just trying to say that it deserves the same amount of patience, acceptance, and respect.
We hear a lot about stigma these days. If you try hard enough, you can stigmatize any disease or disorder. Is social media helping us or hurting us? I honestly can’t decide. For example, many, many people commented on the death of Robin Williams. A lot of the comments were centered around how badly people felt that he was in that kind of pain, and their hearts went out to his family. However, the number of comments that described him as a psychotic freak that only cared about himself was staggering. Some people even went so far to go after his daughter in probably the most painful time of her entire life.
There are positives to using social media. I’ve experienced that myself. I’ve had people from all over the world approach me to talk about my story, or to ask my opinion of their situation. I’ve yet to come across someone that downright insults me, and I hope that I never do. I’m not one to hold my tongue on something like that. I do know that people have quietly unfollowed or unfriended me since I told my story. Whether they did it because of my disease, I may never know. The fact of the matter is if they want to walk away from me because I’ve said something that offended them, I completely understand that. However, to take a hike because I have a disease that I cannot control is ridiculous.
I get it. There are people out there that use mental illness as a way to garner attention or special treatment. To those people, I say shame on you. Unfortunately, that kind of behavior has been around forever. I watched a documentary on a woman who fooled an entire community into believing she was a survivor of the towers falling on 9/11. People like that are sick, but not in the way they want you to believe.
I know the facts are hard to comprehend. Especially for those people that have never dealt with mental illness on any level. All I’m asking is that you think about it. We didn’t choose this. If we could “get over it” we would. Think about the last time you were really sad. Maybe when a loved one passed away. Now, imagine feeling like that every single day for months, with no end in sight. Consider that you could be in that much pain for no discernible reason. Nobody has passed away; no catastrophe has taken place.
Envision yourself terrified to leave your house, scared of what people will say about you. Think about losing your job because you were diagnosed with something like diabetes and you had to miss several days because you couldn’t control your blood sugar. Lastly, pretend for a minute that friends and family members no longer wanted to have anything to do with you because of that illness.
This is just a snapshot of the life of someone with bipolar disorder. People like me are not coming forward just to get attention. Believe me, most of the attention we get from the general public, we don’t really want. The reason we’re coming forward and enduring all of this scrutiny is because we need acceptance. We need to be able to talk about this. We deserve to have the right not to feel like a freak or psycho. I’ve often said, you don’t have to fix it. You don’t even have to help. Just don’t make us feel even worse. Don’t mock us and please don’t call us selfish.
You have no idea what your future holds. A day may come where someone very close to you is diagnosed with some form of depression, and now you’re the one looking for help or acceptance. People don’t have to give us special treatment or attention. All we’re asking is to be treated like a human being. A little respect would go a long way. We aren’t any less worthy of a fulfilling, happy life than the next person.
About the Author
I’m 43 years old and have been happily married for nearly 15 years. I enjoy reading, writing, music, watching movies and sports. I live in Michigan with my husband and our cats.
At age 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have struggled with mental illness in many forms for more than 20 years. I’m a published author, bipolar blogger, and a mental health advocate. I am thrilled to have been selected to write for the Huffington Post.
It’s Not Your Journey is available on Amazon (print and Kindle).