I have always been driven to success, sometimes to excess. I am highly intelligent, creative, a great employee, and a devoted wife. I think I have a lot going for me in life.
Would you believe me if I told you I was bipolar? I am.
There are so many stereotypes and stigmas out there about those with mental health concerns. We are labeled as crazy, nuts, or just plain scary. People are often afraid to be around us for fear that what we have is catching. Why? Because there is a complete lack of understanding about our conditions.
To sum it up, the fact that I am bipolar means that I have mood swings greater than the average person. Now that I am on the proper medication, I function just like every other member of society. I live my daily routine just like you do. I live with my husband in a nice house, not a home for the criminally insane.
My doctor often reminds me that illnesses such as bipolar disorder happen to intelligent people. Thinking about all of those I have met in therapy and support groups, as well as all of the famous sufferers—they all possess those same qualities. It would seem instead that we have a lot to be proud of—our mental abilities instead of our “illness.”
Lack of understanding leads to people feeling that somehow our mental illness is contagious or scary, and can be contracted by our mere presence. I myself suffer from bipolar disorder. To be more specific, I suffer from ultra-rapid cycling bipolar disorder. I am one of the “manic” people who are so frightening.
When I began forming ideas for this post, my first thought was to discuss how mental illness patients feel about the use of words such as “crazy” or “insane.” Most of those I spoke with saw no problem with them, as there is also no standard definition of the word “normal.” Upon thinking further, I decided to instead focus on the stigma attached to mental illness, and Bipolar Disorder in particular. Use of the term “manic depression,” which was coined in 1902 by Emil Kraepelin, has not helped matters. This phrase evokes images of crazed individuals who are unpredictable (which we are), but to the point that we are apt to mood swings leading to criminal behavior.
There are countless references to bipolar disorder in popular culture. We use terms such as “manic Monday” and “out of my mind,” and even “crazy drivers.” There is a band named the “Insane Clown Posse.” Even as children we played “crazy eights” and watched “Looney Tunes,” which we use as an expression as adults. I did a simple search and found a term for unpredictable weather called “bipolar weather.” I truly believe that using these terms in our vernacular cheapens what we as bipolar individuals go through. I would equate it to use of the word “retarded.” It is politically incorrect to use that term, so why all of the negative connotations associated with bipolar disorder?
I am not hyper-sensitive to the point where I am offended by these terms. My point is that understanding needs to be brought to the illness instead of throwing around phrases that cloud perceptions of it even more. We are not scary people who will bring harm to you. We are people who suffer from mood swings to a greater extent than most people. We did not bring this upon ourselves, in much the same way that those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder did not.
Please understand that we are people, just like you. The only difference between us is a chemical imbalance in our brains. We can function in everyday society and are intelligent, thoughtful, creative people. We are not boogey-men. All we want is some light brought to the true nature of our illness and a little understanding.