Some of you may know the pain of this disease, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with the title, Bipolar II Disorder is essentially one of many invisible illnesses; an illness of the mind.
Yes, a mental illness.
One, characterised by an unpredictable mixture of soaring highs, boundless energy and untapped ideas (known as hypomania in medical speak); and also for the crushing lows, the inexplicable loss of energy, the catastrophic depression that is so dark and deep that light itself cannot penetrate it.
I was first diagnosed in 2011 though it honestly feels like a lifetime ago. My official diagnosis is Bipolar II Disorder, Rapid Cycling. They told me my brain is having trouble balancing all the chemicals that control my mood; that not only is my mood affected, but also my energy and thinking and ability to function.
Stop for a moment and imagine that. Imagine being told that your brain is dysfunctional and that your feelings, thoughts and actions are sometimes not yours to control. Scary, huh?
I was afraid, yet there was a part of me that felt some relief that this thing I had, this bipolar, was an illness and not an intrinsic part of my character or personality in some way. There was a medical reason for some of my moods, my behaviour, my struggle. My diagnosis didn’t excuse my past, but it did provide a label to aid me in understanding certain events in my life. I now had a name for the confusing emotions that conflicted within me. But naming the demon is not enough.
So I acted. I went to regular psychiatric appointments and was eventually put on medication despite early resistance. I had naively thought that if I tried hard enough with “talk” therapy alone, I could “fix” this bipolar myself. I eventually came to confront the stigma of taking medication for a mental illness and realised it was a necessary step to gain stability in my life.
I even participated in various psychological studies at The Black Dog Institute, an Australian charity and research facility that specialises in clinical mood disorder research.
I would like to state that the internet is saturated with information, generalisations, stereotypes, and a lot of misnomers about what “bipolar people” are all like, or meant to be like. I do not think that you can generalise people with bipolar disorder, even if you have a form of bipolar disorder yourself. It bugs the shit out of me when I hear people say that everyone with bipolar is creative or that we’re all really sensitive or that we are all over-dramatic people. That’s like saying everyone with illness Y are introverts and are all good at painting and those with illness Z like walks on the beach and can all play the flute.
I see it is an illness that affects a person’s moods, thoughts and feelings, which are extremely unique to every individual. It must be emphasised that the only commonality between people with bipolar disorder is that we all suffer from extremes in mood. Period.
All that crap about being super sensitive because we feel everything really intensely, I think, is bull. Sure, those with bipolar disorder suffer the extreme mood changes that expose us to intense thoughts and feelings, but that does not necessarily make us sensitive to general life or one with the cosmos.
Maybe it’s because I suffer from bipolar disorder so I get extra annoyed when people, whether they have the illness or not, deem it acceptable to speak on my behalf and the behalf of others suffering. I find that I rarely fall neatly into their boxes of what people with bipolar disorder should be like. I am also possibly the only person with bipolar disorder to not be extremely creative. I can’t play a musical instrument. I can’t draw or paint or even colour inside the lines, though I can fold a pretty origami paper crane, so I guess I’m not a total loss.
Another thing, that would help people differentiate a person from their illness is to use the correct grammar. You see a lot of “My wife is bipolar” or “My friend is bipolar” on different sites or on Youtube vlogs, but this is a huge mistake. Why?
Because language matters. Words have meaning. The way we use words changes and influences the way we frame things in our minds. It changes the way we view people suffering from mental illness, even if just on a subconscious level.
When we say someone “is bipolar”, we take on the perspective that the mental illness in question is an integral part of that person’s character rather than a separate illness affecting them. Using that language sets expectations and it implies that bipolar disorder is all that makes up that person. It effectively demeans them and classes them as inferior or defective. Although I understand that many people don’t intend to be derogatory, but the effect of these words have that effect whether we realise it or not.
Your wife has bipolar. She is not bipolar.
Your friend has bipolar. They are not bipolar.
A person has bipolar. They are not their illness.
It’s like how you would say “He has cancer”. You wouldn’t say “He is cancer”.
Because we who suffer with bipolar disorder are more than our mental illness.
So there you go. My sort of coming-out online with my mental illness.
I should probably mention that only a handful of people in my real life actually know of my diagnosis, so this is a bit of a big deal for me.
More posts to come on my perspectives on bipolar disorder and how I live with it.
Thanks for reading.
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