The headline isn’t snappy and the body isn’t the usual heckfest humor, but it’s real. And that’s all I can give you today.
February marked three years since I accepted the diagnosis of having bipolar II disorder — since I drove away from the doctor’s office with a prescription for anti-psychotics, crying because my condition wasn’t a sadness that would go away with time.
It’s been three years of being ashamed of who I am when the illness takes over. Three years of being terrified of myself and my future. Three years of trying not to get close to anyone because I never want them to see the ugly side of me. Three years of going as long as possible without telling people what’s wrong with me because I know it would mean they see me different. Three years of pretending there’s nothing wrong with me. Three years of going to social gatherings as a ticking time bomb, begging not to explode in the presence of my friends and acquaintances so that I don’t sabotage every relationship I have.
But the truth is, I have sabotaged too many relationships to count because I can’t always control myself and they can’t always forgive my outbursts. And I did, on occasion, find that ridiculous. But it’s the pattern I’ve seen my life follow these past few years.
And I am sorry to myself for living in fear of who I am. But I can’t say that I’m sorry for not telling people. Because as common as mental illness is in this world, it’s disturbing to see how many people don’t even try or want to understand it.
My first issue is with reactions. I’ve realized I put too much weight on what people think of me and what they would think of me if they knew I had bipolar disorder. Would they treat me differently out of pity? Out of fear? Would they believe me? Would they say they could tell? The answer is yes. All of these things have happened.
Reactions range from “oh yeah, I have friends who have mental illness” to “what, really? I didn’t expect that” to “oh, I could tell there was something, just little things like you being in a good mood one day and not the next.”
And first of all, I’m going to address the last one first because it’s that big of an issue, and holy cow there are so many problems with that statement. One: I’m a human being? It might shock you to hear this, but even you will experience positive and negative emotions at times. Two: that’s not even what bipolar is. You use the word to describe the weather so often that you never take the time to understand what it actually means. And three: what the heck kind of response is that anyway?
Second of all: just because you have other friends with mental illness does not mean you understand me. You are taking the conversation away from a focus on me being vulnerable with you to a focus on how understanding and empathetic you are. You are trying to brush it off, make me feel like “it’s not a big deal” that I have this, because look, so do so many other people. But to me, it is a big deal. And me sharing it is absolutely a huge deal. Even if you have other friends with the same illness, I can guarantee we experience it differently. So please, if someone says something about what they’re going through, it’s not just another statistic. It’s another person’s life that is greatly affected, and they are confiding that struggle in you.
Third of all: No matter how many science and psychiatric classes you have taken, unless you are my therapist or doctor or other mental health professional, please refrain on questioning their diagnosis of me. You don’t see me in their office. I don’t tell you the things I tell them. You don’t deal with me the way that I deal with me. You know a very limited scope of what I am like when you’re not around.
My next problem is when people use it against me. That cuts deepest. When I tell someone I have bipolar II disorder, I am not just informing them of my condition; I am confiding in them my deepest insecurity. Why is it my deepest insecurity? Because it has the potential to make me a toxic person. And I have been a toxic person. And I am still, sometimes, a toxic person. People always talk about eliminating the toxic people from their lives — what happens when you are the toxic person in your life? In your friends’ lives? In your family’s life?
I told a trusted roommate once about my issues. We had a spat one night where yelling was involved on both ends. Mean things were said by each person. Yet she blocked me out completely after that, would not talk to me, and when asked why by a different roommate, she said it was because I used my mental illness as an “excuse.”
~whoa~whoa~whoa~whOA~ can we just talk about THAT. First of all, in that situation, I only ever mentioned my disorder once and it was while we were still getting along. ALSO, regardless, you don’t look at someone in a wheelchair and say “you’re using your broken legs as an excuse not to walk.” Well… yeah? I guess you can phrase it that way if you want, but the truth is, it’s going to affect your life. There’s no getting around it.
My fear of myself and my future and what other people think of me has influenced how I’ve spent my last three years. I went to cool places and did cool things so that people would think of me as the girl who’s living her dream, not the girl trying to escape her nightmare. Yeah, I swam in and watched the sun set over the Black Sea, but it was while sitting behind everyone else in the group, wishing it would swallow me whole. Yeah, I bungee jumped off of (what was then) the world’s longest suspension sky bridge, but it was to finally feel something after months of numbness. Yeah, I star gazed, camped, and watched the sun rise over the Great Wall of China, but not without feeling like my disconnect from the world would never be helped.
I thought these experiences would make me excited about life again, but it was really just me wanting to die in all the coolest places. And nothing broke my heart more than when people would comment on my photos saying how happy I looked. Because behind the smile was someone who was, for the first time in her life, considering suicide as an actual option.
I always thought that I couldn’t go public with my mental illness until I was a success story. You know, those people who talk about how it seemed hopeless until they got the help they needed. But frankly, pills and therapy haven’t been the success for me that they have been for others, and I, unlike Taylor Swift, am NOT doing better than I ever was.
This isn’t a cry for help. This is just an admission of weakness. I’m tired of holding it all in and having dishonest conversations about how I’m doing great in life. And I’m tired of people not understanding. So please, if there’s anyone in your life whom you love, please do what you can to learn how to love them in their illness. It is infinitely difficult, but it’s nowhere near as difficult for you as it is for them to love themselves through their episodes of losing who they are. I don’t know if it’s possible to love the toxicity out of someone, and I’m not encouraging you to try. But I am encouraging you to get educated.
To be continued…