When Someone Uses My Illness as an Adjective or Insult

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The first time I heard someone describe another person as “bipolar,” it was in regards to my 3-month-old colicky baby girl. It’s true that one moment she would be happy and smiley and the next she would be crying and screaming in pain. A neighbor noticed this about her and one day posed the question, “Is she bipolar or something?”

Obviously I said no and explained her colic, but the fact they asked me that question really bothered me and continued to bother me, especially after someone else made a similar comment. I was talking with a good friend about his pregnant wife, and he described her hormonal mood changes as “being bipolar.” After hearing my illness be used as an adjective for the second time, I decided in the future, I would put my foot down.

Bipolar disorder can be a devastating mood disorder. It can cause mood swings, sleep issues and relationship problems and is in no way black and white. Bipolar disorder is not just feeling happy or sad, mad or pleased. It is a series and swamp of various moods and emotions that can change quickly and without any warning to the person suffering from it. People throw the word bipolar around as if it is black and white and as if regular mood changes somehow compare to the unbalanced moods of bipolar disorder. Your wife being mad at you or a baby crying are definitely not anywhere near the magnitude of what kinds of emotions a person with bipolar disorder can experiences.

It offends me when someone uses my illness as an insult toward someone else or as an adjective to describe someone’s actions. Bipolar disorder affects me and those around me every day. It should not be taken lightly, and the word “bipolar” should not be used in any other way than medically.

Unfortunately, a great number of people don’t know the true definition or affect of bipolar disorder; they only know the stigma attached to it. People hear “bipolar” and they immediately think “crazy” (that’s another word improperly used as an insult and description of emotions). People who have bipolar disorder are not crazy, and people acting unreasonably are not bipolar. People with bipolar disorder can be described as so many things: impossibly strong, possibly hurt and definitely fearless. The same sort of descriptions should be used when someone without a mental illness is having a hard time. Maybe they are unreasonably angry, surprisingly happy or definitely hurting. No one should deem a person bipolar unless that person has the illness.

I am bipolar. I am not crazy, and I am not OK with my illness being used as an insult or adjective. I want society to know the hard truth about bipolar disorder and understand how hurtful it can be to hear that truth being skewed. I want the world to realize being bipolar is not a bad or shameful thing and that it shouldn’t be used to describe bad or shameful actions. Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects me and many people like me. We are real people with a real illness. And we are not an adjective.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Shadow Named Bipolar Disorder

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It’s been roughly eight years since I started this roller coaster ride with you. Eight years of struggling to tame the violent hurricane you’ve hurled into my mind. I wasn’t aware you were already building a fortress in my head the first time you came around. I thought you were nothing but a phase all adolescents go through. So I ignored you, thinking you’d eventually go away if I pretended you didn’t exist.

But just like a shadow, you followed me everywhere I went. I pretended not to feel you looming over me with every step I took. I tried to be oblivious to the self-destructive thoughts you constantly whispered into my ear. It took every fiber of my being to keep myself intact every time you threw my moods into different directions.

For a long time, I survived this constant battle with you. Little by little, I was successful in lulling you — the monster living inside of me — to sleep. It wasn’t easy; I had to be really careful so I wouldn’t wake or upset you. Maintaining that kind of composure was stressful; but for a while, everything seemed to be under control.

That was until a traumatic, life-changing experience triggered you back to life. Your comeback was utterly devastating. You wreaked havoc in every area of my life. No matter how hard I tried, it was impossible to keep you out of bounds. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t stop my mind from racing. I felt alone, worthless and unloved. Some days I just felt nothing — like I was out of my own body. There was a heavy, crushing feeling in my chest that wouldn’t go away. It was like being stuck in the middle of a neck-deep pool. It got to the point where I self-harmed and thought ending my life would be the only way to make you stop.

That’s when I realized I had it with you. I couldn’t let you take over my life anymore. I told my parents everything I was feeling and began to seek help from a psychiatrist, hoping I’d finally get to know what you really were.

You were given many names: clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. I was prescribed with a lot of disorienting and nauseating pills that promised to keep you from attacking me. Everything was going great for a while, but then a different side of you manifested inside of me. I started having these intense phases of zoning out. There were a lot of times I suddenly didn’t know where I was or how I got there. I was too lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t know what was going on in the real world. I couldn’t stop myself from having so many ideas and so many rapid thoughts that everything else seemed to be in slow motion. I couldn’t control my impulsive buying habits. I would often go broke over things I didn’t even need. I didn’t and couldn’t go to sleep because I wanted to do so many things all at the same time and I had to do it immediately. I cleaned every corner my room obsessively until it was spotless. I would over-organize everything and freak out over even a speck of dirt lying around my room. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice I’d been cleaning all day. The anxiety was intense. I was sure something terrible would happen in every situation I was in, even if it sounded ridiculous and unrealistic. I found it hard to trust anybody, and was scared of being in a room full of people. I felt like everybody hated me, and was plotting some sort of evil scheme to get rid of me.

The worst part was the voices. On good days, you’d only resound all my insecurities through soft, bothersome whispers. On bad days, you’d scream right into my ear. It was torture. It was like being in an airplane with a baby shrieking loudly in the seat behind you and there was nothing you could do to make it stop.

So there I was, back to square one. I went to a different psychiatrist this time, mostly because I was embarrassed to go back to my former shrink. That’s when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. She explained people like me experience longer periods of severe depression and shorter periods of mild manic episodes (hypomania). This is why most people who have this illness are often misdiagnosed with clinical depression. Apparently, the spell I was in right after my depressive phase was called a hypomanic episode. It was a lot to take in, but everything made perfect sense. Although the diagnosis left me scared shitless, I also felt relieved to get to the bottom of this.

Bipolar 2 disorder. Finally. Your real name. After a long, frustrating journey, I now know who you really are and how I’m going to manage you. It’s definitely not going to be an easy ride — and it would probably take a lot of time to get the right mix of medications to tame you — but I won’t let you destroy me again.

Thank you for showing me how much my family loves me, and how amazing my parents are. Without their support and understanding, I wouldn’t have been able to survive all the shit you put me through. I’ve lost a lot of people along the way, but you showed me who my real friends are. Up to this day, I still don’t know what I did to deserve them. So thank you. Thank you for showing me I’m not alone in this fight and that it is definitely not impossible to find solid friends.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help and reach out to people who are like me. You gave me the chance to show compassion, kindness and understanding to people who are also struggling with an invisible war inside their heads. As long as I am alive and breathing, I will do my best to diminish stigma and raise awareness about mental illnesses.

Finally, thank you for making me realize how strong and resilient I am. Thank you for showing me it’s possible to survive even with a mental illness. I know how hard you tried to knock me down, but here I am, still standing. Yes, I’m still far from being well — but I’m also far from the weak and vulnerable Layana you once knew.

…So bring it on.

Your worst nightmare,

Layana

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could write a letter to the disability or disease you (or a loved one) face, what would you say to it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Please Don't Call People With Bipolar Disorder 'Overdramatic'

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As a person with bipolar disorder, I’ve been called “overdramatic.” I understand there are moments when this feels like an appropriate adjective to use. But for someone with a mental illness, there are a few good reasons labeling me as “overdramatic” is a bad idea.

1. Given my sensitive nature, it hurts.

My bipolar disorder makes me emotionally in tune. My moods do bounce around, causing a whirlwind of feelings. I know it’s not always justified when I have an emotional reaction to being told this or that. But when I’m categorized as overdramatic, it sinks in.

2. I can’t always control my reactions. I don’t want to “act overdramatic.” I might not be able to help it.

Sometimes I get unusually irritable. It’s more unusual to you, I imagine, than to me. I usually don’t know when it’s going to happen. So next time you see me being moody or irritable, consider how typical it might feel to me.

3. I have my moments, but they’re in my nature.

I don’t want to be penalized for every outburst I have in my life by someone who doesn’t experience how uncontrollable they can feel. Unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t know the intensity and how exhausting these depressive and manic episodes are. I already feel bad enough when I’m struggling; being called “overdramatic” makes it worse.

4. My physical well-being can change as often as my moods do.

That’s how it’s always been, and I suspect that’s how it always will be for me. So when I’m depressed, stuck in bed and flat out don’t have enthusiasm for life, I am not trying to be overdramatic about it. It is real. It does happen, and I usually can’t just “fix it.” On the other side of the spectrum, when I have racing thoughts, a ton of energy, enthusiasm and grandiose ideas, I probably can’t contain that all to myself.

5. I’m fighting it.

I take medications to maintain a tornado in my mind that takes a hold of everything in there and can cause chaos with everything around me. I go to therapy, and that’s a proven necessity for me. I tried stopping my medications (as have many at some point or another), and that did not last too long. And because of that, I have no choice to experience the many side effects of them. Believe me, if you think I am overdramatic now in my current state of being, you will witness a whole other level of “overdramatic” when I don’t treat my mental illness.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My 4-Year-Old Started Imitating My Manic Episodes

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A few weeks ago our 4-year-old daughter was walking around itching the side of her head. My first thought was lice! But shortly after, she walked past with her hands in fists, her head resting on them.

It clicked — she was mimicking my actions from a manic episode I had a couple days earlier. I realized I was having manic episodes at some point every day, all with her watching and listening from the other room. 

Every day as my episodes keep getting worse, it was likely she was going to have to spend some time away from me. So, I decided to tell her this:

“Mommy’s brain is sick, and it is not as happy and beautiful as yours. Mommy might need to stay at the hospital, so if I’m not here after school please don’t be afraid, I will be back.”

I proceeded to tell her I would talk to Daddy, and see if she could stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s while I was away, as that is her “happy place.” We started joking around and tickling each other, both laughing.

Suddenly she stopped, looked right into my eyes, her eyes filled with sadness, and gave me a hug topped with a kiss on my forehead.

She had given me her blessing and showed me she understood. 

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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7 Ways to Help a Loved One Cope With a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

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When you’re sick with the flu, it’s nice to have your partner, roommate or family member there to help you. Whether they make you soup, do the dishes or watch movies with you, you feel comforted and not so alone. They help you cope by being there and helping you through your sickness, and the same thing goes for a bipolar diagnosis.

A bipolar diagnosis can be scary at first and continuously hard to cope with. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder needs a strong support system and help coping with the affects of their illness. There are seven ways you can help someone cope with their bipolar diagnosis and ultimately be there for them through their illness.

1. Educate yourself.

Reading up on the symptoms, triggers and effects bipolar disorder can have on a loved one is a great way to help them because you will gain an understanding of the illness. In times of doubt, your friend or loved one with bipolar disorder can look to you for understanding and answers and truly know they won’t receive any judgement or stigma from you.

2. Encourage.

Words of encouragement are welcomed, especially when someone with bipolar disorder is experiencing a depressive episode. Encourage them to take care of themselves, attend their doctors appointments and encourage them to smile and laugh.

3. Be present.

Feeling alone is common for someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. Being physically and emotionally there for someone who struggles will help them cope with their unpleasant thoughts and feelings and help them to not feel alone in their fight against bipolar disorder.

4. Listen.

It’s difficult to listen to someone when all you want to do is give advice and encouragement. However, listening to someone who is struggling is important because it gives them an outlet to share their thoughts and feelings, good or bad.

5. Be patient.

Helping someone cope with bipolar disorder doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process of encouragement, talking and generally being there. Be patient when your loved one doesn’t feel like talking, and be patient when their moods change.

6. Make a plan.

Keeping a safety plan is important to do when helping someone cope with a bipolar diagnosis. List their warning signs and triggers. Then, list what to do during manic and depressive episodes. Make this plan and assure your loved one you will stick to your part.

7. Forgive.

Bipolar disorder can turn a person into someone completely different. Your usually kind and compassionate friend may be snide or mean when they’re depressed and brutally honest when they’re manic. Forgive these slights, and remember your friend suffering from bipolar disorder has little control over their emotions and actions during an episode.

Bipolar disorder is something nobody should have to live with alone. Just being there for someone who is struggling will mean so much, along with these seven ways to help them cope. Offer support, be kind and assure them you are in their corner no matter what. It’s nice for someone to know when they are struggling, they are not alone, and they have someone there to make the blow from bipolar disorder a little less hard.

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To the Doctor I Hated for Diagnosing Me With Bipolar Disorder

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When you walked into my room in the mental health unit of the hospital, I was afraid of you. I was afraid you would see me as this “crazy” young girl who tried to kill herself, not as the hurt and desperate young woman I was. I was afraid of what you would say because I knew it would determine if I stayed in the hospital or went home with my mom. I was terrified of what your diagnosis would be; you would be the one to tell me what was wrong with me and how I could be fixed.

I hated you for diagnosing me bipolar. I was in completely denial, I was angry and I felt like you were personally responsible for ruining my life. I swore you were wrong and that you didn’t take the appropriate time to talk to me to be able to diagnose. I made up excuses why I couldn’t be bipolar and why you didn’t know what you were talking about. I rolled my eyes at you whenever we met, I shut you out and I didn’t listen to your words that could have helped me cope.

When I finally began to accept my diagnosis and go through treatment for it, I slowly began to forgive you. I realized my diagnosis didn’t just magically appear out of nowhere, and it was something I had been dealing with for a long time. You were just the first to give what I was dealing with a name. Bipolar. When you diagnosed me, you explained my illness, its symptoms and how I could be treated, but I didn’t listen. I wish I would have, and maybe I would have come to accept this new diagnosis sooner. Accepting I am bipolar brought me peace and made me a fighter.

You were my coach. You conditioned me on how to battle my diagnosis so it wouldn’t control me. You gave me medication, listened when I talked about my symptoms and taught me a variety of coping skills. Thank you for enduring my abuse before I understood, and thank you for staying positive and realistic even when I wasn’t. You are the one who led me into battle when I was ready and trained me to fight the enemy. Thank you for equipping me with the skills I needed to live with bipolar disorder and not become bipolar disorder.

Thank you for reminding me I am not my illness. Thank you for showing me the statistics of how many people in the world have bipolar disorder, so I didn’t feel so alone. Thank you for meeting with me whenever I thought my medication was causing problems, and thank you for quickly fixing them. Thank you for allowing me to admit myself to the hospital for a second time and supporting me through my stay. Thank you for telling me this step back does not mean a full regression and for reminding me everyone needs a little extra help to get back on track.

Thank you for letting me hate you. I needed somewhere to place the blame when you first diagnosed me. You knew you needed to be that person because if it hadn’t of been you, it would have been my parents, and you knew I would need them. Thank you for reassuring my parents I would be OK and that you would be there to answer any questions they had. It meant a lot to me that you included them in my treatment — because they also hated you at first. Keeping them close and informed helped them understand what was happening.

I appreciate you and everything you’ve done for me since I was diagnosed. You’ve managed my medication, tracked my moods and given me counsel when I’ve needed it. Thank you for diagnosing me and waiting patiently for me to accept that diagnosis so we could both fight it together. Thank you for giving me the resources and the courage to fight. I promise I will continue to do so. And I will not let you down.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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