I recently met a young woman who had been hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She talked to me about how she felt she had lost who she used to be and just wanted to feel “normal” again. I assured her she would one day feel like herself again.
Through my recovery, I have regained a sense of control over my life. At the time of diagnosis, I felt stripped of identity and labeled as someone who was sick. I felt I was to be avoided. I know how it feels to not feel normal and to have forgotten what “me” feels like.
Having a mental illness does not define who I am. I am not ashamed that my brain chemicals one day decided to go out of whack. I did not choose this disease, just as others do not choose to have any other illness.
Often, people with mental illness are stereotyped as unstable, dangerous and troubled. It is hard to understand what mental illness is really like if you have not experienced it or cared for someone who has. Look around you. Your doctor, teacher, pilot, actor, best friend, they could all be living with mental illness, and you may never know.
I work full time. I study at a university. I am married and have some great friendships. I was lucky enough to have had an idyllic childhood. I have loving, capable parents, and I grew up surrounded by my siblings creating happy memories. I have to believe my mental illness is purely physiological. My manic and depressive moods are caused by my brain. If I don’t believe and accept this, then I will spend my life asking like “Why?” or “What did I do?” or “What happened to me to make me broken?”
The biases we can have toward people with mental illness without even realizing it, perpetuate this sense of shame when a person is first diagnosed. I challenge you to think of what first comes to mind when you hear the words “bipolar disorder.” I write about my mental illness to hopefully reframe that picture.
Image via Thinkstock.
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