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I Am Not Bipolar. I Am Amanda.

I throw a dinner party at my apartment every single Wednesday night.

This usually results in things like enough rosemary garlic chicken and twice-baked green bean casserole (yeah, I go hard) for 10 people when there are only 5 around the table that night, which is fine because I keep a stash of to-go boxes on hand. Chicken alfredo night is sort of like that children’s book where that old lady accidentally uses some magical stock pot to make spaghetti and it keeps overflowing until it fills the whole town with pasta. That’s basically what happens to my kitchen. This past week, though, was a four-course “breakfast for dinner” spread where the runaway hit was the make-your-own Belgian waffle bar with blueberries and chocolate chips and also pancakes shaped like elephants and enough bacon for 20 people that the six of us packed away no problem. And the pumpkin spice cupcakes and gourmet s’mores bar and and champagne kept us going until late into the night with telling stories and laughing until we cried.

You guys. I’m back.

Not “I think I’m back.” – I am.

Not “I think I feel better than ever.” I do. I do feel better than ever.

You might know I’ve struggled with depression for the better part of the last five years. Have had that label slapped on my forehead since ’09, baby. (If you didn’t know that, there you go.) What you probably don’t know, because I haven’t talked about it a ton, is that we (my family, doctors, support team of Guardians and Warriors) found out that I have something more complicated than just depression. I have bipolar disorder – type II.

You can react to that however you’d like to.But what I want to do now is talk about how I reacted to it and am continuing to react to it.

On one hand:

This makes so much more sense. Bipolar type II is also called manic depression. It means that sometimes I get really sad, and sometimes I get really euphoric and not sad, and have a hard time being in the middle. Until. We found this really great medication that lets me live in the middle. And that is where I’ve been hanging out for the last six months and let me tell you — it is wonderful. I have never felt this good. For the last five years, it felt like the antidepressants never really did their job all the way, because I was either still really, really sad all the time or really anxious all the time or couldn’t actually feel any of my feelings and instead had the emotional capacity of a rock. The past year was a lot of really sad and a lot of feeling like a rock. Extra points to my roommate, because we never really knew which one we were gonna get when I woke up in the morning. Anyway, type II is often misdiagnosed as “just” depression before then. Bingo.

On the other hand:

The fact that the word “bipolar” is in my chart is really, really scary. It felt, at first, a whole lot scarier than just “depression.” I was like, “Well now people are going to think I’m “crazy” instead of just sad. I have to keep this a secret. Being bipolar is bad and scary and it really means there’s something wrong with me. I don’t want to be bipolar.”

Oh, no. No, no, no.

(Are you ready for this?)

*steps onto soapbox*

I am not bipolar.

You see, me saying, “I’m bipolar,” gives people permission to go grab a copy of the DSM and open up to the page that says “Bipolar Disorder Type II” and go, “This is who Amanda is.”

I have a mental illness.

I am not my mental illness.

I am not bipolar.

I am Amanda Eileen Phillips.

I am kind and have a heart full of love that lives for throwing dinner parties and dance parties in Bath and Body Works. I am a student. I am a work in progress. I am a rap music aficionado and a spin class enthusiast.

I have a mood disorder that I am thriving in the face of because I am successfully managing it through counseling and pharmacotherapy.

There is a very big difference between what I have and what I am.

And I refuse to succumb to the dialogue that I have to go live a certain way and act a certain way and wear a scarlet letter because I have bipolar disorder. The world does not get to tell me what I can and can’t do because of my mental illness. (It is mine, don’t get me wrong. But it is not me.) People have tried. Believe me, they tried. Don’t get me started. And I believed them for a while. The critical people the you’re-a-liability people and the shhhh-don’t-say-it-out-loud people. And I have nothing but love and respect for them, because they were just doing what they thought was best for themselves or for me. I don’t want to call people ignorant here, because a lot of people just don’t know better. Or they’re getting information from sources that don’t know better. And I didn’t know better until I was here. And a lot of people who are where I am can’t or don’t want to talk about it. And that’s OK. I couldn’t for a while. But now I can and want to and am. And so I forgive the people who counted me out. (I counted me out for a while, too!) Because I have a lot of other people who never counted me out, or who have seen me grow and don’t count me out anymore. I have people who believe in me, and there are a lot of them (of you, I should say). It’s not just one or two; it’s a lot and I figure they must all be onto something.  And so I choose to believe them.

That was a very hard place for me to finally arrive at. For a very long time, I prayed that all this would go away. I wanted to ignore it. I wanted to be like everyone else, to be “normal,” to be free. And now, I am seeing, I was free before I ever asked. And that was a truth I had to arrive at all on my own, when I was ready, when I could accept it. And now I do. And so…

There’s a stigma surrounding mental illness in this country. It’s powerful. It’s pervasive.  And I’ve been marginalized and told that I’m not as good as other people and treated differently and discriminated against and have suffered because of it. And I hate it. Deeply. Unabashedly. (The stigma—not the people who perpetuate the stigma. I still love them and have lots of hope there.)

But I’m not submitting to it because I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Let’s all take a moment to realize there are people walking around everywhere, who are going through a living hell because they feel too ashamed to go get the help they need to manage their mental illness or struggles — whatever those may be. And let’s realize that it’s because we are too quiet, as a society, about how it is OK to get help and struggle out loud. And let’s realize we can do something about that.

OK I’m done yelling.

I’m tired of acting like this isn’t a really important part of my life. I refuse to be reduced by it, but I also refuse to act like it’s not there.

What a shame that would be. What a waste.

I’m not sitting in the corner anymore.

I’m not keeping my mouth shut, not keeping my head down.

So. I am not bipolar.

I am ridiculous. I am full of life. I am a child of God. I am loved and blessed and safe and I am trying my very, very best. I am messy and hilarious and flawed and bright and vibrant and I am absolutely yes going to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I run so I can eat s’mores for dinner. Sometimes I am sad and sometimes I prefer the company of a dog. I laugh too loudly. I throw dinner parties.

And I am back in action.

The best compliment I think I’ve ever received is when somebody said to me,
“When you get passionate, when you step into your power, it makes me want to rally behind you and I’d follow you anywhere.”

Well, friends.

Let’s. Go.

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Thinkstock photo via nd3000