Why It's Impossible to 'Look Bipolar'

“You seem so chill.”

“You seem happy and calm.”

“I’ve never seen you in a high-energy state.”

I’ve been told I don’t “look bipolar” by a couple people. But my question is, what does bipolar disorder look like? It looks different in every person. Someone with bipolar may seem very calm and sad, while another will seem extremely energetic and positive. Another with bipolar may seem completely “normal,” despite being extremely depressed or having racing thoughts. One can be symptomatic but appear completely fine.

There’s a thing called mood incongruence: when you smile during times of depression, for example. Or when you seem calm while extremely anxious.

I might not “seem bipolar” because I’m on medication that works these days. I might not “seem bipolar” because I smile while I’m depressed and dying inside. I might not “seem bipolar” because my hypomania seems like normal happiness, while the reality is I feel like I could implode at any minute from the racing thoughts and dangerous urges.

You might be wondering why I felt the need to write about this. Well, I just find that while it’s great I don’t “look sick,” it feels rather invalidating of my experiences. When someone says it, oftentimes in a condescending tone, it feels as though my experience with the illness is completely erased.

Has anyone else experienced this? And how does it make you feel?

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty Images photo via cyano66

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Bipolar Disorder

woman lying in bed taking medication

How Antipsychotic Medication Helped Me When Nothing Else Has

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. Throughout high school, I had a diagnosis of depression but the diagnosis never felt right. I was on antidepressants for two years. After about a year, I reached a [...]
Christopher distraught

What Having a 'Manic Break' Is Like

Editor’s note: If you experience intrusive suicidal or self-harm-related thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. It’s January 31, 2018 — Bell Let’s Talk Day. So let’s talk. Or to be more accurate, as this is an article and not a live [...]
asian woman sitting alone at window contemplative

Lessons I Learned in the Psych Ward for Bipolar Disorder

Am I proud of my stay in a psychiatric facility? Well, it’s not exactly winning a gold medal at the Olympics, but admitting that one needs help is certainly a courageous step, I would later learn. How did I get here? I was a successful businesswoman in the field of public relations. I was starting [...]
An attractive young woman is seen holding a negative pregnancy test.

When Your Mental Health Makes You Question If You Should Have Kids

When I lost my mom to suicide at age 19 following her lifelong battle with schizoaffective disorder, I subconsciously resolved to never have children. When I was 15, after my dual diagnosis of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), my mother wept at the news and blamed herself and her “lousy” genes. I [...]