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What I Mean When I Say ‘I’m Bipolar, but I’m Just Like You’

I see a lot of articles about how dark and dreary bipolar disorder or mental illness is — which is great, because it is — but it bothers me that I never see any about coming out on the other side. I never see anything about how “normal” we are — how we can be just as functional and stable as neurotypical people even after episodes as severe as a psychotic break. Mental illness does not make us inept or incapable of recovering.

Which, I understand why everyone writes articles on the hard parts of being mentally ill. I’ve struggled too. I spent years cycling through hospitalizations and treatment centers, and honestly never thought I’d ever have a sense of normality again. It is hard to incorporate things other people don’t think twice about. It’s hard to question my moods — am I happy or manic? Sad or depressed? Am I in touch with reality? My life is without a doubt more difficult because of my illness. But society already knows people like me struggle to hold it together — there are countless resources that tell them so.

What they don’t know is that I can be bipolar and also not so different from them at the same time. My mental illness is not what defines me. I’m just as bright and capable as someone who doesn’t need to worry about their mental health.

Because I am bipolar, but I am also successful in my own terms — and sometimes, for people like me, being successful means just being stable. It means having ups and downs, but not ending up in crisis or the hospital because of them. Some days, it means doing things as mundane as taking a shower and using my coping skills in order to not let depression overwhelm me. It’s doing what I need to do to stay stable and be a functional member of society — something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I am bipolar, but I am also happy. I’m so happy with my life. I have a wonderful girlfriend, a wonderful job and I am continuing to make progress in school to grow in the career field I love. I’ve hit milestones I never thought I’d make it to and continue to surprise myself with my self-growth day-in and day-out. That’s a beautiful thing.

I am bipolar, but I am not “crazy” or “depressed” or “psychotic.” I’m not that pessimistic girl who’s unable to be satisfied with life. In fact, I’ve developed a real sense of optimism through realizing my own resiliency, and I only learned of my resiliency by picking myself up from the rock bottoms of my illness. Because I had to do that time and time again, I’m able to realize the world will seem overwhelming some days, and I’ll feel like I don’t have what it takes to make it through this life, but when that happens I also know I’ve been there before and can pick myself up from that dark stage again. I’ll see the beauty in life again one day soon. It’s just a bad day, or maybe a bad week — maybe even a bad month — but I know it won’t last.

And most importantly, I am bipolar but I am not any more fragile than anyone else. One little thing will not send me into a downward spiral. On my medication, I’m just like any other “normal” person. I have emotions, sure, but that’s because I’m human, not because I’m bipolar. I’m allowed to be angry or sad or anxious without it being the fault of my illness. I am not easily breakable just because I need to struggle with a lifelong disorder most people don’t have to deal with.

So, yes, in all these articles, I do think it’s important to bring awareness to those living with a mental illness — to people like me. But let’s not only talk about the dark stuff. Let’s not only talk about how much harder our lives are. Because it’s true; we do have to struggle with things most people don’t think twice about, but my life is also a really incredible journey. I see things in such a unique light because of what I’ve been through and have compassion I wouldn’t otherwise have. And granted, just because I’ve reached that milestone doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with things people have been posting statuses about, but it does mean I want to focus on how people can be mentally ill and also just like everyone else. Having a mental illness doesn’t make someone incompetent or “crazy.” Honestly, the people in my everyday life would never suspect I’m mentally ill unless I told them. I’m doing great things and making the world a better place, even if it’s just by being kind.

To me, it’s important to remember that mental health awareness doesn’t mean just bringing awareness that we exist, but also bringing awareness that we’re just like everybody else. We can be the doctor who’s treating you, the teacher who’s changing kids’ lives, the friend you always turn to who has it all together. We can be stable, functional and just like anyone else.

And I am. I’m unique, but not because I have an illness. My disorder is not what makes me special. Being bipolar does not categorize my personality or lifestyle. It’s just a diagnosis that explains my symptoms. Just like people with a cancer diagnosis don’t all act the same, neither do the mentally ill. Remember that.

Photo by Michael Afonso on Unsplash