What It's Like to Live With 'Smiling' Bipolar
“How are you doing?”
Great! And how are you?
The daily dialogue we have hundreds of times over the course of our lives is set up exclusively for specific, optimistic responses. You are: good, great, fantastic, wonderful, doing well, simply splendid.
There is no room for the ugly truth.
This isn’t seen as the time to open up a heavy conversation about how hard it has been to get out of bed because of bipolar depression. It isn’t the opportunity to confess that the smile on your face is not real. This dialogue isn’t a door to an honest, open conversation about how depressive thoughts and anxiety tore you apart last night while the world was fast asleep.
This is what it is like to live with “smiling” bipolar disorder.
If you have “smiling” bipolar disorder, you may know how it feels to keep up appearances despite your mind feeling like a mental and emotional battlefield, constantly at war with itself. You may have adjusted your routine to prevent others from seeing you unravel, such as waiting until you are driving home alone from work to let the tears fall. You may have perfected smiling even when you feel yourself on the verge of a panic attack all day.
You may know exactly how to dress, speak and act in front of mental health professionals, friends, coworkers, peers and family members in order to avoid being seen as even slightly depressed, anxious or manic. You may have even mastered a dialogue which makes it sound like you have your life all together if someone happens to ask about your mental health. Who knows? Maybe if you lie enough times, you will feel like everything is actually great.
However, if you are like me, you may also be aware of how dangerous it can be to appear as if everything is fine when that is far from the truth. There are consequences to “smiling” bipolar, such as appearing so well that no one picks up on the red flags of depression, mania, mixed states, anxiety or suicidality.
I know bipolar depression may convince you it is better to fake being OK than to be open, but in reality, this does no one any favors. Maybe it feels easier in the short-term, but it can do real damage in the long run. It can be hard to open up, to be vulnerable and honest about how you are doing due to a mental illness. Please keep in mind there is no shame in the battle and it is OK to have “bad days.”
Next time someone asks how you are, I challenge you to tell the truth rather than conceal it through an automated, optimistic response. We need to change the default “everything is great” dialogue and really open up.
It is time to talk openly about mental health and mental illnesses. It’s OK not to be okay.
“How are you doing?”
Thanks for asking. I’m actually having a pretty hard time and could use someone to talk to right now.
Getty image via stockfour