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I Won’t Apologize for Having Bipolar Disorder

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There’s a misconception out there that if a person has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, what they really have is an indelible flaw. A crack in their character. The possessor of a healthy, normal mind gone wrong. There are a multitude of adjectives someone could use to describe what they think about a person living with bipolar disorder, but flawed, cracked and “wrong” are all far from accurate.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Yet, I know for the person struggling with the disorder, the aforementioned words can seem all too descriptive of how they are feeling inside day in and day out.

I remember I had my very first mental breakdown when I was 16. The depression that swallowed me whole and pulled me under, the panic that propelled the voices in my mind into infinite screaming matches and the persistent paranoia that refused to let me rest. I was always on high alert. Always distrustful of everyone. Even my family. Even myself. I was suffocating, and no amount of oxygen could give me peace of mind. I learned to not care about my own well-being. I leaned more towards dying than living. The fact that there were people who loved me was a moot point. If I could not learn to love myself, there was no point to life.

Fast forward to three months and some weight gain later, I had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, placed on medication and sent back to my senior year of high school. I was flying high, feeling invincible, like I could do anything and the world would be in awe. It was pure euphoria. I had no idea that euphoria was completely false. What I was really experiencing was mania. The girl who returned to school I wouldn’t recognize today. I went from having a quiet, shy demeanor and a 4.5 GPA to pulling D’s and F’s, asking an English teacher out to prom and trying to meet up with numerous guys on the internet. The depression I felt three months prior had dissipated as the danger of elevated moods that mania brings surfaced.

I was hospitalized almost six months later only to be diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. When released, I was so numb I could not even begin to understand my diagnosis. Only time would be a true teacher of what it meant to live with bipolar disorder. That breakdown at 16 would not be my last.

Almost 18 years later, at times I still feel myself getting slapped around by the illness. Some days it throws several cards at me at once, leaving me scrambling to make sense of an unpredictable life. And other days it has me so completely, mercilessly under its thumb, I question any existence of a real life at all. Still, even with all the hardship, angst and true terror this illness can incur, I won’t ever apologize for having bipolar disorder.

I cannot control the symptoms I may go through as a result of bipolar disorder just as a person cannot control the symptoms of the flu. And though bipolar disorder is not who I am, it has played a large role in shaping the person I am today. I am stronger, wiser and unapologetically me. I have a greater appreciation for life and everything wonderful it can bring. I never take a simple happy day for granted.

For anyone to say one illness is more brutal or harsher than another is simply unfair and ignorant. Being a prisoner of one’s own mind is standing in a jail cell no person would want to be in. And when you’re going through life experiencing periods of elation and thrills one moment and then terrifying, devastating depression and anxiety the next, it is so hard to calm your mind, especially when you’re experiencing delusions. And our pain can be so great our emotional distress can even manifest itself as physical, somatic symptoms.

Like anyone else who is struggling, people with bipolar disorder need time to heal. After every manic episode. After every bout of depression. And the timeline for every patient is different.

Not all of us have learned how to give ourselves a break. Sometimes the illness is louder than our own voice. And we need to know that the pain bipolar disorder brings will not last forever. Things can and will get better. Sometimes they may have to get worse before they get better, but happiness is in our paths, always.

If you are living with bipolar disorder, don’t be ashamed of having to take medication. Doesn’t a patient with a heart condition need medication to live? Don’t be embarrassed about going to therapy. We all need someone to listen and help us work through whatever problems we are going through.

Most of all, don’t feel “wrong” or flawed or cracked for having bipolar disorder. Every day you decide to get up in the morning, you are your own sign of success. It might take baby steps to get to where you want to be in life, to get used to having bipolar disorder. It might take a team of people to help you accept that you have it and help you understand it, but having it does not make you any less of a human being, or any less normal. We cannot and should not judge ourselves by other people’s standards. You are resilient. Perhaps you haven’t discovered that yet, but you will.

Lastly, you are not alone in this. There are millions like us fighting the struggle. And while there are many problems in life you may blame yourself for, having bipolar disorder should never be one of them.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Originally published: October 7, 2019
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