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To My Family, Who Said They Wouldn’t Marry Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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Firstly, let me just clarify: I do not have bipolar disorder, but I do seriously struggle with four or five mental illnesses and conditions and have struggled with more in the past. I don’t believe that having bipolar disorder says anything about your character. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a criminal. It doesn’t mean that you can’t hold down a job and or pay bills, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t have a loving happy family and should be “locked up.” I may not have bipolar, but I do have other mental illnesses. I know that stereotypes and assumptions are not true. I know that it is something you struggle with every day and that it is not a choice.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Although I do not have bipolar, and my conditions can’t be equated with bipolar, there are still some parallels. I want to state upfront that the parallels — most of which aren’t mentioned here — are similar enough that bipolar disorder was seriously investigated before being discarded for other diagnoses. But that isn’t very important because the underlying reasons why they wouldn’t marry someone with bipolar still applies to me. I know that they have their reasons and experiences explaining why they feel this way, but when I listen to them talking, all I can think is, “that also applies to me.” I can’t help wondering, “how is this different to me? Will no one want to marry me?”

The first issue that is also brought up is the unpredictability of bipolar. How are you supposed to plan your life when you don’t know that state of mind your spouse will be in in a few months? People who have bipolar disorder experience episodes, or periods, during which they feel on top of the world and indestructible, followed by periods of depression and hopelessness. Although one of my conditions does tend towards periods of more productivity followed by episodes of overwhelm and burnt out-ness, this is significantly less prominent and does not bring the same level of unpredictability. However, I do experience quite bad mood swings which can occur in a matter of minutes. I can become extremely manic, extremely paranoid, extremely anxious, very depressed (almost suicidal) or any more of a hundred emotions. These mood swings are not linked to anything (trust me, I have looked) and can be very extreme. Although, according to them, you may not be able to plan anything months in advance, because you do not know the state of mind of someone with bipolar, you can’t even plan days in advance because of my mood swings.

The second issue is that “they will always have it,” and “it won’t improve over time.” Bipolar is chronic and there for life, but so are most of my conditions! I have and will have my condition for my whole life (and which I am not comfortable disclosing here). It can’t be treated or cured, but I can learn to manage it. Bipolar disorder can’t be cured, but it can be treated and there are many ways that you can learn to manage it. I go to therapy, speak openly about mental health struggles to my lecturers (not knowing their feelings about mental health), go out of my way to make plans around other people and take medications for conditions that need it. But when you blanket statement it with “it won’t improve,” you completely just disregard the effort I go through to fit in around you, and the struggle and bravery it takes to do some of these things. “It won’t improve” actually comes across as, “it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you will always have bipolar (or my condition).” It hurts that you disregard the effort put in, but what hurts much more is that you see us as our condition. I am not my condition. I am a person who has this condition. Someone is not bipolar. They are someone with hopes, dreams, aspirations, struggles, weaknesses, relationships and so many other aspects to them — they just also happened to have bipolar disorder.

They are other reasons that get brought up and discussed. But one of the most insensitive and hurtful things is that you imply we are all the same. We are all different. Whether you are comparing someone with anxiety and someone with bipolar disorder, or someone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and someone with social anxiety. Or even two people with generalized anxiety disorder. We. Are. All. Different. Even though I have generalized anxiety disorder, I am different from someone else who has it; and I am different in multiple ways. It is not like I have blonde hair and they have brown hair and the rest of us, down to our molecular structure, are the same. We differ because of our parents, our school environment, our home environment, our friendships, our treatments, the timing of our diagnoses, the events which have occurred in our lives, how many siblings we have, if we are introverts or extroverts, our dietary preferences and so on. I could continue listing for pages and pages, but I think you get the point. When you imply that we are same, you take anything away from us that makes us… us. You take away our uniqueness and life experiences and reduce us to an incorrect essence of who we are. I would rather you reduce me to a South African — or even African (if you don’t want to get too specific) — than my condition. Describing me as African is a more accurate portrayal of who I am than my condition.

So next time you say, “I wouldn’t marry someone with bipolar,” I want you to turn to me as your sibling, daughter, niece, granddaughter or cousin and say, “I wouldn’t marry someone with condition X — someone like you.” Because according to your logic, we are all the same. And if you can’t say that to me, then you shouldn’t be saying that at all.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Originally published: November 18, 2020
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