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5 Ways Bipolar Disorder Distorts My Body Image

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Bipolar disorder makes my life difficult in different ways. My mania and depression both affect my relationships, my ability to work and my life as a mother. My sometimes unstable moods also affect my self-esteem and make it difficult to see myself in a realistic way. My bipolar disorder distorts my body image in five ways, which make it seem like I never really have a healthy view of myself.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

1. Mania inflates my self-esteem.

During a manic episode, I turn into someone else. I’m too talkative, easily excited and overly ambitious. When I’m manic, I’m also very confident in my appearance, which would be a great thing if the confidence were realistic. My inflated self-esteem causes me to spend too much time in front of the mirror doing my hair and makeup, makes me dress to show more skin and changes my attitude toward sexual encounters, which sometimes leads to promiscuity. I am not myself when I’m manic, and I don’t see myself in a realistic or respectful way.

2. Depression destroys my self-esteem.

Depressive episodes always come after mania, which means I go from loving myself and my appearance to essentially hating everything about myself. The depression part of my bipolar disorder completely rids me of any positive thoughts about my appearance. When I’m depressed, I look in the mirror and see a fat, ugly, worthless woman who hates her nose and thighs. Again, this view is unrealistic and is actually pretty damaging. Depression distorts my self-esteem by showing me what I think are flaws when I look in the mirror.

3. Depression causes weight loss.

When I’m in the midst of a depressive episode, I don’t eat much or eat well. Sometimes I go days without a meal and several weeks of grazing and barely eating causes me to lose weight. Not only is this physically unhealthy for me, but I praise myself for losing weight because of my depression-induced, poor self-image. Weight loss during a depressive episode is physically and mentally unhealthy. On top of the weight loss and poor self-image, when I come out of the depressive episode, I feel bad about eating normally and gaining back the weight I had lost. The weight loss caused by my depression hurts my self-esteem both when I’m depressed and when I’m not.

4. Mania closes me off to criticism.

When I’m manic and overly confident, I believe how I feel about myself is true, and ignore the concerns those close to me have about my manic behavior and change in my appearance. My friends and family may come to me with their concerns about my lack of self-respect for my body. However, I blow them off and become offended by their concerns because my mania makes me unhealthily head strong. Mania causes me to ignore constructive criticism and covers my ears when those close to me voice their concerns about my change in appearance.

5. Depression opens me up to criticism.

Depression is the complete opposite of mania in every way. Instead of causing me to ignore criticism from others, depression makes me more susceptible to all forms of criticism from other people. Any small or misdirected comment throws me into a dark pit of sadness, where I doubt myself and my appearance. When I’m depressed, I care too much about what others think of me and put my self-esteem in their hands. Even if someone simply says I look tired, my depression makes me hear it as if the person were saying I look awful. During a depressive episode, my heart is easily hurt by the criticism of others, even if it is supposed to be constructive and kind.

My bipolar disorder makes it difficult for me to have a healthy body image and makes me see myself in unrealistic ways. Only when I’m stable do I see myself as I truly am and only then do I love myself completely. In order to stay stable and to see the right version of myself in the mirror, I make sure to do what I can to combat my mood swings by taking my medication and talking openly about my unhealthy body image. I gain back my self-esteem when I’m stable. I want to keep it close to me and not let mania or depression have their negative affects on my body image.

Originally published: June 29, 2016
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