When I introduce myself to people the flow of the conversation generally does not start with, “Hi, my name is Brittney. I’m a Gemini, I like short walks in the woods, I have a very sensitive aversion to high pitch noises and an unhealthy Harry Potter obsession. I prefer cats over dogs but I also have never owned a dog so I can’t really say that in honest. I enjoy hot beverages and melt my ice cream in the microwave before I eat it which appalls almost everyone I know. Oh and also I’m bipolar type 2 with rapid cycling and bouts of psychosis.”
This is not something you say to people.
It’s embarrassing, it’s not easy to discuss, and it’s still stigmatized.
You see headlines in the news and on social media that read “Mother drowns three children in a bathtub during bipolar episode”, “Man with bipolar runs over a pedestrian with his car”, “Bipolar woman streaks through the downtown mall”…or similar.
It makes it pretty hard to say, “oh yeah I have what they’re having.”
*Just for the record there have been several studies to prove that bipolar people are not any more violent than a non-bipolar person. The only caveat to that statistic is if you throw drug use in the mix then it’s an argument of the chicken and the egg…but I digress-
However, as much as I talk about and write about my journey with discovering pediatric mental illness and my daughter’s struggles it seems a little hypocritical to not be able to discuss my own. I hint at them in my memoir, You’re Going to be Fine and I make snarky remarks about it here and there. But all in all, I don’t really discuss it much and I have come to realize that in the last few days.
I overheard a conversation while eavesdropping (doesn’t matter where I was and yes I eavesdrop constantly. Never trust a writer). The gist was (names have been changed to protect identities and for the simple fact I can’t remember them anyway):
Lady: So Brandy just told us she has been diagnosed with bipolar. I mean I always knew something was wrong with her but I wasn’t sure what, you know? She was just too shy, never really looks at people when they come in.
Man: Yeah, so what is she going to do?
Lady: Well I don’t know but I don’t really want her around Kayla anymore.
Lady: Because you can’t trust bipolar people. They go off the handle so easy what if she hurts her. I still love Brandy but I have to be careful around her now you know?
Man: Hmm, yeah I didn’t think of that. Is she still in high school?
Lady: Yeah for now. It’ll be hard for her to graduate though, and her poor parents.
STOP. Just stop.
Brandy obviously hasn’t had any MAJOR signs of bipolar, we can deduce that from this conversation, at least not to the point that these people, whoever they are could tell she was suffering, so obviously she was keeping herself together somewhat. She hasn’t had major anger issues or they would have already not let her around Kayla. She hasn’t done anything from what I can hear to make them think she won’t graduate other than be DIAGNOSED WITH BIPOLAR!
I’m done shouting.
But this is the stigma. It’s getting more common for people to discuss it but at the same time, this is causing more thoughts like the conversation above. I was at a NAMI meeting for my daughter once and the moderator (who I did like mind you) started to talk to one of the attendees. He was complaining about his son, who was an adult living at home. She goes on about how bipolar people most likely will not be able to keep a job, or graduate college, “we can only hope that will be able to function with some sort of normalcy. We have to understand they can’t do everything that we do”. I obviously could not take that comment, I had heard comments like that for a few months.
I had a job at the time. A good job. I was the sole supporter of my family so my husband could stay home with our infant son.
I have had a job since I was 14 years old.
I have my Master’s degree.
I graduated high school when I was 16 years old.
I immediately started college afterward and got my own apartment.
This is not a brag list this is a ‘guess what people with bipolar can actually do’ list.
I have also dealt with the downsides of the disease like addiction, manic episodes, overspending, skipping class, difficulty focusing on lessons, insomnia leading to psychosis, all of which affect your daily functioning. This is true. I have skipped town during manic episodes. I have been bedridden due to depression. I have many spans of time in my past that look back on and think “that wasn’t me”. Because it doesn’t seem like me or anything like what I would do “normally”. These things happen and bipolar people have to live with it and make everything harder.
But it’s not a death sentence. I’m tired of being referred to as a disease. I’m tired of hearing about how bipolar people can’t do this and won’t succeed at that. I’m tired of “oh she can’t help it” and “well we should have seen that”.
There is a high percentage of bipolar patients who have living impairments because of their diagnosis. I understand that. But you can’t group everyone with a diagnosis together into one blanket. Bipolar people also have a responsibility to get help. I didn’t for a long time and a lot of relationships and other things suffered. If you are worried you may have it, even a little bit, go talk to someone. A lot of medications have side effects there is no way around it but most of them are small potatoes compared to what you’re already going through.
If there is a point to this post it’s that mental illness is still not accepted. It’s even still debated as existing by some. Why? I’m still not sure. Because this is super fun to pretend I guess? Because the 15 to 20% of bipolar patients who end up committing suicide are “exaggerating” their symptoms? I hid it for so long and still do in a way to be completely honest. Many people who have known me for years would probably never know how severely “ill” I am. When I am “off” and my therapist tells me I’m ill, I cringe. I hate that word and being bipolar is not something I want to wear as a badge or an excuse.
However, I also don’t want to be ashamed. I don’t think we are quite at that place yet socially but maybe with the amount of acceptance that seems to be flourishing, we will get there. It is becoming more discussed and well-known then when I was in high school so maybe that’s a plus. Maybe it’s not. Education on any topic can’t be a bad thing as long as you’re getting the right education on the topic. Using just social media, the news, and friends of friends really isn’t the best way to get this kind of information. This also isn’t meant to be a poor me post, it’s more about a general need.
An Unquiet Mind
Kay Redfield Jamison
If you have bipolar or love someone who has bipolar you have to read this book. Dr. Jamison is one of the top voices in the mental health field and reading about her own personal struggle is very enlightening.
Touched with Fire
Kay Redfield Jamison
Same author but completely different book. I loved this book when I read it back in college and still glance at it from time to time. Dr. Jamison analyzes art and historical figures with modern mental health information to define what it is about manic depression that allows for the creative process to thrive. Very interesting read.
All the Things We Never Knew
Written from the person who loved someone with bipolar as opposed to the actual sufferer this is a heartbreaking read but a good one nonetheless.
To mix things up a bit Carrie Fisher has a funny way of writing that brings a little bit of light to a very deep topic. Her writing style isn’t one that I was crazy about at first but it grew on me and her accounts are worth the read.
My Bipolar Mind
Samantha is the creator of the blog MyBipolarMind and has come a long way in her journey with the disease. Her memoir is a great read to understanding the inner workings of bipolar.
You’re Going to be Fine
Brittney D. Herz
Obviously, I’m going to plug my own book. More so if you are in need of information on pediatric bipolar. Like I said I only hint at my issues in this book because the focus is really on us as a family.