I AM Bipolar

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This week, I had the distinction of meeting with the Head of Psychiatry at my new care facility.

When my regular psychiatrist first told me that she would like me to meet her boss, in true bipolar fashion two thoughts immediately raced through my head.  The first was, “Hey, if I can be of service to these guys and can aid them in giving other patients outstanding care, then I’m all for it.”  The second neuron that fired blurted, “Yeah, sure, let’s put the Bipolar I freak on display for all to see.” (I’ve been going into a bit of a hypomania due to antidepressant withdrawal so the latter thought is what stuck with me for the rest of the day, I’m ashamed to say.)

When the appointment finally rolled around five days later, I was pleased to find the Head of Psychiatry was not a side-show freak wrangler after all.  He was kind, soft-spoken and genuinely interested in making a connection as he spoke to me and my husband about my treatment plan going forward.

Then, inevitably, it happened.  The subject of whether I am or whether I have bipolar was put on the table.

Well, I know I am going to take a lot of heat for this.  But, I *am* bipolar.

Yes, I know.  I know.  There are many out there, including the Head of Psychiatry, who believe that people should not define who they are by their disease.  But, everyone, honestly – I cannot ever remember a time in my life when I wasn’t aware that my moods were not the same as everyone else’s.  I’m just not wired the way my kindergarten playmate was or the kid next door is.  I do not react the same way to stress as my first boss or my last one.  And I certainly don’t have the luxury of having a medication-free day the way 99% of the people I know do.  Because I am bipolar.  Bipolar is an integral part of who and what I am.  I’ve been this way for so long that I consider it part of my identity.  I am a mother, I am a brunette, I am a wife and I am bipolar.

Here’s a question – why doesn’t anyone ever hear a woman say, “I have pregnancy?” Because pregnancy 99.9% of the time is a joyful and welcome state to be in.  Why is there still a bias against saying, “I have bipolar?”  Because there is still such stigma surrounding mental illness.  It is now perfectly acceptable to say you are a diabetic.  It is grammatically incorrect to say you have pregnancy.  But, let’s face it.  No one says, “I am cancer,” because cancer is bad.  So, who wants to be it?  You simply have it. Isn’t that a large part of the reason there’s a whole tribe out there who refuses to say they are bipolar?   I have heard people admit this is the case.

So, tonight, I am here to reclaim being bipolar.  To the Head of Psychiatry and to the BP Newbie who just e-mailed me:  I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t different,  I honestly believe I couldn’t have accomplished a lot of the things I have without understanding the full spectrum from mania to depression, and my husband has even said that if I didn’t have the passion I do for things he wouldn’t be with me.  Being bipolar means there is an explanation as to why I am different and part of the reason I am accomplished.  I’m not saying this disease is wonderful or a breeze to live with.  But I am saying it is a part of me and part of my identity.

I AM bipolar.

(OK – let the hating begin.)

Hmm. I am not diagnosed with any form of bipolar disorder, but I think this issue still applies to anyone who has mental health issues. I wish there were an in-between way to express the idea of what we have/are, but I can’t think of one. Yet that’s how I feel. I am not a mental illness. That does not define me. Yes, it is a part of me, but it *isn’t* the sole thing that defines me. Saying I “have” it, on the other hand, seems too detached. Like I’m separating it from myself. It is a part of my personality. Diabetes, etc., are not part of my personality. So no, I *am not* a mental health illness, but I don’t merely “have” it. I just refer to myself as someone who deals with it. A bit long, certainly, but I want it to be clear that I feel somewhere in-between. I know you could say someone “deals with” diabetes, etc., too, but I can’t think of a better in-between expression. If I do, I’ll go with whatever it is, ha.

You bring up a great point that I danced all around. Our language only has two options – I completely agree that we need another way to express that additional state. The only other way I can think of articulating the idea is to say, “I have been diagnosed with bipolar,” but that sounds a bit too much like Dr. Fraiser Crane is speaking 🙂 I’m going to ask some of my mulit-lingual friends how the idea of having a mental illness is communicated in their language. Thanks for writing – I hope all is well. V

Everything you say makes sense to me. I think I say I “have” BPD to remind *myself* that I’m more than just bipolar. Like you, I’ve had it since childhood and don’t know any other way of life. But, I say “I’m fat,” not “I have obesity.” Though, I say I “have” a reading disorder, not “I’m brain-fried.” (Okay, *usually* I don’t say I’m brain-fried.) Both of those would be negative qualities. (Maybe people with cancer could say they’re cancerous. Eew. Never mind.)

It’s something that pushes some people’s buttons, like the word “normal” or “God.” You go, girl, with what works for you!

I love this. I embraced the fact that I am bipolar years ago, just as I am a writer, a friend, blue-eyed, a cinemophile, a daughter, a bookworm, and all of the many, many other things that make me who I am. I think we do ourselves a much greater disservice than any “outside” group, and we perpetuate the stigma that bipolar disorder is something to be ashamed of – by acting ashamed.

To hell with that, and good for you!

I’m one that has had a definite distaste for the words I AM Bipolar. As I get more comfortable with the label and knowing that it’s because I AM bipolar that I am who I am…it’s not as bad as I thought. How can I be upset about something that is so much a part of me? So, I do catch myself saying I AM much more frequently. If we make an issue out of it…who’s it an issue for? Who perpetuates the stigma? I sometimes wonder if we don’t do it to ourselves in our own shame of the perception of being ‘flawed’. Education is the key. Mental illness is an illness of the brain. Plain and simple. A fact. Nothing to hide. Nothing to be ashamed about.

Hi, Shelly. Yeah, you know, you bring out a point that to this day I still struggle with. I still fear having my credibility compromised. I don’t want to be seen as flawed, so as you said, I stigmatize myself. Thanks for replying – have a good day!


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