Mental Health Awareness Week was earlier this month, and there have been several suicides lately in the media from celebrities who suffered from mental illness. So I wanted this to be my first secret. I live with Bipolar Disorder. It affects my life greatly, from my interactions with others to my overall security in myself. A general flow of mental illness runs in my family, as is the most common case with others who deal with mental disorders daily. They range from bipolar, to depression, to autism, and more. I think I have successfully described about 75% of the country right there. And that right there is what bothers me so much about it. The fact that so many live with mental illness, but we still have this stigma attached to it.
Before medicine and treatments, people were just assumed to be crazy if they presented any abnormal behaviors in their daily life. Now it is commonly handled with medication. It has, in our recent history, been treated with electroshock therapy and commitment though. All for just not understanding that not everyone is created with the exact same brain. What a dull life it would be if we did all have a carbon copy of the brain of the person sitting next to us. But, if it branches off from the norm, it becomes an issue for some. Lack of understanding has always been treated with shunning and separating the different from what we consider normal. This creates stigma and scares people from talking about it and seeking help if they need it.
I treat my mental disorder like I treat my alcoholism, I am completely open about it. When you talk about it, you take away a piece of the stigma associated with mental illness. When you talk about it, you help others see that they are not alone and that they too can talk about it, whether it be to a professional in confidence or in an open way like I do.
I think the recent influx of suicides related to mental illness has really brought much needed attention to mental illness and those living with it. We have lost two actors recently from suicide related to mental illness,
Robin Williams and Misty Upham. Both were said to be battling with bipolar disorder and both were reported to be off their medication, and in Robin’s case, alcohol and drug use was involved as well. This is very common among people who live with mental illness, me included, who try to either supplement their prescribed medications/treatment with drugs or alcohol, or to replace their prescribed medication/treatment with drugs or alcohol to try and cope with what is happening to them.
In my case I resorted to alcohol to try and cope with my manic-depressive states so that I could either forget or make it a little easier. It only made it worse, as I attempted suicide more than once because it just exacerbated the manic-depressive states. My highs and lows were that much worse when I was drinking. I drank because, depending on which point in my life I was, I didn’t have insurance to cover the costs of treatment or because I just didn’t give a damn.
I was first diagnosed as having bipolar when I was 21. At first I didn’t believe it, but then after talking to my psychiatrist and doing a lot of reading about it, it made sense. I was happy and eating one day, then depressed and not having an appetite the next. I was in a study on medications to treat bipolar disorder. I did not know if I had the placebo or the actual medication, although I believe I had the actual medication because I turned into a robot. Instead of having a middle ground of being able to react normally to things, I had no emotions at all. I was a robot during that study. Because of that, and some other reasons, I have lived without medication since then. I am certain that I probably would benefit from being on a correct prescription, but it is what it is right now.
As is the most typical case amongst people who have this disorder, I deal with extreme highs and lows. When I have my lows it takes a lot more work to stay sober and keep some sense of security. This is why there are times when I am overly needy or looking for constant reassurance when none is needed. This has cost me friendships and jobs at times because I’m not the same person I am when I have my highs. That being said, I’m not the same person when I am on one of my highs either. I am overly aggressive with my assertions and demeanor.
The way I deal with it in my current relationships is to be upfront about it when I start to feel like I’m rapidly going up or down. I tell people I have bipolar disorder in the hopes that it will make my actions make more sense to them so that they don’t think I’m “crazy.” More often times than not it does help, but there are still people who don’t understand it and sometimes it makes it worse in the longrun. But I see that as a problem they have to overcome themselves. Their understanding or openness about mental illness is not my fault. And, although I would like to think it doesn’t bother me, it does when someone doesn’t understand or thinks that because I have bipolar disorder that I’m crazy. But, that’s all a part of my emotions going up and down and being uber sensitive to certain things.
Now, that may have all just seemed like a rambling mess of words, but it’s the best way I could describe it. I have bipolar disorder and do my best to cope with things like some would, but it’s just not possible, but I handle it in my own way. I also talk about it to try and break that stigma. Too many people live with mental illness and there are to many options for treatment for it to still be so stigmatized.
Hopefully this gives you a little more insight into why I work the way I do. I’m not crazy, I just have a different way I have to approach things at certain times.