World Bipolar Day – All the Pretty Colors

Came upon a post by Lazarus and Lithium (thanks to blahpolar) informing me that today is World Bipolar Day. I filled out this questionnaire about my life with bipolar disorder, and encourage others to give it a go as well.

1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you?

Pretty simple–my brain chemistry is abnormal, and my behavioral patterns reflect this. I have a conflicted spirit that is sometimes inordinately happy and at other times vapid and lethargic. I go between genuine & outgoing to withdrawn & unable to keep eye contact. The world doesn’t turn grey, but the pretty colors don’t make you happy anymore. My true self has always seemed colorful and bubbly, but when depressive episodes are not suppressing my spirit, the bubbly persona tends to overflow and create a sticky mess.

2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder? 

Confusing because of the inconsistency. I remember questioning whether I actually had two separate personalities. But the concept of bipolar disorder never crossed my mind, because the stereotypes are so misleading. In high school, whenever someone was garishly moody, another person would say “She’s so bipolar.” So I simplified bipolar disorder to the tendency of lashing out at people unexpectedly. When I learned what bipolar disorder actually is, I realized how much it aligned with my experiences. After getting diagnosed, I remember going to the Wikipedia page and seeing this image:

bipolar masks

It felt very odd to see this very famous icon and, for the first time, think, “That’s me?” A biting, melancholy moment. Suddenly a name was assigned to my identity, along with a host of strange ideas.

3. How old were you when you were diagnosed?

18

4. How do you manage your symptoms?

Medication: Lamictal and Prozac. I do not go to counseling, and I practice some form of self-therapy. I try to protect myself from things that will screw with my brain chemistry.

5. What is life like for you now?

Bipolar disorder has generally not been debilitating. I accept it. The worst part is the social frustration.

6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life?

Yes. To many people I’m simply “quirky” and amusing, but I struggle very much with social issues. The time it affected my friendships/personal life the hardest was when I was first diagnosed. Seeing as I am Bipolar 1, obviously a horrible manic episode was involved at the beginning. The repercussions were calamitous, but they no longer matter.

As far as romance, I have been with my boyfriend for 3.5 years, and the illness has hardly affected our relationship at all. He’s weird too, and we both equal each other out. I feel the most balanced when I am with him.

As far as my professional life goes, let’s just say I have a full-time job doing things I enjoy. Is it going perfectly smoothly? No, but is it really supposed to? As a side note pertaining to the idea of the quintessential American professional life, I don’t have the personal capacity to play by the rules that American society has established for young professionals. I’m really not good at conforming, but that’s a good thing.

7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder?

People jump to caricature conclusions. Movies like Silver Linings Playbook don’t help. The main character’s bipolar symptoms do not reflect mine at all. The story emphasized restless manic behavior that resulted in physical aggression towards others. I don’t want people to assume that bipolar disorder = violent episodes. Yes, violent episodes can be a part of it. But you don’t know how hurtful it is to find out that someone perceives you as dangerous, when you absolutely are not.

8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder?

Yes. Here’s the thing: I feel perfectly comfortable about bipolar disorder. I forget that other people do not. I forget the stigma and I forget about how some people look for reasons to alienate others.

9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness?

Count your blessings. I don’t think that bipolar disorder is a purely bad thing. Even though we get frustrated, it’s not a nuisance. It is a part of who you are, and you have unique insights and gifts because of it.

Medication does not have to hold you down. For me, medication has been an important part of keeping this under control. If I hadn’t started taking a mood stabilizer, college might have been a much worse struggle. Stay in-tune with yourself and with your goals. The idea of having to take “brain medication” forever might be disheartening, but we deserve to function as well as possible.

An especially significant thing for people with mental illnesses to remember is relationship control. To a certain extent, we have control over whom we spend our time with. As we all know, relationships can be unhealthy. As a person with a mental illness, I have become extra sensitive regarding my contact with other people. We need to be gentle with ourselves and be aware of those who might trigger negative symptoms. It sounds like I’m saying that you should shut the world out. Not exactly. I’m saying that you should put your mental health first, because just about everything in life hangs off your inner wellbeing.

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