I Have Bipolar Disorder and It's Nothing Like the Stereotype

Sometimes I wake up and everything feels fine. There’s no twisted butterfly feeling in my stomach and my head doesn’t over-analyze absolutely everything I’ve done in the past twenty or so years I’ve been alive. There are some mornings, though, when I can’t breathe, everything around me seems to go wrong no matter what I do and I contemplate just going back to sleep. Maybe if I’m not awake the bad things will go away.

News flash: they don’t and they won’t.

When I was ten years old I was diagnosed with depression and a year later, anxiety. For ten years, I lived without knowing the thoughts in my head weren’t normal and the way I felt wasn’t right. Everything seemed to fit into place when I was finally told I was sick. Ten years after that I blamed everything on my depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to go out partying with my friends because I felt too "in my head"; I couldn’t finish my essay because my brain felt sad, or I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed because the world seemed too bleak. 

At twenty years old, I finally got tired of making excuses. I was over not being able to feel “normal” or go a day without wanting to shed my skin. I went to see a psychiatrist and I thought he’d tell me what everyone else said– that I was depressed and needed an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication. Imagine my surprise when he ended our session with saying, “it’s all a part of being bipolar, you know that right?” I knew my mother was bipolar and possibly my maternal grandmother too, but I never thought it could be me. I never thought it would be me. I saw the illness as a disease, one that festered and, if you got too close, you’d be contaminated, too.

Bipolar Disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a disorder in which you go through stages of mania and then depression. It’s a constant roller coaster that is completely determined by the chemicals in your brain. Sometimes the mania lasts days, weeks, or even months. Then the depressive phase kicks in, and it feels like you can’t shake it no matter how hard you try. It’s hard to stay optimistic when you know it’s out of your control. Mania can range anywhere from extreme hyper highs where you feel invincible to being unable to stop cleaning because you swear the countertop is just covered in germs.

I’ve taken psychology courses, one in high school and one in college, and I knew bipolar wasn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. So why do we treat it like it’s contractible by touch or sneeze? Why do we treat it like it’s some sort of untouchable plague? Why do we stare uncomfortably when someone reveals they have it?

Depression and anxiety have only been normalized in the past few years. When someone says “I’m depressed” or “oh my god I’m so anxious right now,” we don’t bat an eyelash. The illnesses have been assimilated into modern culture. It’s almost trendy to be mentally unwell. However, when you use bipolar in any context other than describing your friend who was happy one moment ago but is now yelling at you, it has an extremely negative context. We use “bipolar” as a way to categorize how people are acting and we self-diagnose without realizing just how extreme we’re being.

Bipolar isn’t an adjective, it’s a disorder. It’s not your funny way of telling someone they’re being irrational. It’s not a way to describe a professor who’s being totally unfair about the test curve. It’s an illness and the stigma ends here. I have bipolar disorder and I’m not afraid of it. In fact, being bipolar means I have a better understanding of emotions and can decipher different levels of emotions. It makes me a better screenwriter and a prouder daughter. My mother has suffered with bipolar for a good chunk of her life and while sometimes it caused a rift between us, she’s come out stronger. She’s taught me to not anthropomorphize it and give it the power to scare me into not leaving my room. Bipolar Disorder is not a designer disease, and it’s here to stay. I’m here to stay.