I am Steph, and I have Bipolar. I find those words difficult to say, probably due to the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness.
It was once the same way with alcoholism and drug addiction. In 1992, I walked into my first 12 Step meeting. It was hard to say ‘My name is Steph, and I am an alcoholic/addict’ I felt embarrassed and self conscious. I kept wondering if I really was an alcoholic or an addict, even though life told me I was. I had gone through the wringer of addiction, and yet the stigma surrounding it told me otherwise.
Deny, bury, hide in shame. Do anything but face it and heal.
Stigma, misunderstanding and judgement of mental illness and addictions does nothing to address the widespread problem of it in the community.
Ignore the issues, and they don’t go away. Instead, such issues only fester and grow in the darkness of ignorance, denial, misunderstanding, embarrassment and unwillingness to face things.
I also have a chronic pain condition, but I find it easier to say I have this. People seem to understand and sympathise with having physical pain.
Telling others about my Bipolar 2 diagnosis is a different story altogether. I have mentioned it to people, then found they are awkward and unwilling to engage in conversation about it.
Maybe it’s because Bipolar Disorder is a misunderstood illness that too few people know about. They don’t know what to say or do. They don’t know where to look. They don’t know how to respond. They can’t relate to something they don’t have or can’t see.
And they say all sorts of weird shit.
Shit such as:
‘It’s all in your head’
Indeed it is. That’s why it’s called a mental illness.
‘You just need to pray, meditate and visualise/think positive thoughts, and it will go away’
Ah. If only life were that simple.
‘Everybody gets what you’ve got’
Bipolar is a serious illness that claims lives. It is nothing to do with the daily ups and downs of life that everyone gets.
‘You don’t look like you’re one of those crazy people’
Looks are deceiving. Unless I was in a severe psychosis, and/or running down the street naked, you wouldn’t know I had a mental illness just by looking at me. Many people with Bipolar are high functioning people.
‘People who say they have Bipolar are just using it as a way of avoiding responsibility’
Nobody chooses to be ill. People wouldn’t walk up to someone in a wheelchair and tell them they are avoiding responsibility. Mental illness is incapacitating.
My name is Steph.
I am not crazy. I am not fragile. I live a good life in spite of the illness and it’s struggle.
I am in a loving, committed relationship with my partner. It is possible.
I am not zonked out on meds, alcohol or street drugs, even though I take meds.
I write, make art, walk dogs and play music.
I am a woman. I have fun. I have friends.
I manage panic attacks and insomnia right now. The noise in my head is constant, with small, rare breaks in between.
This year, I had depression and suicidal thoughts for no other reason than my brain misfires.
I am a good person who cares.
I am Steph. I have Bipolar Type 2. It is a part of me. It is not all of me.
I am a human being.