Public Service Announcement to Myself:

Being Different Doesn’t Mean You’re a Failure

I struggle with my bipolar disorder even when I’m not visibly symptomatic. I have to be mindful of my sleep, of my routine, and of my eating habits. I have to be wary if I get too high or too low. Environmental changes can trigger chemical changes and vice versa and the very best way to prevent cycling is to be constantly vigilant of my ever changing illness. But despite taking the right meds at the right time and doing everything the right way sometimes my bipolar will force its way into my life because it never stops existing, sometimes it is just harder to see, sense, and feel.

I’m graduating in December and I’ll be Dr. Kallem Whitman — how crazy is that!? I’m excited and proud of how much I’ve accomplished but I’m pretty terrified by the “what happens next” part. My brain doesn’t do well when forced into a 9–5 cubicle - few brains do - but mine tends to epically fall apart when I’m working 40 hours a week or more. The stress, the rushing around, the anxiety, the perceived failure, the fear of disappointing other people, the panic kicks in and the cycling starts. From bad to broken.

I saw my psychiatrist today and I asked him how his other patients with bipolar disorder manage to have full time jobs, full time relationships, full time errands, full time feelings, full time anything? I told him that I’m so anxious because I’ve never been able to do anything “full-time” without triggering severe episodes and in a few months I’m going to be a fucking doctor! And my psychiatrist, who is wonderful and clinically honest, told me, “my other patients with bipolar struggle like you and for the most part they don’t work full time. They just can’t stay healthy in the usual grind. Yeah you’re going to be a doctor, but ‘doctor’ isn’t a magic word, trust me. You’re still going to be you and bipolar is still going to be a dick. Your brain is different and you’re going to have to do things differently.”

I know he is right, but it is hard to be different — especially in the brain chemistry department. As a kid I never wanted to be different, I didn’t want anyone to know I was crazy. I wanted to be like everybody else. I guess I’m just posting this as a public service announcement to myself — being different doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Doing things differently doesn’t mean you won’t make a difference. Bipolar disorder is a full time job and that’s just how it is but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to make the world a better place in my own way.

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