What I would like you to know about Bipolar Disorder

I won’t say I’m not ashamed of my mental illness; I am.

As much as I try not to be, having a mental illness is something that I carry around with me like an embarrassing living lump that is attached to my head and influences my life every day. Even before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I felt like I would let down all of the people around me constantly. There were friends that I wasn’t stable enough for, times where it was near impossible for me to do well in school, and times where I doubted that I would survive another day.

From my journal — March 2013

What a diagnosis did for me was give me a category — something to make sense of the chaos that I felt.

The symptoms of my illness had started when I was in middle school and progressively got worse until it hit its peak when I was 22. Getting the right diagnosis lead me to the right medications that I have no doubt saved my life. On top of multiple daily medications, I attempt to maintain order and organization and stick to a routine to keep from derailing to one pole or another. Still, stressful days through me off and it can take weeks for me to recover.

This is what it is like to live with bipolar disorder:

Illustration of Bipolar 2 — November 2016

I have periods where I feel like I can’t get out of bed. I sleep during all of my downtime — sometimes averaging 18 hours in a night. When I’m not sleeping, I’m holding back tears (often unsuccessfully). My order and organization becomes incredibly difficult to maintain. I feel like the living dead, just stumbling through daily life.

I have constant intrusive thoughts of worthlessness and helplessness. I’m a terrible person. I am lazy. I am a waste of space. I continually apologize to the people around me. I hate myself. I hurt myself.

I feel disconnected from everyone around me.

Sometimes, I can’t sleep at all. I have gotten into bed at 10pm and watched the sunrise at 6am without getting a minute of sleep. I take medication before bed and at 3 am it wears off and I am up and can’t get back down. I rearrange all of my furniture and I start a billion projects (most of which never get finished). I clean and make a mess and clean and make a mess and clean and make a mess. I interrupt people constantly. I say things without thinking. My thoughts move so fast I can’t keep up. When I was younger I would bang my head on walls and desks until I would get dizzy just trying to make it stop so I could calm down.

I get so anxious in these states that I start pulling out my hair without noticing it and then, once the bald patches form, my hand feels magnetically attracted to my scalp and I can’t stop. I have had times where my scalp is covered in bald patches that I desperately try to cover up.

Mental illness is something that is largely invisible, but I think much of that invisibility is due to the fact that nobody wants their most vulnerable parts of themselves to be seen.

I say all this because I feel like as I become more comfortable with this constant uncomfortableness, I now have a responsibility to be open and honest about bipolar disorder and mental illness as a whole.

Bipolar isn’t crazy. Bipolar isn’t flippant. Bipolar isn’t an excuse. Bipolar isn’t a joke.

Bipolar is an illness and 1 in 5 people don’t survive it.

I was lucky enough to survive an attempt on my own life several years ago and receive the help I needed. I was lucky enough to have family and good friends that have supported me and continue to help me maintain health and stability. But even with help, mental illness is scary. Mental illness isn’t something you can ignore and move past. Mental illness isn’t something that you can cure. Mental illness is something that has to be constantly managed.

Today, I want you to know how hard I have worked to be where I am and how scared I get about the future. I want you to know that I am afraid of the consequences of writing this and I am worried of how others will think of me if they know this intimate detail about my life.

But I want you to know how much it hurts to hear people joke about suicide, about depression, and about bipolar disorder. That rude person you interacted with is probably not bipolar. Wanting order is not the same as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. An annoying situation doesn’t warrant a comment about slitting your wrists. There are so many people out there who are silently struggling and I want you to know that your words can hurt. Someone can be holding on by a thread and the wrong words can make everything worse.

To those who are struggling, I want you to know that I and so many others know that struggle. I want you to know that it is 1000x harder to go at it alone and as hard as reaching out can be, I also want you to know how helpful people can be and how kind.

Yes, there might be people that won’t help at all. There might be people that abandon you in your time of need and people who belittle you for your needs.

There will also be friends that bring you books in the hospital, a sister who answers the phone every time you call, a coworker who sees you struggle and tells you that you are appreciated, and a person who tells you that you are wanted and loved. I want you to know that even when things get ugly, the kindness of others can bring so much beauty you didn’t even know was there.

For those who aren’t struggling, I want you to know that being sensitive is not “babying” others, but it is understanding that not everyone has the same daily experience.

Understanding can mean staying silent and it can be as simple as a smile.

Finally, I want you to know that regardless of how long it takes for you to gain control of your life — even if it never happens — that in no way makes your life worthless. This is what I want you to know today. This is what I constantly remind myself. This is what matters today and every day.