My Illness Doesn’t Define Me

Recently, I’ve discovered so many people online who are openly speaking about mental illness. Specifically, through social media. Upon discovering this I was amazed. I normally avoid speaking openly about my mental health condition for fear of stigma. I don’t want to lose friends, ruin future job opportunities, or experience people giving me “freaked out, cold shoulder syndrome.” So naturally, I was amazed to find YouTube video’s about one person’s experience in the mental hospital, and several Instagram accounts where the owner calls themselves a mental health advocate.

I was in awe of these people. Are they unafraid of stigma, I wondered? What if people in their community start to recognize them from their blogs or YouTube videos? Would they have a difficult time finding work in the future? These are things I feared for myself. Over the last 12 years of being diagnosed with bipolar depression, I have rarely spoken of my illness to anyone. I never tell employers, almost certain I would be discriminated against for job positions. I realized most employers say they are equal opportunity, but they can still choose not to hire you.

I have told a few close friends who I knew I could trust. I was pleased to find their viewpoint of me didn’t change. Hooray for people that have the ability to accept you for who you are! There are so many people I wish I had the opportunity to explain the illness to. Having bipolar disorder doesn’t make me a bad person. I am not a psychopath, a criminal, unintelligent, or crazy. I have no criminal record. I am not lazy, I am not a slob. I don’t do street drugs, participate in illegal activities, or secretly plan to axe murder my neighbors. Granted, there may be a small percentage of people with this illness who would do those things. But what most people don’t realize is everyone with this illness is different. The severity of the disease varies greatly. And the way some people are may be affected by how they were raised.

So, what is bipolar disorder like? I will tell you from my perspective. I mainly struggle with depression. There are days I have a hard time getting out of bed, and once I do get up, I have a hard time motivating myself to do anything. I’ll lose interest in things I like to do, such as photography, reading or painting. I feel very empty, lost and lonely. I can’t concentrate and have a hard time remembering things. Focusing on any one task can be nearly impossible. That’s just for my depressive side. I also have psychosis.

For those who don’t know, psychosis is when you hallucinate/hear voices/have delusions. Some may ask, doesn’t this make you crazy? I suppose, in a sense. But please know, I don’t have control over this behavior. I can’t turn it on and off like flipping a switch. Well, let me revise that. The only control I have over my psychosis is to take medication that treats it. I’m proud to say for the last 7 years I have not had any episodes. I still have depressive episodes from time to time, even on medication, but I’ll usually make adjustments with the help of a psychiatrist in order to feel better.

With the help of medication, I have been able to live a relatively normal life the last 12 years. I went to college, got my Bachelor’s Degree, I’ve worked a variety of jobs, and I’ve traveled. Originally when I was diagnosed, I believed it was a death sentence. I thought I’d never achieve any of my goals in life. I thought I’d never work again, and be dependent on my parents. I was afraid I’d end up homeless on the streets. I’m so happy to say how wrong I was. Not only is it possible to live with bipolar disorder, it is entirely possible to thrive! There are so many successful people with this illness. It is not the end of the world. Proper treatment is key.

One thing I see online with some people who address mental health, is that they only point out the dark sides of their illnesses. They paint a scary, dreary dark picture of mental health, giving the impression that’s all it is. I, for one, would like to take something which can be dark at times, and expose it to the light. Bipolar disorder isn’t all negative.There are good things about it, such as being more creative and having increased empathy for others. Some people with mental health conditions are incredibly intelligent. Others were/are great leaders, influencers, or celebrities. Mental health doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. I intend to paint a positive picture for the future.

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