You’re Really Not Alone
Approximately 23% of adults in the United States will experience a depressive illness in their lifetime, whether it’s due to a mood disorder like bipolar, post-partum depression, major depressive disorder, or a number of other conditions. That means that roughly one out of four people you know has been or will be depressed at some point, and that’s not even taking other mental illnesses into account – eating disorders, schizophrenia, and so much more.
How many of them have told you about it? Probably very few. What most surprised me when I started talking about bipolar and my experience was that so many people began sharing their own similar experiences.
One of my closest friends had taken medication during a period of depression a couple of years earlier; we talked about the pros and cons of medications. Another woman had lost a friend to suicide after a long battle with bipolar disorder. A few friends or acquaintances had wives or girlfriends who had experienced postpartum depression; others had a cousin who was schizophrenic or a mother who was bipolar or a father who had been institutionalized. Some had suffered from depression or other illnesses themselves. A couple of people even told me that my openness helped them find the strength to get help for undiagnosed problems or illnesses they’d been dealing with for some time.
Almost everyone we know has, at some point in their lives, been touched by mental illness; yet the topic is so heavily stigmatized that few are willing to admit without some assurance of mutual compassion and acceptance.
Once you open up to the people in your lives, they’ll do what humans are programmed to do from the time they’re very small – look for common ground. The only difference is that now, instead of sharing a love of sushi or dystopian sci-fi novels, you can talk about mental illness, and you’ll find a new and deeper bond you never knew you shared with a person.
We Never Stop Learning
Aside from being naturally disposed to find common ground with others, humans are also a very inquisitive species. We love to learn new things, to understand something strange and mysterious, and to make a little more sense of the world around us.
This innate curiosity also applies to the enigma that is mental health. The generally negative perception of bipolar disorder often stems from misinformation, not malice. Bipolar disorder covers a wide range of symptoms, physical and mental/emotional, which can change greatly over each patient’s lifetime. It is essentially no different from chronic pain, emphysema, celiac disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or any other chronic illness. Instead of battling oxygen tanks, dialysis, or hair loss, we fight against a largely invisible disease.