We Never Stop Learning
Those of us who are bipolar deal every day with a lifelong illness that requires medication and/or therapy to have any hope of keeping its symptoms in check. Medications come with a list of side effects a mile long, some of which can become serious illnesses themselves. Our ability to function can be so greatly affected that some of us are unable to work or even properly care for ourselves at times. We often suffer from other comorbid conditions. I, for example, also have borderline personality disorder and severe social anxiety.
Many bipolar patients receive or are eligible for some form of disability pay. We sometimes need to be hospitalized, and the condition is often fatal – approximately 50% of bipolar patients attempt suicide, and roughly half of those attempts end in death (that’s about a 25% mortality rate).
I’m Bipolar, Not Crazy
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is often synonymous with crazy, not ill. Explaining the difference to the people in your life can go a long way toward changing this perception.
Have some simple facts and statistics ready when you talk to your loved ones or coworkers about your illness. Keep a few basic resources at your fingertips. For example, Stephen Fry’s “Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” is an amazing documentary, which can really help others understand some of the many facets of bipolar disorder.
List a few of your favorite bipolar celebrities. Point someone to a good article or blog you recently read. Be prepared to share your personal experiences, and don’t shy away from the tough areas. While some issues can be difficult to talk openly about, it is surprisingly liberating to answer the simple question, “How are you?’ honestly and openly when the person asking understands some of the struggles you might be up against today.
Nobody Said It Was Easy
It can be difficult and downright terrifying at first to open up about bipolar disorder. Many of us fear the stigmatization that often comes with revealing mental illness. We worry how we’ll be perceived when friends or coworkers learn of our illness. We’re afraid of losing friends, of getting fired, or of becoming an outcast or object of gossip.
These are natural fears, and unfortunately can be very real concerns. I realize that not everyone is as lucky as I have been, and that because of the line of work I’m now in, I’ve actually gotten jobs because of my illness, not lost them. I have, however, lost plenty of jobs in the past due to the disorder I didn’t yet have a name for. Speaking from experience, it’s a lot easier to tell your boss you’re bipolar than to come up with yet another excuse for erratic behavior, regularly oversleeping, or being otherwise unable to do your job.
Everyone’s circumstances are different, and none of us will have exactly the same outcome when we share our story with others. What I hope you’ll take away from my experiences is that each and every one of us dealing with mental illness is in the unique position to help change the situation in which we find ourselves. We’re the only ones who can show the world that, regardless of our medical condition, we’re all human beings. We have the ability to open someone’s eyes, to teach them something new, and to find common ground we never knew we had.