Is Bipolar Real?
"But you don’t look sick!" Such a simple phrase, but one that can cut right to the core if you have a mental illness.
No, I don’t look sick, not unless you count the white scars crossing my arms and the vague shakes from medication, but that does not take away my diagnosis or my disorder.
Since being diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder six years ago I’ve had countless comments when people find out, ranging from rude to almost laughable – one of my favorites being, "Psychiatric illnesses are designed by doctors to sell medication."
At first I took every remark to heart, perceiving myself as damaged or flawed, but over the years I’ve learned that more often than not it’s just misinformation or misunderstanding rather than outright malice.
'Almost Everybody Treated Me Differently'
I stumbled out of hospital in early 2009, freshly diagnosed and finding coping with the world akin to walking around with broken legs. I couldn’t do things like I used to, I had to find new ways to go through life, and almost everybody treated me differently. Stigma has changed a lot over the past six years – mental health was a lot more taboo then and I received mostly negative reactions upon disclosing my new disorder.
I’ve been told by a family member that it "did not come from [their] side of the family," and by another that “bipolar is just a phase” and that I had just not “grown up from being a teenager yet” – but what could I expect from someone who referred to another family member taking antidepressants as "The Prozac Fairy."
I admit that these words hurt at the time, but looking back now I can see them as a reflection of the beliefs of far too many regarding mental illness – uneducated and at times even narrow minded.
So what changed? The first thing I learnt when telling people I had bipolar was not to take their reactions personally. The comments that people blurt out were not and are not a direct attack on me personally. Rather, they expose how far there is to go in fighting the battle against mental health stigma.