“Sometimes I think you
Don’t know what you say” – Jesus Jones, “I’m Burning”
I’ve gotten a variety of responses from people when I tell them I’m bipolar. My favorite was “Bipolar? Is that really a thing?” That’s one example of someone totally uneducated about mental illness. Needless to say, this response came from someone who felt that therapy and medication were useless and you should deal with issues on your own in a completely logical manner. Sorry, but my brain literally does not and cannot work that way when it comes to depression and hypomania.
My least favorite response, the one I absolutely despise because it shows a total lack not only of understanding, but of empathy and compassion, is the ridiculous “Just snap out of it!” or the equally useless, “Get over it”. Well, thanks a bunch there, Einstein, I wish I’d thought of that. Maybe next time you can tell a diabetic to produce more insulin naturally, or a cancer patient to stop growing all those tumors. “Get over it,” is one of worst things to say to a bipolar person. For me, it makes everything so much worse; it increases my sense of worthlessness and self-loathing, that I’m not as good as everyone else and I’m just not “normal”. It’s a dismissive and pointless statement that’s about as helpful as hitting someone in the balls with a five iron.
Anything that minimizes my illness or makes me feel like less of a human enrages me. I’ve had people tell me that everyone gets depressed, or that everyone has bad days and I’ll get over it eventually. I have to try to explain that my depression is very different, which of course can sound to others as if I’m being defensive and using it as an excuse for my moods and actions. I have to continually explain that I have a disease and my brain isn’t wired the same as everyone else’s. My depression and hypomania cannot be willed away. My moods can change quickly and there are days where can’t even manage to get off the couch, shower, get dressed, or, worst of all, interact with my six year old son. That last one is the worst and it causes the depression to feed on itself and there is nothing I can do to stop it or get past it. It’s an incredibly soul-crushing depression that leaves me a fetal-positioned mess with dreams of knives and warm baths running through my head. I also can’t control my cycles of hypomania which are accompanied by an almost complete lack of sleep, racing thoughts, and extreme irritability. This is just a short list of symptoms which show how much my brain hates me.
I’ve also been informed that, “We create our own reality.” In all honesty, I don’t even comprehend what the hell that means. If I created my own reality I’d be a billionaire living on a private island far away from idiots telling me I create my own reality. Similarly, people have offered me a host of new-age type treatments as well as homeopathic and “alternative” medicinal cures. Nope, no thanks for the hoodoo. I prefer trained professionals with real degrees and medications that have gone through clinical trials and are documented to work. I don’t need my chakra realigned, my third eye fitted for contacts, my aura polished, or an all-natural tea made of tree bark, lawnmower clippings and squirrel semen. To quote Tim Minchin, “Alternative medicine…has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”
I’ve even been told that I choose to be sick, or just as good, that I can choose not to be sick. I won’t even dignify that with a response. Some people obviously choose to be intellectually stunted.
The one thing all these responses share is that they are dismissive, belittling, and discount the idea of mental illness as an actual disease. Just because I see a psychiatrist and some else sees a cardiologist doesn’t mean my disease isn’t as real. Like any serious illness, bipolar disorder can be fatal. 20% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide and 50% attempt it. Those numbers are terrifying to me. I know I feel fine now, but anything can happen in the future. It’s a coin flip as to whether or not I may try to kill myself. I know it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the line it may happen, and it may be one cycle of depression away. That thought alone has kept me awake nights and it scares the shit out of me.
I know most people are trying to help, but some just don’t grasp the concept that bipolar disorder is an illness, just like the flu or cancer. In a recent survey, of 40% of the respondents said they didn’t believe mental illness is real. This is why we need more awareness and education on mental illness. Even though I have no physical symptoms I have a very real disease and I shouldn’t have to keep trying to prove it.