Have you ever felt you had a sign around your neck reading “Warning: Crazy Person!”? With the mood swings and the high energy of Hypomania or the sad, listless days of depression, it just feels like everybody knows. It’s especially bad when you have the out of control Manias and the deep dark depressions. It just feels like it you’re so transparent to others, and you obviously have a serious problem. There is such a stigma with mental illness in general, but the worst prejudice starts with you. For myself, I feel like I’m so damaged and ill, and I need to protect others from myself. I’ve read that out of all the mental illnesses, bipolar is the hardest to deal with. Not discounting other mood disorders or anxieties… They can be horrible and debilitating too. And of course there are definitely illnesses such as schizophrenia that are so completely devastating. The difference is that being bipolar has such extremes, but unlike some of the more ‘serious’ illnesses, we know. We KNOW that there’s something bad wrong, but are powerless to stop it. Although he was never formally diagnosed (as far as I know) I’m convinced that my brother was schizophrenic… but he never knew that there was anything ‘wrong’. He lived his life in his own reality, never recognizing that he was mentally ill. But as bipolar, we know. When I’m headed into a manic episode or major depression, I struggle to keep it under control, yet I know that it’s going to happen anyway. And I know that it will happen again. Of course, there are changes in medications that can help, and in some cases prevent an episode, but it’s still there. But I know just how sick I can be… And I feel like everybody else knows too. The first time I was hospitalized it took about two weeks after I was released before I could bring myself to go back to work. Not that I didn’t feel well enough, and not that anyone knew where I had been. I just felt like there was no way to keep it quiet. My whole being just screamed “Look Out! ’m Crazy” and at the time I hadn’t even realized (or admitted to myself) that I was bipolar; I was just dealing with depression. But the hospitalization was enough to give myself the ‘crazy’ label.
Other times I want a sign that reads “I’m bipolar! You have been warned”. When the symptoms and behaviors that go along with the mood swings are obvious, I want people to understand that I’m dealing with an illness, and not just being a jerk. It’s kind of like a job I had years ago. We were allowed to drink at a working lunch, as long as the customer was drinking, and as long as you didn’t drink vodka. (And of course you couldn’t go back into the office afterwards). Vodka can be mixed with pretty much anything, and you can be impaired without having obviously had a drink. When you have a scotch or bourbon everybody knows, and isn’t surprised if you become tipsy (or worse). The boss’s opinion was that he didn’t mind if people knew you were drunk, but he didn’t want them to think you were just stupid. I feel the same way about being bipolar… If people know I’m sick, then it explains the extreme behaviors.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. When I am most concerned is when I’m going into, or coming out of an episode. I know I have a problem, but I’m still cognizant enough to be aware of my behaviors. In the depths of depression or the extremes of mania, I am usually so lost in the episode that I really don’t care what others think. However, it’s usually not as obvious as one might think. No one really knows what you’re thinking or feeling… It’s something only you know. And the bottom line is, it is what it is. I have an illness. Whether anyone knows or not, it’s not something I can change. It can’t be controlled if someone passes out from low blood sugar as a diabetic or cries because they are dealing with cancer. Others may or may not know. It’s the same being bipolar. But the people who really count may be concerned but will be supportive and accepting regardless of the reason.
Put your signs away. Those who care don’t care why. And those that don’t care really aren’t worth the worry.