Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why I Talk Openly About Having Bipolar Disorder

Sometimes I feel like I've become overly open about having Bipolar Disorder, to the point that I'm conscious of appearing as if I have a convenient excuse when things go wrong, or a way to get sympathy when I feel insecure. It's as if I've suddenly gone: "Well here's a diagnosis that sounds cool, let's run with it shall we?" So yes, I do ask myself if I should just shut up. After all, it's not as if my life is an absolute mess --- far from it. I am a very blessed, and to some extent a very productive, person. I have family, friends, and even clients who have made allowances for me. I can even recognize that I function better than some people with the same condition.

The thing is: mental illness is very real to me, and I know it's very real to others like me as well. Since the time I've come out of the closet so to speak, I've had people come to me telling me how they are in the same boat. If  I then, a mental health professional, can't talk about it, who can? (And for the record, many psychologists have clinical conditions and are quite open about it.)

I only received this diagnosis latter half of last year. The original diagnosis given to me is Clinical Depression with Obsessive Compulsive traits --- it's the wrong one; I don't respond to antidepressants and the OCD link is tenuous at best. For the first time therefore, I got something that fits my symptoms to a T. And you can't know how liberating the right diagnosis can be to someone who has been at the mercy of extreme emotions most of her life.

The knowledge that what I have is Bipolar Disorder linked me to the right medicines to take. It helped me in making coherent explanations to explain my behavior. It provided me the correct calendar to predict my eccentricities and therefore make plans to manage them. It has helped me forgive myself. In short, my life changed; it's now something somewhat within my control. I guess you can say that the silver lining playbook, if you would pardon the hijack of someone else's phrase, starts with knowing what condition you have. Why then should I not be proud to finally have the correct label?

At the end of the day it's really all about the stigma that people attach to mental illness. It's all sorts of extremes, ranging from "you're just making things up" to "you're all degrees of insane." Am blessed to be a psychologist sufferer; I am, to some extent, buffered from the shame that comes with nakedness, shame that makes what's already unbearable excruciating. True, part of me takes pride in aiming to be awesome with no one the wiser. But if I am to do what is best for others like me, what I should aim for is a life well-lived PLUS a life of openness to being mentally ill. (I don't always achieve the well-lived part but when I am in remission I do try.) With such a life, I can indirectly send the message "Hey, if you're hiding what you're going through, look at me. I refuse to go down without swinging."

There would always be people who won't get it. And that's fine. I don't get half the people around me, and I am being paid to suss out people! (For instance, certain extreme forms of feminism just boggles my mind.) Educate people who are willing to listen; ignore the one's who aren't. What matters in the end is you get the support system that you deserve, and part of the process of doing that is pulling the weeds.

I know I can still improve a great deal regarding how I deal with my illness, or how I explain it to other people. I am in that awkward, rebellious, please-understand-me stage. There's room to mature. But I am in no hurry. Being functional and happy demands a learning curve. Luckily, I have time. For now,  just let me say: I don't have any problems talking openly about having Bipolar Disorder. I've realized, in a very ironic way, that accepting you are not quite right in the head is the very thing that would make you feel, well, quite right in the head.

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