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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You Are Not Bipolar*

Only 2-3% of the world population is bipolar. You're probably not.

I was once engaged to a man who happened to be bipolar. We met online. We had an immediate connection and fell in love very quickly after our first date. He was a pharmacist. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a lovely musical aptitude, and treated me like both royalty and his equal companion all at the same time. It wasn't long before he told me that he was bipolar and a recovering alcoholic (what I have since learned is not an uncommon combination, as attempts to self-medicate are typical). I didn't know at the time what being bipolar really meant. I loved him desperately and didn't see any need to research beyond basic questioning.

I didn't recognize the cycles. I didn't know when he was experiencing a manic episode. When he'd go on a spending spree, I just thought he was being spontaneous and generous. When he was up all night composing and recording a lullaby for me, I just thought he felt too inspired to sleep. I thought I was the one who sent him into depressive episodes. I recall that I once set us up on the floor in the living room with all the Harry Potter movies (up to that point) with a little picnic, so we could just vegetate and enjoy a little downtime. The downward spin that followed was epic and I thought for sure I had caused it by not indulging in a day of manic behavior instead. I didn't know.

He was very secretive about his diagnosis. His employer didn't know, not that they needed to, but it certainly could've helped them understand some of his behaviors and scheduling needs. Most of his friends didn't know. Those at his AA meetings didn't know. We once went to see a therapist together and she asked him the question maybe two minutes after talking to him, "Are you bipolar?" His defensive, angry response was alarming. That she recognized it so immediately was confounding to me. Of course, nobody is required to dispense that information to anyone else. We're not owed that conversation, in most cases. The stigma of mental illnesses is overwhelming. Most consider someone with bipolar disorder to be tainted, stained, and pitiable. Who would want to come out of that closet?

There are so many stories I could share with you, both truly lovely and disturbing, to draw a picture of what it was to live with and deeply love someone who had bipolar disorder, but that is not actually the point of this blog, it's only background. So tragically often, I see my friends post or hear them say something to the effect of "I changed my mind a lot. I'm so bipolar!" or "I'm feeling so many opposite things at once. I'm bipolar!" My heart hurts for my ex every time I see or hear it. You, my friends, are not bipolar. You're just indecisive or emotional and kind of an insensitive, ignorant jackass, truth be told. Stop minimizing what it is to actually be bipolar by co-opting the word to serve your own trivial issues. You don't get to self-diagnose just because you had an off day, because you're feeling sad, or because you're feeling ecstatic. You are not bipolar.

I recommend to you, all of you, the following:

  • learn more about what it is to really live with bipolar disorder (click HERE for a rudimentary understanding),
  • read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison (and sob through the whole thing as the clouds of understanding part, if you're me),
  • then make amends to all you've hurt by minimizing the reality of this mental illness and never, NEVER again use that term for your own selfish and inconsiderate purposes again.
Think on it.

*Unless you are, in which case, this does not apply to you, but to those in your lives, so you might want to pass it along.

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