Today is World Bipolar Day the world around, so of course, I want to try to write at least one post to do my little bit for stigma busting and showing that those of us with the disorder are, le gasp, normal people. I spotted this questionnaire compliments of the wonderful blahpolar, and seeing how I’ve not had a lot of writing spoons lately (or any spoons really), I figured this was a good way to try and get something out of my head and on to paper. 🙂
1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you? The first thing that comes to mind is one of my favourite lines from The Hobbit — ‘I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!’ Or better put — you can take the girl out of the bipolar, but you can’t take the bipolar out of the girl. Bipolar disorder, to me, is as much a part of me as the colour of my eyes, or the fact that I’m a parent. It’s a part of my life and it’s not going anywhere (even if I can mainly corral it into a quiet corner with meds).
2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder? It was pretty bad, if I’m honest. I rapid cycle like many women, and it’s way common with Bipolar II for bonus funsies. I did my best to mask it behind drugs and alcohol when I was younger, but I eventually grew out of that. Which left raw me exposed to more elements, and my very rapid moods jumping all over the place. Ever since I was a teenager, I prayed not for happiness, but for contentment and balance. I’d always clocked that what went up had to come back down, and I wanted a firm center rather than dizzying highs and their companion lows.
3. How old were you when you were diagnosed? I was first diagnosed around December 2010/January 2011, so around my 29th birthday. Except they lost all my paperwork, said I’d never attended appointments, and shunted me off with ‘anxious personality’. It took me awhile to get my spoons together enough to try again, with good reason — I got slammed to the same doctor who ‘diagnosed’ me with an anxious personality, who then ‘diagnosed’ me with borderline personality disorder. No diss on my BPD folk — it just wasn’t the right diagnosis. It was the ‘quit bothering me you vagina’ ‘diagnosis’. My next appointment was with the head of the psych team who immediately overturned that for the proper, fits-like-a-glove Bipolar II diagnosis in February 2012; I would have just turned 30.
4. How do you manage your symptoms? With a pile of pills. I’m on 100mg of sertraline (Zoloft) as of last week, and on 400mg of quetiapine (Seroquel). I also take an Omega-3 supplement and a chamomile to try and help cope. I can’t remember the why on the first one other than hearing often from others it was a good thing to take, and the latter because yeah, my latent state is raging anxiety. There’s a reason I used to smoke, yanno, and that’s it.
5. What is life like for you now? It’s pretty good, all told. We have a lovely home, super-duper job flexibility that enables me to stay home with our baby (and right now, both girls because it’s Easter Holiday). The anxiety being managed means that I have finally cracked knitting as of a few years ago, and it’s a great hobby for keeping the brain quietly focused. And I seem to be good at it, so there’s the pride of craftmanship as well. I’m able to speak more candidly and eloquently about things that matter to me, and well. Lots of satisfaction, for sure.
I also have an amazing husband who makes sure that I am able to take care of myself at detriment to himself. Ideally, I’d like to be well enough to support him as well, and in that regard, he knows I’m doing my best to try and get things fixed and pinned down mentally and physically as much as possible so that I can be a greater part of our household running.
6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life? Actually, it’s been pretty much completely positive for me. It turns out most of my closest friends have bipolar or depression as well, and even if I wasn’t fully aware of it before my diagnosis, finding out that I’d set up a good support network in advance was really cool. Most of my friends are also wonderful because they want to learn more about bipolar and other mental illnesses so they can be better friends to the likes of me and others, and I’m always humbled when I am thanked for helping clarify something.
Of course, not everyone is particularly supportive, or desiring to expand their understanding. Those people got kicked out of my life. I don’t have energy to waste on people who don’t want to know. I know not everyone has that choice or feels like they have that choice, so I’m certainly not implying someone is doing wrong to do differently from me. I probably don’t need to clarify that, but it costs nothing to spend a few extra words to make sure that readers understand that there is no judgement here from me. 🙂
Work-wise, I married into a family business. Before I was diagnosed and treated, I’d usually have a total breakdown around this time of year and need a few months off. I’ve not needed that since getting diagnosed or treated really — maybe just the occasional personal day. And I can do that, I can take that time to take care of myself. I know that’s a huge privilege and I own up to it being such.
7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder? Very badly. You see people claiming it’s an invention of Big Pharma, or that it’s trendy because famous people have it, or that we’re all seconds from going off the deep end. Also, what the hell people who use it for the weather, stop that shit, words have power and I’m sick of being minimized by people using it so frivolously. You get shitty documentaries like Breaking Bipolar here in the UK, and we’re supposed to be grateful that an extremist portrayal is ‘starting conversations’.
Really though, we’re just people. Some are so severely disabled that they are unable to work, some of us manage to find situations where we can, while some can ‘pass’ for completely ‘normal’. None of us are better or worse than anyone else — we are all experiencing our own experience. Just because we’re not all working 60+ hours a week and going to the gym and all that doesn’t make our contributions to society any less — I certainly resent the implication that fitting into that mould is the only way for non-rich people to be acceptable.
8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder? Yes, and no. Honestly, I should have been diagnosed in high school; I was forced to self-manage with no label/idea of what I was up against for something like half my life. Even in art school, I was considered the strangest of the strange; this was doubly so when I was in the Air Force. Since being diagnosed though, I’ve been in a space to cheerfully cut anyone who thinks it’s okay to treat me poorly, to include family and friends of the family.
That, on a tangent, reminds me of a funny-ish story. Someone had wanted me to look at something online and join them in being righteously angry about it… which is stupid to start with. I clearly stated that I had no interest in this and that I was taking care of myself by not going out of my way to get worked up over something that I wasn’t worked up about to start with. I then got accused of blaming it on my illness and they would never do that and how dare I call them out for stropping, blah blah. They actually unfriended me before I could because I wouldn’t do what they wanted, but no real loss there.
9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness? As cliché as it almost is by now — you are not alone. If you’re reading this, I hope you know that. I hope you’ll go to The Bipolar Blogger Network and read what others with bipolar are saying. Like in any life, there’s going to be good times, there are going to be bad times… they’re just likely to be amplified times with bipolar. 🙂
I hope everyone out there reading this is doing well, and I hope, you’ll consider share your experiences as well.
((PS — questions are available below the line))
1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you?
2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
3. How old were you when you were diagnosed?
4. How do you manage your symptoms?
5. What is life like for you now?
6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life?
7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder?
8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder?
9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness?