I’ve had many SMH moments this year. I’m pretty open about having Bipolar and Alcoholism, mostly because I see the potential in the disorder and I see beauty in continued recovery from a disease. But not many see that, as I’ve come to find. I need to err on the side of caution.
I’m sure that’s a ‘duh’ statement, but I’ve been isolated for a long time and I’ve surrounded myself with those going through the same thing for years that I tend to forget most people don’t understand the basics let alone the overwhelmingly complex nature of both. And really, who would if they aren’t dealing with it personally? I get it, but it’s still frustrating when you’re faced with questions like, “so, tell me more about yourself. What do you do?”
I told one fella recently that I have Bipolar. He asks:
“oh, so you go from angry to sad all the time?”
Not quite. More like super happy to super depressed with a year or two of stability in between. Just a tad more complicated when it gets to psychosis and grandiose delusions, but we’ll just blow right passed that.
I explain it as briefly and positively as I can because if I didn’t, I’d be doing disservice. In my mind anyway. But in the end, I found not many care and most will continue to believe what they will. Even those that suffer from mental illness themselves. That, I will never quite understand.
A friend, who claims to be an alcoholic, told me:
“You just need to stop at two. Just control your drinking.”
I really didn’t even have the strength to even explain myself or question his claims, so I just chugged another.
I was briefly seeing this guy who was an active alcoholic and who’d literally forget every conversation we had the night before. I’d have to explain it to him all over again the next day and it became infuriating. I guess that was karma. Plus, he had given up on life completely. I really know how to pick ’em. But then there’s the age old notion that you attract what you are. I was at the corner of rock bottom and giving up myself. Thankfully, my disgust for this situation drove me far away and right back where I belonged.
Anyway, he was genuinely curious about Bipolar probably because he wanted to know what he was getting into, so I explained what it was like for me and what it can be like for others. It’s different for everyone. I did my best to highlight positives because I feel that focusing on the struggle is really where stigma and misunderstanding starts. I showed him my artwork and some writing and went on to add that some of the most brilliant and creative people I have met in my life deal with bipolar or other mental illnesses. I was brief, clear and concise. Even his son had it.
He met up with friends who he wanted to introduce me to. He was genuinely excited about this new relatiosnhip, even though we discussed that it was nothing other than friendship. First and last time I ever do that. He told them I was Bipolar right off the bat and they immediately warned him against seeing me, as if they knew anything about me or had met me once. Suddenly, they became professionals and wrapped the disorder neatly into a psychotic, judgmental bow.
“Watch out for that girl.”
Needless to say, I never met them nor did I have any desire to do so.
Same guy, different day. I told him about my future goals in transpersonal art therapy. Spirituality aside, I told him how art had helped me in the past and how I’m had studied Art therapy in college on the side and wanted to continue my education so I could become part of a solution rather than a problem for once. He was utterly confused:
“You can do that? You mean you people can do therapy?”
Of course I didn’t let that opportunity slip by and I explained after laughing at the absurdity, that yes, not only can “my people” lead successful and professional lives, but they can also be an asset to the therapeutic community. Who better, than a person managing their disorder who has been there, done that and lived to tell the tale? As a patient, I’d much rather work through treatment with someone who has been through it, manages it and lives a full life than someone who simply read up on it, aced some tests and shoves the latest antipsychotic down my throat. That really goes for most anything, not just therapy or psychiatry.
Which leads me to worst I’ve heard this passed year. I was explaining to a friend that I was seeing a therapist who happens to have a Bipolar One diagnosis and has 33 years clean and sober from Alcoholism. She gasped and laughed:
“Talk about the blind leading the blind! Ya know, it’s really just mind over matter.”
I can’t blame their ignorance. I do understand it. It can be maddening, but it’s just reality and we all face it no matter our struggles. It is wildly complex and I have yet to wrap my head around it. That being said, in my personal interactions, it’s up to me to explain what I go through, how I manage and to point out the positive side realistically. I just need to learn the delicate balance of sharing too much or nothing at all…which I do think I did a pretty good job of this year.
Just one small step in fighting stigma. Can’t fight it, if no one knows about it and no one will know if no one talks about it.