What Everyone Needs to Know about Bipolar Disorder

A lot of posts in regard to this topic are very generic and state, “you too can fight the stigma of mental illness” or “you too can help those with mental illness.” Although this is true, those articles and posts make it seem like those with bipolar and mental illness are a bunch of morph suit green aliens from another planet that they are forced to deal with for the first time. Here is a list of things you might not know, but totally should about bipolar and those who have the disorder.

1. Bipolar / manic depression isn’t a character trait.

One common complaint amongst cancer patients is that other people let cancer define the patient. What I mean by that is once you find someone has cancer or heart disease or some other tragic ailment, the public uses that illness to define a person. The same goes for bipolar disorder. I can’t tell you how many times people unfriended me once they found out about my mental illness and proceeded to talk about me behind my back saying, “you know that Dani girl? She has bipolar disorder! She’s crazy!”

If someone is judging me for having mental illness, that is the only thing they see about me. I am no longer human. My character traits are no longer relevant; just that fact that I am sick in the head and whatever negative connotations you can think of when you think ‘mental illness.’

PSA: BIPOLAR ISN’T A CHARACTER TRAIT. You know what is? Humor, empathy, kindness, compassion, etc. I am a human being and I deserve to be treated as such. Just like you wouldn’t judge a cancer patient by their diagnosis, I don’t want or deserve to be judged by my diagnosis. There are characteristics of bipolar disorder that are also character traits that I possess, but that one term cannot singularly define a multi-faceted human being nor should it.

2. We are responsible for our words and actions, regardless of mental state.

If your best friend who does not struggle with mental illness calls you fat and stupid one day and tries to get coffee with you the next day and pretend like it didn’t happen, you’re going to be mad and call them out on their bullshit. Same should go for your best friend with bipolar disorder. If they make an off color comment or are obviously acting delusional, again you should call us out on our bullshit. Actions and words have consequences and ramifications for them. But if you don’t hold your bipolar friend(s) accountable to these standards, are you folks even really friends?

I have had friends in the past withhold information from me in attempt to protect my emotions or felt that my mental state was too fragile to handle it. This made me more angry than whatever it is they had to say. Normal folk can’t tip toe around bipolar people in fear of a mood swing or a lash out. If it happens, it happens. But it is up to the bipolar person to be held responsible for their mood swings and it’s up to them to ask for forgiveness if need be for lashing out on someone.

3. Your brain chemistry is different from someone with bipolar disorder.

This seems like a debatable concept to some, but physiologically and chemically, brains with and without mental illness differ greatly from one another and even brains of people with different types of mood and mental disorders vary greatly.

With our brains being different from regular people, our moods, thought processes, memory, and concentration are affected. That being said, those with bipolar disorder tend to have poor memory, poor concentration, suffer from extreme mood changes, or lack of mood changes with a severity in symptoms. Because our brain chemistry is different, we have neither the skills or ability to change things like memory or mood fluctuation. There are things we can do to improve our lives such as medication, memory games, note taking, therapy, etc. But overall, if you were to look at a CT or fMRI scan of a brain with bipolar disorder versus not, you would see different lobes of the brain swell or shrink in accordance to the brain functionality or lack thereof.

A great article to read in regard to the differences of a brain with bipolar versus not is the one I will link here. https://psycheducation.org/the-biologic-basis-of-bipolar-disorder/1035-2/ I can’t link any photos due to copyright reasons, but if you follow the link, it shows pictures and lists scientific facts of how fMRI scans show a difference in brain size and function.

4. You may not even realize that we have bipolar disorder.

Approximately 1% of the world’s population suffers from bipolar disorder and even more people will suffer from some kind of mental illness in their lifetimes. One percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s roughly 70 million people. Chances are high that you’ve run into one of us without even knowing it. I’m not talking about those who are homeless in large cities who obviously display signs of mental health disturbances either. I’m talking about your everyday Joe Schmo who works with you at the office, goes to the gym, rides in your carpool, or that you attend university with.

At work, unless I made a point to tell someone, nobody had any idea that I suffered with bipolar disorder. I kept it like that for a long time for apparently good reason. I was an extremely successful paralegal at a small firm and attending school to finish my associate’s in applied science and receive my paralegal certification when my boss found out I was bipolar and discriminated against me because of it.

At work or school, I left all my problems and mood swings at the door and picked them back up once I headed home for the day. I am a naturally bubbly person who is sociable, charismatic, funny, and kind and that is all people saw of me in these settings. Even when I was depressed, it wasn’t noticeable to the naked eye. When I was hypo-manic, these traits were accentuated. The point is that you probably do know someone who struggles with bipolar and are really good at hiding it in public.

I outed myself as a bipolar person because I am tired of the stigma that mental health issues should remain unseen. If I am having a bad day, I want to be able to express it. If I am so excitable about something due to the mania, I want someone to ask me if I am okay because they know I am struggling with my manic side, not just assume that I am okay because I said so.

Recap: Although we have different brain anatomy and functionality than the average person, we are still responsible for our words and actions. We also deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because we aren’t that much different than you, if you can even tell that we have bipolar at all.

But let’s talk about it! What stigma needs to be erased when it comes to mental illness and how can we reduce the stigma?

Til next time,

Dani

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