QUIT: Keeping My Bipolar Disorder a Dirty Little Secret

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

 

Cordelia note:  If this story resonates with you or makes you think of someone you know, please reach out for help.  Bipolar disorder is a serious mental ilness, and you do not need to go through it alone.  Please see the resources listed at the end of this post for further information.

 

This is a post I wasn’t planning on publishing until later.  When I was “bigger,” when I was more “established,” when a confession like this wouldn’t seem so risky.

But I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when it will feel completely safe to have out with it.  And lately, I’ve been getting all sorts of messages from the universe that it’s time to Just Say It Already.  Because keeping it under wraps just makes it feel like a dirty little secret, like something that’s the matter with me that I’m secretly ashamed of.  And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, after listening to that little voice inside of me instead of telling it to be more reasonable, I’m hitting “publish,” and now it’s out there:

I am bipolar.

There.  I’ve said it.  And I don’t regret it.  I hope you don’t, either.

 

Why Am I Sharing This Now?

I’ve been asking myself that question repeatedly over the 3 weeks or so I’ve had this post in the “draft“ folder.  What am I hoping to accomplish with this?

My main reason for keeping it on the DL has always been that I don’t want to Make a Big Deal about this.  I don’t want it to be a game changer.  I don’t want it to become this big, huge, colossal Thing.  But lately, I’ve come to realize something:  Not sharing this, keeping it under wraps and acting like it doesn’t exist, makes it into a big, huge, colossal Thing. Because it implies that it’s something I’m embarrassed about—something I ought to be embarrassed about.  The kind of thing that’s just Best Not Talked About.

And I just don’t believe that anymore.  For a while I did.  But as I’ve learned to accept it and come to terms with it, maintaining secrecy has started to feel more and more ridiculous.  I don’t have anything to be ashamed of.  My illness isn’t “me” any more than my lactose intolerance is. But, it is a part of my story, and something I’d occasionally like to write about.  Having a section of my life in the shadows doesn’t feel good to me.  I’m tired of stigmatizing this with my silence.

 

What BP Means for Me

 

1. I’ve Gone Through Some Not-So-Great Times

I didn’t recognize it at the time, but looking back now, I realize I spent most of my college life under a muddy haze of depressiveness.  At the time, I thought I’d just suddenly turned incredibly sucky–that I was the reason I no longer cared about classes, barely hung out with anyone, and lost hold of the glamorous writer-editor-journalist career I’d always dreamt of having.

Most of the reason I slid quietly into the 9-5 office world after graduating was because I’d done nothing in all 4 years of college to set myself up for the life I’d really wanted.  I used to beat myself up over this like crazy–how could I just let everything slide like that?  Why hadn’t I kicked myself into shape?  Maybe I’d never really cared about my dreams all that much after all…?

I’m just now beginning to realize that I wasn’t really “me” in college–or the first couple years after college, either, when I went to work, came home, and sat in front of the TV till I fell asleep each night, hating myself for it.  I’m just now beginning to realize I need to stop blaming myself for things that are over and done with. It’s never too late to get back on track.

 

2. I’ve Gone Through Some Not-So-Great Times That Seemed Phenomenal at the Time

Anyone who has BP can tell you:  the highs feel spectacular.  You’re a bundle of excited energy.  You start a million grand new projects.  It feels like parking spots open up just for you and every commercial you see is the universe’s special message to you.  You feel like you can do anything.  You don’t sleep as much, you don’t eat as much, you just go, go, go!

My low periods in college and afterwards were punctuated by random and sudden bursts of this kind of manic enthusiasm.  Every time a high hit, I felt like this was the turnaround I’d been waiting for.  This was the point where my ridiculous slump broke and I got back to being me again.  It was brilliant while it lasted, but it just made me feel that much worse when the slump settled back over me and all the new clubs I’d joined and new projects I’d started were ultimately neglected

Another aspect of the high phases, which I never considered until I started researching BP, were my rampant shopping sprees.  Most of the credit card debt I’m fighting to pay down was spent on the new wardrobes I was convinced I needed as part of my “reinvent myself” rampages.  This doesn’t excuse the underlying recklessness and irresponsibility of my actions, but it helps me feel a little less like a moron to know I was acting as an extreme version of myself.

 

3. I’m Acutely Aware of My Moods

You’d think someone with BP would be at their mercy, and I was before I was aware of what was going on with me.  But now that I’ve read everything I can about it and spent years getting familiar with the way it affects me, I monitor myself like a lab rat.  I can tell when I start to go off track, I can spot my symptoms coming, and I know what needs to be done to get myself back in line if I start to veer.  It’s just like managing diabetes or any other lifelong ailment.  You learn to take care of yourself.  It’s entirely do-able.

 

4. I’m Better Now

Really, truly, and sincerely, I feel a million times better now than I have in years.  There’s no need to feel sorry for me or worry about me.  I keep an eye on myself, I make sure I get enough sleep and sun and vitamins, I make regular visits to my crazy doctor, and I take my crazy meds.  Yes, us crazies get to say things like “crazy meds.”  That picture up top is a picture of my fantastic pill case, courtesy of the awesomeness that is Etsy.

I’m o.k. with laughing at my craziness. I don’t mind if you are, too.  (But I also don’t mind if it makes you a little uncomfortable.  I completely understand.)

 

What My BP Doesn’t Mean

 

1. I Am Not a Liability…

…any more than anyone with a health problem is.  Just like having migraine headaches or a peanut allergy or a wonky eye, my BP doesn’t mean that I’m any weaker or more volatile than anyone else.  I can handle stress.  I can handle heavy workloads.  I can kick out the jams on any number of work and personal projects, and I can do it in circles around your average workaday punk.  (Not to brag or anything.)  I work hard, and I’m proud of it.  Anything normal people can do, I can do, too.  Unless it’s math.  I suck at math.

 

2. I Am Not Fragile

My biggest fear in admitting this has always been that it will change the way people see me. That they’ll start treating me with kid gloves in case I have a breakdown.  I don’t want anyone at work to hesitate before giving me a big project.  I don’t want my friends to start pussyfooting around me if I’m in a bad mood, or family members at Christmas asking me searchingly if I feel o.k.?

I’m not on a short fuse.  I won’t suddenly start crying for no apparent reason.  I can handle fear and disappointment and sadness just like any other grownup.  Sometimes I throw a minor tantrum if I have to do the dishes, but that’s nothing to do with the BP.  That’s just a personal thing.

 

3. I Am Not Ashamed of My BP

To be quite honest, I’m actually pretty damn proud of how far I’ve come and how well I’ve learned to manage this.  The biggest compliment I could get in response to this post would be for someone who knows me to read it and say, “Oh wow, I had no idea.”  Nope, you didn’t.  Because it’s not my be all and end all.  It’s just a thing that happens to me sometimes, that I’ve learned to live with.

 

 Where Do We Go From Here?

Absolutely nowhere that we weren’t going in the first place.

I have no intention to make this blog about a bipolar girl or her bipolar issues.  My Novel is the place where I’m going to really wallow in that whole scene, but this blog will continue to be what it’s always been.  My BP is just one tiny part of everything going on in my life. I wanted to be able to address it, but I’m not going to focus on it.  I have better things to do with my life.

I also have an upcoming guest post that will get into some more background on my personal adventure into craziness and the doubts I had while debating this reveal.  I’m really excited (-slash-nervous) for this post to come out and will be announcing it here when it does.

But, this post doesn’t change anything, at least not for me.  If it makes you uncomfortable, feel free to step away or just pretend it never happened.  If it helped you in some way or made you think a little differently of “mental illness” (how I hate that term, incidentally), then that’s brilliant.  If you know me in real life, and you want to let me know that you know that I’m crazy, you’re welcome to give me a sly nod or wink and make a Charlie Sheen reference.  I’m cool with that.

But you don’t have to.  It’s totally up to you.  I’m fine with whatever, and I hope you are too.

 

For Further Information

If you’re interested in learning more about recognizing, treating, and coping with mental illness, here are some resources that I’ve found to be helpful.  Don’t go it alone.  There  are so many of us out there ready to help, and seeing a professional is the first step towards recovery.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Mayo Clinic – Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

American Psychiatric Association

Image: Etsy

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