To Be, Or Not To Be

…..that is the eternal debate between people who say “I’m bipolar” and those who prefer “I have bipolar”.

There are good arguments on both sides of the aisle. You’ve probably never heard someone say “I am cancer” or “I am heart disease”, because no one really wants to be defined by their illness. On the other hand, lots of folks say “I’m bipolar” or “I’m a diabetic” and don’t think a thing of it. After all, the illness is a part of them, like brown eyes or hobbit feet, and saying so doesn’t necessarily mean they over-identify with it.

Me, I use both expressions interchangeably, although I’ve noticed that I tend to use “I have bipolar disorder” in more formal situations, such as talking with an authority figure like a supervisor or a doctor who doesn’t know me. I’m not quite sure why that is, because in everyday conversation I say “I’m bipolar” (well, when the subject comes up—I don’t exactly go around announcing it on street corners). You wouldn’t know it now by my casual references to myself as being bipolar, but it took me a long time to stop seeing the beast as a separate entity that lived in the house with me, ate my food, and wore my clothes. I even used to believe that I could tell it to behave and walk away from it.

That’s where Dr. Awesomesauce, and to some extent my sister Louise, come in. Over time, they have gently but persistently forced me to accept the reality of the disorder as part of my makeup. It’s funny now, but for the first year I thought Dr. A was just humoring me by giving me that BP-NOS diagnosis, and that at any time he’d tell me my REAL diagnosis was plain unipolar depression. In fact, I didn’t take it seriously, even after the occurrence of several particularly severe mood episodes, until the meds started getting serious.

As I’ve mentioned before, my psychiatrist is very conservative in prescribing medications—for which I’m grateful, as I really don’t want to be a zombie—and full acceptance of my condition didn’t happen until I realized that I will probably never come off anti-psychotics. We haven’t even discussed that since last summer, and the way things are going I’ll feel fortunate if I can get back down to only one, because the combination of Celexa, Klonopin, Lamictal, Geodon, and Zyprexa have brought me as close to stability as I’m ever going to get in this lifetime.

But it is what it is, and what bipolar is is part of the colorful tapestry that makes up the woman you know as bpnurse. It is not all of me, but it is one of the louder and more obnoxious aspects of me. However….it’s also what drives my creativity and gives me the energy to express it, so it’s not all bad.

To be bipolar, or to have bipolar: that is the question. And the answer is, it depends on the situation and the prevailing mood…..just like everything else with us. 😉

Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

10 thoughts on “To Be, Or Not To Be

  1. Same deal with my son’s autism. I’m not going to correct someone who uses one term over another. I decided from the beginning that for better or worse, it is not what defines him. There are strengths and weaknesses he has because of it, but he and his diagnosis are not one in the same.


  2. I loved this post, I’ve never actually thought about it before, I am constantly telling people not to define me by my illness, but yet… do I do it myself without even realising it? really made me think! xxxx


    1. I think most of us do it to an extent. It’s hard not to when we’re reminded daily, or in my case twice daily, that we have a chronic, lifelong illness that can never be cured, only managed.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for the follow. 🙂


  3. I fall into the I don’t want to be defined by it category. I decided some time ago to always say that I have Bipolar Disorder and I think I have done a good job in sticking with it.


    1. See, that’s it; there’s no single right or wrong way to describe it; it’s whatever works for the individual. We don’t have to let the illness speak for us. 🙂


  4. You do very well with the situation you are in. Your writing and expression are thought provoking and beneficial to many of us. Sorry about the pneumonia


  5. Very interesting article bpnurse, I think it’s a good question for us to think about. I personally prefer I have.. rather than I am. Because simply I’m not my illness. Thnx for the article


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