1. The vast majority of us are non-violent. The media seem to love targeting the mentally ill by insinuating that almost everyone who commits a heinous crime has some sort of psychiatric problem. I’ve ranted on this topic elsewhere in this blog (check out “Bipolar and Off His Meds” if you want to read my thoughts on the subject) and it just galls me that sensationalism continues to trump common sense. After all, there are well-known studies that show we are far more likely to be the VICTIMS of violent crime than the perpetrators. And besides that…we’re just like everybody else in that all we want is to live our lives in as normal and happy a fashion as possible. We’re not out to steal your stuff and murder you in your sleep.
2. Many of us hold down jobs and function as well as the next person. At least as long as we’re being treated and following our prescribed routines. Some people do fine even without medications, and you’d never know they had a problem if they choose to keep their condition private. I have learned to my sorrow that disclosure in the workplace is usually a bad idea, even though it was the only thing I could do at the time because I could no longer hide my illness. Employers tend not to be very understanding of mental health problems. I have also learned that the Americans with Disabilities Act is largely a feel-good piece of legislation that has little clout in the real world. The ADA did not save me from being fired—twice—nor did it force my employers to make reasonable accommodations for me due to my disability. Businesses have offices full of lawyers who know a thousand ways around the ADA, and you can bet those lawyers aren’t shopping at Walmart.
That being said, there are many, many people out there who are working steadily and succeeding in life despite having a mental illness. I wish I were one of them. I have to remind myself that I was reasonably high-functioning for many years before I was diagnosed, kept at it after I was diagnosed, and continued to work even after it became obvious that I was getting worse, not better.
3. We can’t just “snap out of it”. Don’t people know that if we COULD just put our depression on a shelf and move on, we would? Nobody enjoys drowning in a sea of despair, let alone feeling as though the world would be a better place without us in it. Please, if you love a person who struggles with a mental illness, never say that to them. It only adds guilt, and we already carry around enough of that as it is.
4. We put up with a lot of indignities in order to try to fit in. As I type this, I can’t help noticing (for the thousandth time) the tremors in my hands. It’s a side effect of taking two anti-psychotic medications as mood stabilizers. I hate it that I have trouble eating vegetables with a fork—I shake so much that most of them fall off before I can get them to my mouth—so I don’t eat a lot of things in public that require fine motor skills.
I also hate it when I have to go to a new medical provider who can see my record, which has Bipolar 1 disorder splashed all over it in bold print, before I ever take a seat in the waiting room. I’ve been a provider myself, and I know what I thought whenever I was about to receive a new patient with a psychiatric diagnosis. Overcoming whatever pre-conceived notions they may have about me is Job One; fortunately, I have become very good at it and when they find out I’m really not crazy, we get along great. It’s just the necessity of doing it in the first place that grates on me. (For the record, the same can be said for obese people, who are the next-to-last population that can be judged, made fun of, and generally discriminated against. Lucky me, I get to fight that battle too.)
So there you have it. I’m sure I’ve got a few more of these things up my sleeve, but I think you all get the point. Being bipolar—being mentally ill, period—is a clusterf##k and I think the people who handle it well are amazing. It’s like being in a race where we have to start a lap behind everyone else, and nobody notices what a miracle it is when we manage to keep up…it’s only when we stumble and fall that we draw attention to ourselves.
Thanks for reading. 🙂