Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is generally defined by a person who has periods of both mania and depression – hence its old-school name ‘Manic depression’.
But mania comes in all forms and doesn’t often fit people’s expectations – being that it means you’re elated and high on life. In fact, mania can often come with symptoms that may trick people into believing you were experiencing a low episode. And vice versa with depression.
Because of these misconceptions, people often have an altered vision of what Bipolar disorder is and what it isn’t. And this really isn’t helpful to a sufferer, especially if they’re not receiving the correct support because of it.
So, as somebody who has bipolar disorder type 1, here are 9 things I (and perhaps other sufferers too) want those who don’t suffer with the illness to know.
1. It is an illness
Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t make it any less valid than any other debilitating illness. Bipolar disorder is an incredibly hard and an incredibly dangerous thing to live with – both when in a high or low episode.
2. When we’re high, we don’t feel on top of the world
Okay I’m sure there are some people who do – in some instances. Such as feeling powerful, having these amazing, wonderful ideas and feeling incredibly driven and ready to conquer the world. But when we’re manic, we may feel incredibly agitated and quick to anger. We may lose out on a lot of sleep due to our minds working over time and therefore become very irritable and more argumentative.
3. And when we’re low, we don’t just feel ‘sad’
The mania and the depressive period are two very contrasting extremes. We don’t just feel ‘sad’ during a depressive state – and they can last for weeks or months at a time. I often experience suicidal thoughts that repeatedly occur. I feel worthless and as if I don’t have anything going for myself. I break down a lot and end uncontrollably crying. This often seems to come as a crash after months spent in a manic episode.
4. But we can just have normal periods
This means, when you see we’re getting on with the day, smiling and laughing, please don’t ask us: ‘Have you taken your meds?’, because it’s unnecessary. We value you to for supporting us and looking after us but please remember that not ever laugh or smile comes when we’re manic.
5. We’re not all on lots of medication
There are lots of medications available to those who have bipolar disorder. Mood stabilisers, anti-pyschotics you name it. I currently take Lithium and Chlorpromazine but another sufferer may take a lot more. Don’t assume there’s a certain amount that someone must take, everybody’s mind works differently.
6. Not every argument is a sign of bipolar disorder
Again, we can have ‘normal’ periods – which means we can feel good or bad, just like a non-sufferer would do. Meaning, we can also be pissed off that you left the dishes in the sink for us to do when you promised you’d do them. It’s important that you are able to distinguish between a normal day and a symptom of bipolar.
7. It’s insulting when somebody says ‘I’m so bipolar’ to describe themselves
No, you being petty and waking up all happy and going to bed pissed off because your boyfriend took half an hour to text you back is not being ‘so bipolar’ it’s you being stupid. You wouldn’t describe yourself as a physical illness so why do is it okay to do it with one that’s mental?
8. We’re great listeners
Just because we’re dealing with our own stuff doesn’t mean we can’t be there for you. In fact, sometimes it really helps us, by knowing we’re not alone in feeling a certain way. It also means that as most of us have developed many coping mechanisms, we can offer you some great advice from experience.
9. We really do appreciate the help that is given to us
Sometimes we may not show it, and we’re sorry for that. But know that we do appreciate help – and a lot of the time we want it more than anything.
Words by Hattie Gladwell