This week, I had the distinction of meeting with the Head of Psychiatry at my new care facility.
When my regular psychiatrist first told me that she would like me to meet her boss, in true bipolar fashion two thoughts immediately raced through my head. The first was, “Hey, if I can be of service to these guys and can aid them in giving other patients outstanding care, then I’m all for it.” The second neuron that fired blurted, “Yeah, sure, let’s put the Bipolar I freak on display for all to see.” (I’ve been going into a bit of a hypomania due to antidepressant withdrawal so the latter thought is what stuck with me for the rest of the day, I’m ashamed to say.)
When the appointment finally rolled around five days later, I was pleased to find the Head of Psychiatry was not a side-show freak wrangler after all. He was kind, soft-spoken and genuinely interested in making a connection as he spoke to me and my husband about my treatment plan going forward.
Then, inevitably, it happened. The subject of whether I am or whether I have bipolar was put on the table.
Well, I know I am going to take a lot of heat for this. But, I *am* bipolar.
Yes, I know. I know. There are many out there, including the Head of Psychiatry, who believe that people should not define who they are by their disease. But, everyone, honestly – I cannot ever remember a time in my life when I wasn’t aware that my moods were not the same as everyone else’s. I’m just not wired the way my kindergarten playmate was or the kid next door is. I do not react the same way to stress as my first boss or my last one. And I certainly don’t have the luxury of having a medication-free day the way 99% of the people I know do. Because I am bipolar. Bipolar is an integral part of who and what I am. I’ve been this way for so long that I consider it part of my identity. I am a mother, I am a brunette, I am a wife and I am bipolar.
Here’s a question – why doesn’t anyone ever hear a woman say, “I have pregnancy?” Because pregnancy 99.9% of the time is a joyful and welcome state to be in. Why is there still a bias against saying, “I have bipolar?” Because there is still such stigma surrounding mental illness. It is now perfectly acceptable to say you are a diabetic. It is grammatically incorrect to say you have pregnancy. But, let’s face it. No one says, “I am cancer,” because cancer is bad. So, who wants to be it? You simply have it. Isn’t that a large part of the reason there’s a whole tribe out there who refuses to say they are bipolar? I have heard people admit this is the case.
So, tonight, I am here to reclaim being bipolar. To the Head of Psychiatry and to the BP Newbie who just e-mailed me: I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t different, I honestly believe I couldn’t have accomplished a lot of the things I have without understanding the full spectrum from mania to depression, and my husband has even said that if I didn’t have the passion I do for things he wouldn’t be with me. Being bipolar means there is an explanation as to why I am different and part of the reason I am accomplished. I’m not saying this disease is wonderful or a breeze to live with. But I am saying it is a part of me and part of my identity.
I AM bipolar.
(OK – let the hating begin.)