I’m not suggesting that we’ve found a cure for bipolar disorder. If you’ve been cured, uh, you never had bipolar in the first place. Fire your doctor.

No, what I mean by “beating” this illness is that bipolar has met its match. It no longer scares me. I can see right through it, and what’s underneath its tough exterior is nothing nearly as scary as it makes itself out to be.

When you or your loved one is first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s a damned scary thing. Especially if you had no prior exposure to or education in mental illness. It can take quite a while to wrap your mind around what bipolar disorder is. Bipolar is irrational; our brains are used to only comprehending the rational, you know, what makes sense in life. Bipolar doesn’t make sense. Ups and downs, in and out of touch with reality, too happy and too sad? Especially that “too happy” part…

No, bipolar doesn’t make sense, and that is scary.

But once you educate yourself on what bipolar is, and what it’s not, and how to manage it, you learn that bipolar disorder is nothing more than an illness. Just like diabetes. When I was first learning about bipolar, I didn’t really get the reference to diabetes. That’s back when I thought you only needed meds to take care of bipolar. But it really does have a lot in common with diabetes.

Both are chemical imbalance issues. Both require monitoring – one of the blood sugar and the other of the mood. Both require medication. Both require lifestyle changes. Both are lifelong and require a constant diligence to stay well – you’ll never be free from doing something, making some adjustments in your life or to your meds or to your perception, to stay well. And both will kill you if you don’t take it seriously. At first, it’s overwhelming, but once you get used to it, managing bipolar is just a part of life – as is managing diabetes. They’re both just illnesses.

It’s bipolar’s best friend that you have to watch out for. Bipolar by itself likes to play a bully, but its strength is only in its untreated form. It can take awhile, but if you’re persistent, you’ll eventually tame bipolar. It’s his pal that will sneak up on you, and if you don’t catch it in time, it will empower bipolar enough to devour you. Chew you up and spit you out in a heap of crumpled hope. Beware, for you’ve probably already fallen victim and don’t realize it yet, of stigma.

Oh, you know what stigma is, you say? You’ve seen it in the faces of your relatives, your loved one’s relatives, your community and church members, your coworkers? No doubt you have. But what you probably don’t realize is that stigma isn’t always so obvious. It’s likely lurking in the corners of your mind.

I didn’t think so, either. I was certain that stigma wasn’t inside the walls of this home. I would get so annoyed with public stigma of bipolar and other mental illness – how could I be feeding it?

Because I wasn’t calling bipolar what it really was. I wasn’t referring to it as an illness, openly and publicly. In fear of stigma from outsiders, I would guard who knew about my husband’s illness. And when I told someone, I didn’t refer to bipolar as an illness. I didn’t specify out loud that it is an illness. I would just call it “bipolar,” but without designating it as an illness, I was in effect allowing stigma to continue.

People were hearing that my husband had bipolar and they had their own opinions about what bipolar was, and they weren’t sticking “illness” after bipolar either. Without even knowing it, we were making bipolar out to be bigger than it is – instead of reducing it to the category of an illness, we were making it out to be a monster.

I didn’t realize this is what I was doing until someone pointed it out to me. There are other ways of course that we can feed the stigma. By being uneducated about bipolar. By not reaching out for help when we need it. By being secretly ashamed of or disappointed with our loved one. By blaming bipolar on parenting, lack of willpower, demon possession or sin. By being scared of it ourselves.

Put bipolar in its place in your home. Oust stigma in all its forms. Reach out for help. Cut people out of your life who aren’t supportive. Talk about what’s really going on in your life. And name bipolar for what it is. Don’t perpetuate the misconception that bipolar is a monster. It’s an illness, and you don’t have to be scared of it.