Many people dislike being labeled as “bipolar.” I get that, and more power to them. We are absolutely more than just a combination of our diseases and disorders. No one is just bipolar, but for those of us that have the disorder, it can certainly feel like it sometimes, which is why I made the decision to embrace the label.
I’ve had issues with anxiety and depression since at least middle school. I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought it was normal teenage angst, but looking back, I’m almost certain I was already heading toward bipolar disorder. In college it got worse. I finally went to see my doctor about anxiety after I had spent hours crying over the fact that I could not go to a funeral of a relative. My great-uncle had died and I was overwhelmed by the fact that I could not be there for my grandmother. My doctor agreed this was not a normal reaction and I was prescribed Lexapro. It helped.
Further down the road, it got worse. I was hitting full swings of hypo-mania and major depressive episodes. I tried several different medications and none of them worked. A couple actually made things worse. I had seen two therapists and nothing was getting better. The third therapist I went to recognized the symptoms of bipolar disorder. She sent me to a psychiatrist and the diagnosis was confirmed: Bipolar II Disorder.
That was it. I got a new label and new treatment. It changed everything.
Because of this new label I’ve learned what to look for in my behavior. I can watch myself and know what is happening. I don’t have to be afraid. Granted, knowing I’m bipolar doesn’t fix everything, but it helps. It also helps me explain myself to others. I have quirks. There are things that set me off and my reactions can be textbook bipolar disorder. When people know this, it’s easier for them to understand me.
There are downsides to accepting this label. Stigma is a real issue. When I tell someone I have bipolar disorder, I risk discrimination. That discrimination comes with risks of its own. Patients with bipolar disorder that feel stigmatized actually show less satisfaction socially than those who don’t, even more than those who have more physical illnesses. Why wouldn’t they? Being considered an “other” just adds to the problem. People with mental illness can actually be perceived as less human. Seriously? I’m less of a person because my brain works differently? No. I’m not.
Another downside is that sometimes it’s hard not to blame everything on my bipolar disorder. I admit it. I’m human. I look for easy ways out, especially during depressive phases. I have to have discipline, and I also rely on others to keep me accountable.
Overall, though, it helps. I’m a daughter, a wife, a cousin, a friend, a redhead (well, my hair is red…and blue, and yellow and purple). I’m white. I’m short. I’m a roller derby girl. I’m bipolar. All of these labels are important to me. They add up to who I am as a person. A whole person.