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Explaining Bipolar in 20 Seconds

Puțin mai uman IIIHow would you explain bipolar to someone in 20 seconds?

I often avoid the topic because I don’t know how I would explain it to people.

I often feel rushed when I’m in conversation, and I don’t want to take up too much of someone’s time.

So what happens when, in conversation, you want or have to bring up that you live with bipolar disorder?

Some would probably disagree with me that the bipolar conversation would ever have to come up. I can see where that makes sense to some people, but I feel that bipolar is an inseparable part of my life and that there will be a time when someone that I am close to (or fairly close to) will serve to be informed of my illness.

I’ve tried to come up with some kind of sales pitch that I can use to wrap up bipolar in a few moments:

“Well, I have bipolar disorder, it’s a mood disorder characterized by shifts in depression and mania, and it can be tough, but it’s actually manageable if you’re on the right medication and treatment plan.”

But that doesn’t do my experience justice.

Some people that I’ve spoken to with bipolar think that the “bipolar talk” needs to be more formal and include more of a question and answer process.

Is that going to be applicable to all situations, though?

For instance, I had to stop my Master’s program due to bipolar disorder. Significant people in my life wondered how my Master’s program was going at family dinners and parties. I had to tell them, for fear of having to explain bipolar, that I just decided the program wasn’t going to work for me.

It’s kind of true. But in my heart, I wanted to tell them about what I had really and truly gone through.

I know there is stigma all around me. You would have to be blind to think that there isn’t stigma everywhere regarding mental illness. If you really know me, you know I try to stand up for stigma, but I am also a realist.

Some people aren’t going to understand. Yes, even people like my father-in-law and my aunt and uncle and my grandparents. Sometimes it’s better to come up with a convenient reason why things have fallen apart.

Believe me, I want to stand up for my illness, I want to be proud of who I am, but in the fast paced, impersonal way we go about things these days, it’s hard to communicate what I’m going through, even to people I see all the time.

I’m hiding my illness to 80-90% of the people I know. I might have mentioned it in passing, and sometimes I regret that I even did that. I don’t want people to get a skewed view of who I am and what I experience with bipolar.

I don’t want to hide my illness, but it just seems like it’s the only choice I have at the moment.

Who talks about themselves constantly? My family never let me do that. When I was a child, there were many instances where you were not to speak unless spoken to, and even growing up, my parents refrained from complimenting or pumping up my self-esteem in any way. To do so would be too flamboyant, too flashy. We weren’t like that.

So now, even at age 24, I am afraid to talk about myself and my experiences because I feel like I’m being selfish. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my life because theirs is probably more exciting anyway.

I try to fight stigma for everyone else, but not for myself.

I know I have to tell my story. Obviously, it doesn’t sit with me right that I am so closed off about my illness. It impacts everything I do and I just wish that my world were different, that I could be comfortable with the people around me.

How do you bring up your experience with bipolar disorder to family and friends? Do you find it difficult, like I do? What would you suggest to me in my struggle to discuss bipolar disorder with those in my life? If someone can’t accept your bipolar, should you have a relationship with them?



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Creative Commons License photo credit: Bogdan I. Stanciu

Explaining Bipolar in 20 Seconds

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2013). Explaining Bipolar in 20 Seconds. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Feb 2013
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