The other day, my 18-year-old niece and I were chatting and the topic of me living with bipolar disorder came up. It wasn’t a particularly involved conversation, but her responses fascinated me.

As a writer and speaker, I discuss living with mental illness with hundreds of people every month. Whether they be one-on-one conversations, comments on blogs, or private messages I receive, I spend an incredible amount of time discussing this subject.

And her take on this subject may well be one of my favorites. Everyone, please welcome Nikki Howard to Don’t Call Me Crazy.

How Does the World See My Bipolar Uncle?

I don’t know.

Is that a genuine answer? Considering my lack of understanding and experience with mental illness, my answer seems rather fair coming from the perspective of an upcoming college student. I suppose I could offer an intellectual explanation regarding my uncle’s presentation to the world with statistical data, interviews, witty quotes, and what psychologists have to say. . . but does that count? If I were someone with a mental illness, would I really enjoy the idea of someone telling me how the world views me (the reader) when they (the writer) have no substantial evidence of what it is truly like living with such an illness? I suppose I could gather data, conduct research, and come to many conclusions, but the description of mental illness, the struggles and hardships, are not always scientifically reasonable. There are small details of information that linger in the everyday lifestyle of an individual suffering from mental illness.

Details, that without first-hand experience, would not be properly portrayed in an article written by someone who only has science on her side.

Besides, who am I to conclude how one is seen by the many individuals existing in the world? How does the world perceive an individual suffering from mental illness? Well, that depends on an individual’s concept of the world. One worldview could easily consist of everlasting support, while another could be a swirl of judgement and ridicule. The world consists of differing opinions — and experiences.

How Does the World See My Bipolar Uncle?

Nikki Howard (left) was forced to smile by her Uncle Gabe (right).

I need consistency. As a writer, I need to know that what I am writing is not some falsely composed façade that I created just for the opportunity of publication. I must be honest, raw, and, at times, the bearer of “tough love.” No, I cannot tell you how the world views you. There are simply too many people and too many opinions to come to a conclusion that I find adequate and appropriate to publish.

No, I cannot tell you what it is like living with a mental illness. As someone who lacks experience in the posted topic, I cannot offer a validated conclusion as to what I believe living with mental illness is like.

Yes, I can write and describe emotions I have never felt before. I have empathy. However, mental illness is not an emotion and should not be branded as if it will dissipate when the doctor hands you a bandage and a lollipop. It is more than that. If I want to remain honest, I must not base my conclusions on invalidated research.

I was asked how the world views my uncle Gabe and I don’t know. However, I am sure he would be happy to explain the opinions he has heard and how they affected him, if you wish to ask. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, Gabe can offer a response that does not rely on the statistical data, but relies on lived experience. He can do what I cannot when approached with the topic of mental illness:

Tell the truth.

Gabe Howard is a professional speaker, writer, and advocate who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He has made it his mission to change the way society reacts to mental illness. He is an award-winning blogger and the creator of the official bipolar shirt. (Get yours now!) Interested in working with Gabe or learning more? He can be reached on Facebook, via email, or on his website, www.GabeHoward.com.  Don’t be shy — he’s not.

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