Merriam-Webster defines illness as, “a specific condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally.” If this is true, then how do we succeed in a world designed by and for “normal” minds? Here’s what I think: We do it like McGyver, with nothing but a safety pin, a stick of gum and a thimble. We do it like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards, in heels. We do it like Joseph Friedman, who thought straws should be bendier, just because. For both the famous and the unfamous, success often requires a great deal of creativity.
Here’s what she said, “If you have pleased everyone who has asked something of you, you are doing something wrong. It’s ok to say no. You’re good at what you do, but you aren’t the only one who can do it.” I know she’s right but I can see this might take some practice.
I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t pay attention when they ask me how I’m doing. If it turns out that they’re not listening, I chalk it up to experience and move on. It can be frustrating to be misunderstood, but it’s not the end of the world. I can always try again.
Science posits that the origins of my mental illness are in my DNA, inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. My personality exists separate yet equal to my diagnosis. I have a sense of control over my thoughts and actions, but I also have to recognize that this is an illusion, albeit one that I’m invested in for the sake of my mental health.
There are times when, even medicated, depression cuts through and I can’t muster the gumption to accomplish anything. I’ve read that this is common, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. For me, being depressed means waiting out the course of the symptoms. Talk therapy helps, but I’d still like some kind of merit badge for getting stuff done.
When I choose to agree with the shame I feel, I am the one giving power to stigma. I am the only one who has the power to break this internal stigma because I get to choose what I believe about myself. So for me breaking stigma requires intentionally breaking out of the mindset my childhood gave me. It requires me to talk back to my mental tapes that tell me I am not enough.
Today I live in gratitude for all of the help I’ve received, and especially for the gift of acceptance which I awarded myself. The perseverance of my therapist and trusted friends helped get me from my deluded thoughts to a place where truth helps me heal. My symptoms are more obvious to me now when they arise, and I’m vigilant about my mental health.
I have survived for 32 years despite my best efforts. Consequently, I talk about mental health a lot because it affects me every day. I talk about it with my therapists, my friends, my family, the Internet. I talk about my scars from self-harm, my suicide attempts, my battle with addiction, the miscarriages I had, and the continuing, day-to-day frustrations of living with my disorders.
I always want people to immediately understand bipolar as I do, and it is frustrating. How do you explain something so immense, and intricate, in a couple of minutes of causal conversation? I just want to get from point A to point B, quickly. But I have found that saying “hello, my name is Sean, and I have bipolar disorder,” isn’t the most effective way to set the groundwork for any type of relationship.