I recently told a new friend and neighbor that I manage a diagnoses of Bipolar I with psychosis and rapid cycling. I explained that I haven’t been symptomatic in a long time and that vigilant compliance to my health care regime is key to thriving – as is support.
I asked if she had questions and we talked a lot. It was a very open, honest conversation, Jesica was extraordinarily receptive and filled with empathy. But it wasn’t until we sat down to discuss what this “coming out” process has been like for both of us until just the other day when I interviewed her for this piece.
From this conversation, I was able to better pinpoint a few stigma realities and an even better understanding of the true meaning of our friendship.
For example, when I asked Jesica what her perception had been of bipolar disorder before meeting me, she said she held the ideology that people with this diagnoses were irregularly moody and often violent, scary people who need to be shunned and avoided in society. But knowing me and having been my friend, she explained that spending time with a good person with a good heart and soul, she owed it to herself — and me — to learn more about my diagnoses.
This wasn’t shocking. This was a gift.
Many people truly have this ill perception and haven’t had a reason to be properly educated about the realities of the disorder.
So Jes did some research. She picked up immediately on the “I’m not my diagnoses” theme I sprinkle liberally throughout my writing. Between spilling my guts and our more formal interview, she read a number of my blogs and some information on line. She said people “think they know what the diagnoses means”, but she quickly learned to understand she was among the many who had a once skewed idea of bipolar reality. And getting that “I’m Kate, not Bipolar Kate”, she observed that it’s knowing me as a good, strong person that enables her to trust that even if symptomatic, “Kate” would be inside somewhere – steering a course and almost instinctively getting help and guess what? Leaning on my new friend for support. Jes said, “everyone needs support at some point or another”. I consider the support aspect of our relationships no differently, she explained, than a friend dealing with the trauma of divorce or the overwhelming need for comfort when loosing a friend or relative due to the myriad issues we all have in this hectic world.
As we concluded the more formal aspect of our conversation and got more chatty, I asked Jes if I could count her in as part of my support system in Virginia. Not having the wealth of community I had only a short while ago, knowing someone who not only trusts and believes in me but also supports my management of bipolar as well is exceptional. Knowing this kind, giving person could also hold the stigma that mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, could trigger a rage of violence on the drop of a hat would have once made me feel victimized.
But you can’t help solve the problem – you can’t advocate — without understanding the stigma – and the very real and ugly underbellies to many mental health diagnoses. Understanding reality is so important. We can’t fight stigma and steer perception to a more realistic picture of the myriad psychological disorders if we’re never going to get beyond an image of violence or “sick” people who can never achieve good health. No – you can’t be “better”, but you can be healthy knowing you’re compliant and that your bevy of support members is strong.
And my new friend Jes answered with quickness and certainty that she wants to be an active member of my support system.
Moving many states from home can be scary. It’s also extraordinarily educational and rewarding, too. Accepting that stigma exists to a level I didn’t truly understand was an educational slap in the face. Knowing it can be overcome with a good dose of sharing is another stepping stone in the long and often tiresome path to change.
My new friend Jes is now a part of my new and evolving support system. I can’t help but feel blessed and for the better.