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.
When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
It feels like an admission of failure to say that I hear voices, like it’s a personal flaw in my character, that I somehow have a modicum of control over the experience. I don’t. It’s an involuntary response to stress. At least that’s what science claims. I actually have no idea, even with all the research I’ve done, but it makes sense.
I’m learning this, how to function within a new parameter, with new variables and familiar memories commingled. I will get through this because I want to. Because I need to if I’m going to stay healthy. I have something to prove to myself: that I can do this thing called Life.
When I consider my life, it is usually divided into two parts: Before and After. Before – before a proper diagnosis. After – after a proper diagnosis. This distinction isn’t some fleeting thought I have when I open a scrap book. It’s the way I tell my story, to myself and to others.
I want to believe that by being transparent I am inviting people into my world, and that I’m breaking down stereotypes and allowing others to experience the real me, the person beyond the mental illness. Whether I can relate to the world around me or not is up to the day and my symptoms. When those symptoms are being managed, I can sense a way into the sea of people I watch in wonder.