I Can Be…

I realize Mental Health Awareness Month ended yesterday, but I thought it apropos to make one more post on the subject after reading the following article, Why I Choose To Say ‘I am Bipolar’ by Daria Akers online at The Mighty. It resonated with me, not because I finally understand who to look at this illness. Read below.

One of the major discussions in the mental health community is how to refer to your diagnosis. Some people say you should always say you have the condition; not that you are the diagnosis. The common rationale for that is that your illness shouldn’t define you. It isn’t who you are. People point out that no one says “I am cancer,” or “I am diabetes.”

But I say I am bipolar because my diagnosis helps define me. To be honest, it is a huge part of who I am. While I was first diagnosed in my early 30s, I’ve looked back and can see I started having my symptoms in puberty.

Most of my formative years happened while I was mentally ill. My bipolar disorder helped shape all of the facets of my life. In high school, the waves of mania and depression affected not just my emotions but also my sense of self-worth, my ability to make and keep friends, my sexuality and my reputation.

Now that I have been diagnosed and I am successfully managing my condition, I am stronger, more confident and more at peace. My bipolar is providing me with opportunities that I might have never had if I didn’t have it. I have become an advocate for people with mental health conditions through my writings, speeches and volunteer work.

I think my mental illness is so integral to who I am that the Daria who is wouldn’t exist without my bipolar.

I’ve said, ‘I’m bipolar.’ I’ve recently stated, ‘I live with bipolar depression.’ I think I am indifferent either way, but what struck me was how she ended her article.

My bipolar is providing me with opportunities that I might have never had if I didn’t have it.

Keep reading, because I almost didn’t.

I have become an advocate for people with mental health conditions through my writings, speeches and volunteer work.

Early on in my treatment, my counselor advised me to read, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. This book is like the bible to the newly diagnosed mentally ill. And with good reason. Ms. Jamison, a doctor herself, lived with bipolar and its affects, even as she treated others. She ended the book much in a similar fashion as Ms. Akers ended her article – she posed the hypothetical question whether or not she would choose to have manic-depressive illness, if given the choice. She said, she would. She said due to her illness, she experienced everything with greater intensity and passion.

I walked away from that book with a greater understanding of my illness, but also a great contempt for the author and her book, because I couldn’t understand how she could say what she said. Greater intensity and passion in life is wonderful, but at the expense of your peace and sanity? I’m not one to judge someone else based on their experience, but that one statement caused me many years of disdain – mainly for myself, because, for the longest time, all I wanted was to NOT have this. To not to be different, not experience the despair and uncontrollable emotions. Not to have to face this for the rest of my life.

Then I read Ms. Akers’ article and I understood what Ms. Jamison was saying. Ms. Akers wrote, I have become because I am bipolar. All she was in that moment was due to, borne from, all because of her illness, because that’s how she viewed it. And that’s what it boils down to–what do you see? How do you see yourself? How do you see your situation? I’m not missing any kind of depth or appreciation for bipolar that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Or even somehow grandizing it. We get so focused on what we are with these illnesses, we often miss what we can become because of them.

Let me rephrase that, because this is personal–I have been so focused on what I am with it, that I’ve missed what I can become because of it. Yeah, the bad parts suck, but they don’t last and it’s during those times that I can become something more than the illness. I don’t have to be just bipolar. I can be more. I can be an advocate, a healer, a point of inspiration for someone else going through something similar. Or I can be passionate, happy, appreciative of the good times, however far and between those moments fall. The point is, I can be more than what this disease says I am. I just need to change my perception–a task easier said than done, but now that I see it for what it is, it’s an attainable one.

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