The Courage of Bipolar People

Imagine that you were told you might need medication and psychotherapy for the rest of your life. And that the side effects of your medication may be difficult to handle.

And if you didn’t do that, your life may get out of control. That, without any treatment, you will have problems with friends and family, problems at work, and problems in your relationships. That your behavior would be impulsive and self-sabotaging.

How might you feel if you were told this? How would you react? I know I would feel confused and deflated. I would probably feel shame and guilt. Then angry and defiant. That can’t be true. There must be some mistake.

Imagine the stone-cold courage it takes to accept this and do something about it. To take the attitude of not letting this condition define or defeat you.

Life can be a daily struggle for people who are bipolar. Each day can bring shifting moods, fatigue, and emotional fragility. Emotional stability can be elusive making it difficult for relationships.

In my opinion, this condition is still one of the most stigmatized. It’s hard for people to understand what’s so difficult about managing your emotions. It’s also hard for people to understand how completely exhausting it can be to deal with mood cycles over which you have no control.

Sometimes the symptoms can be clear and identifiable. Other times they can be subtle. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize whether a symptom is real or just part of being human.

Acceptance of the condition can take years. Fully committing to treatment and staying with it requires tremendous courage. And it’s a lifelong commitment.

That admission to oneself that, “I’m bipolar” takes extreme bravery. Admitting it to others takes courage in the extreme.

The reality is that many, if not most, people with this condition feel like they have it under control at some point. Then they stop treatment. What follows is a descent into a different world where just living becomes difficult. Then comes the extremely challenging process of realizing what happened, doing damage control, and getting back into treatment.

Those of us who don’t have this condition really have any idea what it’s like. We may think we understand it but we don’t. Here’s what one person wrote about living with bipolar. This was posted anonymously for privacy reasons. It’s a long quote but it’s worth reading.

“I am functional on the surface although I am sure I am perceived as “eccentric,” “selfish,” “bitchy” or “high maintenance” by neurotypicals who aren’t aware of the tremendous emotional labor I perform on a daily basis to appear somewhat “normal.” I beat myself up over it, I feel like I’m lazy and malingering and not good enough compared to everyone else. I lose whole days to migraines and sometimes can’t fall asleep until it’s time to wake up, but I still have to get up and start my day. I’ve had days when I’ve gone into work when I have bronchitis because I already used up my sick days as mental health days (usually disguised as a headache or food poisoning because it’s not okay to call in “bipolar”). It’s damn hard work living in the mental illness closet and pretending to be okay when I’m not, but the alternative- going on disability (if I could even qualify) and living in poverty- sounds so much worse. I know I am intelligent and skilled and capable. I want to work and be a productive member of society, but society often demands a lot more than many mentally ill people (and neurotypical people, too) can handle to earn enough money to live and to get the insurance we so desperately need to be functional.”

The reality is that people who are bipolar are still themselves. The condition doesn’t change who they are and who they want to be. They just struggle more than the rest of us to live a normal life. And in my eyes, that struggle makes them exceptionally courageous and admirable. I’m honored to work with them.