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1. Explaining to people that there is a difference between “moody” and “bipolar”
I had told a colleague that I have bipolar and she laughed. When she saw that I wasn’t laughing with her, she asked me if I was serious with my claim. This is very common for me. Unfortunately many people mistake moodiness with bipolar. However, one cannot really blame them. The media is full of examples in which mental illnesses are used as adjectives: “I feel so depressed”, “She always makes me take off my shoes; so OCD”.
2. You feel like you are sharing your body with a stranger
You wake up and you are on cloud nine for no apparent reason. All you want to do is dance and sing and possibly skip work. You know, however, that you are a responsible person who enjoys work, and dancing isn’t your thing. There are moments in my manic episodes when I ask myself if I was the one who did all of those crazy things. Manic episodes for me can be anything from reckless spending to binge eating. Credit card receipts and bank notifications act as the only proof that I am the one who brought my bank balance to zero.
3. You have developed a thick skin
Stigma is very real when living with a mental illness. I remember when I became vocal about the pain and darkness I feel every time I experience a depressive state; I had people telling me to stop. For some reason, being open about my illness made people uncomfortable, and some even began to distance themselves from me. Losing a friend is hard, but the thought of helping another always keeps me motivated – even on days when people try and be nasty about it.
4. Some people think you take pills for fun
The first thing I do when I wake up is take my medication, because I know how important it is for me. Many people have questioned whether I really need medication to manage my bipolar. The answer is YES! There are people who manage their mental illness very well without taking anything for it, but I am not one of them. I remember very well the person I was when I was off medication: I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate, had hallucinations at times, and was always irritable and suicidal. I prefer to not go back to that place.
5. Explaining to people why you can’t drink alcohol
You go to a party and all you have a juice, or in my case, tea. People look at you funny. They ask if you can’t find the alcohol of your choice at the event. When this happens I smile and politely tell whoever is asking “My medication doesn’t allow me to drink”. Some will look puzzled and walk away, while others will ask why this is the case.
6. Relationships can be challenging
The depressive side of bipolar is very familiar territory for me. It is in this space that the self-loathing manifests and spills over into all my relationships. I cut myself off because I feel like I am too ugly, too boring, too annoying, or whatever other false truths the depression feeds me. All of my relationships have suffered because of it, and some still continue to suffer. You can only cancel so many times before people stop inviting you to parties or dinners. I would break up with people who loved me because I thought they just felt pity for me, and I would enter abusive relationships because I believed that is all I deserved.
The only way to have a healthy relationship is to work on it, and that is what I now do continuously. I listen to the advice my mother gives me, I try my best to attend all events I’m invited to, and I’m open about my illness in romantic relationships.
7. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for
There are days when all you want to do is keep sleeping, but you get up, shower, and have breakfast. That, even though very small, is an achievement. The small triumphs are the ones that remind us that bipolar is not winning. So don’t be too hard on yourself when you are having a bad day.