I decided to be open about my bipolar disorder over two years ago. I expected that there would be some stigma, but what I didn’t expect or prepare for was the hidden stigma. The kind of stigma that isn’t immediately obvious until you reflect upon it. One of these hidden stigmas is people using my bipolar as an excuse or cop-out, either for their own actions or myself. Common examples of this is “You’ve done really well given you have bipolar” or “You have bipolar? But you seem like the rest of us!”
Some people do say similar things but they are genuinely sympathetic or interested, which doesn’t bother me because I find it supportive. Though what really makes me mad is when people are patronizing, condescending and insincere. Usually I smile and brush it off because frankly those people aren’t worth my time but now I am no longer going to brush it off. Instead I will politely educate those who are misinformed. But to those who have used my bipolar disorder as an excuse in the past I say this to them:
My bipolar disorder is not mine or anyone else’s excuse. Having bipolar does not make me any less capable and it does not mean I will strive for less. Just because I have bipolar disorder doesn’t mean I have or will become complacent. I will not settle for mediocrity because I have never settled for it and I am not going to start now. The age-old line ‘you did really well despite what you’ve been through’ does not cut it for me. My expectations of myself have not changed and nor should yours because I can still achieve my goals.
Granted, I have spent and probably will spend months in hospital for mania and depression but that does not diminish me, it is just a hurdle for me to overcome and I have proved I can do it time and time again. One of those hurdles included being treated with electroconvulsive therapy which meant I lost a lot of my memory, but I didn’t give up – I re-learnt everything. Yet I am not alone, everyone has their hurdles to overcome.
I am more than capable when I am well and I am more than capable when I am moderately depressed or elevated. I get out of bed when I’m depressed and I make myself focus when elevated and you wouldn’t know I was struggling. For the most part this is my reality, the majority of the time I am fighting a hidden battle but that is not an excuse for me or anyone else. Being unwell is a justification or reason, but a justification and reason is different than an excuse.
My bipolar disorder does not make me any less intelligent or ambitious. It does not make me any less friendly or helpful. It does not make me any less hardworking or committed. And it does not make me any less kind or honest. On the contrary it has taught me to be flexible and adaptable. It has taught me that I will get things done, but sometimes a timeline may need adjusting. It has taught me that there is no one mould for work and study. It has taught me to never judge or discount people because they do things differently. And it has made me stronger, grittier and more resilient.
I am no different to everybody else. I am still the same person I was three years ago when I was diagnosed, or eleven years ago when my symptoms first started, or fifteen years ago before I had symptoms. I am still the same person I have always have been and that person is someone who has aspirations, ability and dedication, so my bipolar disorder is not your excuse.
Sally also blogs for bp Magazine and has written for Youth Today, upstart and The Change Blog. To read more of her IBPF posts, click here.