Self-Stigma and What If’s

Author: Claire Gault

For me, self-stigma comes from the what if? questions I ask myself.

What if my manic episode never happened?

What if it happened, but I decided to remain at my college instead of transferring to another school?

What if I made different choices, tried different meds, or reached out more when I needed it?

At my lowest moments, I feel ashamed of my past and dissatisfied with my present, desperately wishing to turn back the clock and somehow prevent my diagnosis. Because of these questions I keep to myself, I feel like I’m falling behind other people. With social media broadcasting our personal lives like our own visual biographies, I yearn to be transparent but remain behind a happy facade. The word “bipolar” connotes many things to people, but much more to those who identify with the label. Years of pain, heartache, and shameful memories have intertwined with my diagnosis, and my self-stigma often prevents me from reaching out to others.

However, moments of happiness make all of my struggles worth it. Maybe this isn’t scientifically true, but I feel like having a wide scope of emotions makes the high points in my life even higher. Owning the label of bipolar is still a struggle, but I’m coming to terms with it more and more each day. I try to recognize that if I had the ability to rewind and do things differently, maybe I wouldn’t have gained the skills, friendships, and memories I now have post-mania.

Self-stigma, to put it simply, is hard. Feeling ostracized from neurotypical people or those that don’t understand is tough to deal with, and discovering true potential inside yourself takes time. Low moments look different for everyone, but I’ve recognized that my what if? questions characterize those episodes. It’s time to stop ruminating on the past and direct what if? questions to the future.

What if I can be proud of who I am?

What if I can use my emotional intelligence for good?

What if I chase the high moments and make all of this worth it?

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