The Power in Overcoming Self Stigma

Author: Emily Ellison

“Please don’t be bipolar” I thought to myself as I sat in the waiting room for my first psychiatrist appointment. I feared this diagnosis. Having done my degree in psychology I understood bipolar clinically and I believed that this diagnosis would be disastrous, that I would live the rest of my life in and out of psychiatric facilities, that medication would turn me into some kind of zombie, and that I would be feared by all who knew my diagnosis. I had many preconceived notions about what it meant to be bipolar, all of which were drenched in stigma. 

I left my appointment with the very diagnosis I had prayed so hard I wouldn’t get – my worst fears realized. I walked out into a world I felt no longer understood me, nor I it. I had no idea what to do with the monumental feelings I was having – feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing. I hated this diagnosis and what I felt it represented. I let these thoughts consume me, allowing the idea that who I was had changed entirely. I was no longer Emily – the smiling, funny, notoriously cussing girl my friends and family had come to know and love, but rather I was now a shell of that person. It would take me quite some time to reconcile these feelings, to sort out truth from fiction. It would take me months to recognize that I was holding onto a great deal of stigma, and that I was projecting that stigma onto myself. When I finally realized what I was doing I was determined to unlearn all the things I had been telling myself. I wanted to find the truth about myself, to stop the toxic cycle of thoughts that had been running rampant in my mind for months. 

I began by writing to myself. I held space for the feelings I was having. Was I a different person because I was bipolar? Was I less of a mother, wife, friend, person the way I had feared? As I worked my way through these thoughts I realized that no, I wasn’t less of any of these things – bipolar didn’t define who I was at all. I wasn’t treated any differently, I was still the same person I was hours before I had been diagnosed, nothing about me had truly changed. 

I then began writing to share with others. I shared what it felt like to be bipolar, I was vulnerable and open. I began to share these things on my blog and related Instagram account, finding my place in the world of advocacy. When I started to share I was inundated with messages from others who also lived with bipolar disorder, and I found a comradery of sorts. I no longer hid behind my diagnosis, no longer ashamed, no longer afraid to voice my experiences, to live my life authentically. I wrote in hopes of helping others, and to set in motion a movement so that others could also have their voices be heard.

When I first got my diagnosis I was riddled with fears stemming from the stigma I was carrying, a stigma that I hadn’t realized I was harbouring. I projected this stigma onto myself, allowing it to define me, to scare me, to threaten my happiness and to silence my voice. I feared I would never be the same, that this world would treat me differently as a result of being someone who lives with a mental illness. I am happy to stand here today to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have found the beauty in my diagnosis, learned to love my uniqueness. I am no longer afraid to be who I am, bipolar and all. I now spend a great deal of my time advocating for change both socially and systemically. I have found my voice and purpose, and the truth is I never would have had I not gone to that psychiatrist appointment I dreaded so fully. 

I am bipolar but that is simply a part of me, not the very definition of me. I am still that funny, cussing, loving person I was before I stepped into the psychiatrist’s office. If anything, I am more than I ever was. I am stronger, braver, and most importantly, perfectly proud of who I am. 

About Emily Ellison:

Hi, my name is Emily and I have a diagnosis of bipolar 1. I currently reside on beautiful Vancouver Island, Canada, with my husband and 2 boys. I have spent the last 6 years advocating for mental health, both through social media as well as my blog Words For Gerry. I am greatly looking forward to continuing advocacy work with the Bipolar International Foundation, and firmly believe that together we can end the stigma surrounding mental health and mental health treatment. My goal is to bring awareness to bipolar, to educate others about bipolar disorder, and most importantly to let others know they are never alone on their journey.

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