Say What?

August 14, 2013

When someone finds out that I have bipolar, I often hear “You will beat this!” That’s when I cue the “What the heck?” face. Bipolar (along with many, many other health conditions) is not something that you wake up one day and say “I have been healed!”. Another response I typically get is the “I am sorry you are sick” mentality. Sick? No, I am fairly certain I feel fine today. And tomorrow. If I am “sick”, I have a cold or the stomach flu. Bipolar is not something that requires the well meant “taking care of”/coddling that often occurs when someone you love is puking their brains out. Living with bipolar is, for me, like living with asthma-you learn to adapt and care for yourself a little differently than others. The world keeps spinning, I go to work and eat meals and have hobbies. Sure, sometimes I get a little symptomatic and feel the need to impart my divine wisdom upon innocent bystanders, but who doesn’t spaz out from time to time.

Still of Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

(Image from IMDb.com)

There is a stigma around mental illnesses. Many think about them and a mini clip from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. A large percentage of persons who live with a mental illness do not need hospitalization or heavy doses of medications. The recovery process is skewed by the assumption that if one has a mental illness, then something must be terribly wrong with them. It has been described to me like this: someone who struggles with a health condition (diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, etc.) has to make life changes and maybe see a few extra doctors than the next person. They do not have a third arm, or a second head growing out of their neck. Persons living with mental illnesses are no different. Sure, I may take medications and work with a therapist, but I tie my shoes and put on pants just like anyone else. So why the stigma?

Working in the mental health field is a beautiful thing. While we are completing the duties required of our job titles, we are constantly striving to eliminate the stigma around mental illnesses. Before I started working for our county’s community mental health center, I was afraid that I would not be allowed to study and work towards becoming a therapist. Who would let someone like me try to fix someone else’s brain? What if I fell off my rocker? Well, that fear was completely unnecessary. I realized that someone who is in recovery and trying to manage their own symptoms or has someone in their life that has struggled with symptom management and the likes is a lot more effective in assisting with the recovery process and empathy is more effective than sympathy. One can have all of the credentials in the world and could have graduated top of their class from the most prestigious schools, but if they do not have some sort of insight as to how difficult it can be to manage symptoms and perform necessary tasks to get through the day how effective can they be?

I hope to continue writing about my experiences in the recovery process on this blog and to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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