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  • Lindsay S. Wheeler

World Bipolar Day: The Best & Worst

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

On World Bipolar Day, I think about what it means to me to suffer from the disease. Bipolar means that sometimes I will wake up in the morning feeling like I can achieve anything, but go to sleep thinking I am nothing. Bipolar means that some weeks I will walk one hundred miles only to get one hundred feet. It means there will be days of gray skies which break only for moments of a sun so bright it burns a hole right through me. Bipolar is safety and warmth on my skin followed by a chill that reaches my bones.

Bipolar grabs hold of the gentlest people, the most selfless and giving people. Bipolar is not ‘throwing a fit’ in your office because you can’t accept constructive criticism. It is not turning your back on a friend because you burn with envy. Bipolar is not the disease it has been made out to be by the habitual use of “she’s so Bipolar” in public vernacular to signify a casual judgment against someone who commits an erratic, self-centered, or mean act. Growing up, I was led to believe that Bipolar people were merely ‘bad’ and ‘angry.’ I didn’t have the intellectual nuance to see how extraordinarily creative, compassionate, and wise many Bipolar people are; to say that when all is calm, Bipolar people see the world in a way that many can’t. Instead of educating themselves, many attribute an ugly set of behaviors to the disease; misattributions which serve only to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

I was more comfortable with my Depression diagnosis than with the Bipolar diagnosis I received later. I was more comfortable with saying I was pre-occupied with “healthy eating” than with saying I had an eating disorder. Still, I realize how important it is to go out of my comfort zone and wear my labels proudly, because if I don’t, I neglect the role my Bipolar has played in shaping who I am. The disease is not only what causes me to plummet, but it is what drives me to achieve. I wouldn't have my tremendous empathy or capacity for love without it. I've made many mistakes in the past - some of which were related to my brain chemistry - but I came back with more clarity on how to self-improve. I maintain that the mental illness experience is a key component of what makes for a rich and vibrant society.

I am fortunate to have people in my life who ride out the highs and lows with me; lucky to be able to make light of both my manic moments and my depressive ones, because I am surrounded by those who relate. I am able to laugh and say “I am so manic right now,“ just as I am able to sit in my sadness, wallow for a moment, and get back up. I have learned to temper the highs and ease myself out of the lows. Without terrible days, I could not grasp just how beautiful the good days are. I find great joy in reflecting on the past, remembering that I once had no idea what was ‘wrong with me,’ and realizing I now know myself to an astonishing extent. To know yourself, to learn how to anticipate the best and the worst, is to reckon with and defeat a sometimes-unbearable disease. During my lows, I used to lay on the couch in what felt like a state of paralysis. I now tell myself that I can slowly get through it if I go for a walk, browse the aisle of an art store, or bake something for a friend. When I am manic, I tell myself to channel the energy pulsing through my body into writing, running, or some random act of kindness. In the past, my gut would’ve told me to self-destruct or get in the car and drive away.

Even within the mental health advocacy community, I know very few others who proudly wear a Bipolar label. I hope that someday my fellow sufferers will feel more comfortable with the disease. Challenging past misconceptions is powerful and small gestures can direct the misinformed toward the truth. I wish for a day in which those with Bipolar and those with heart disease are equally unaffected by stigma. For now, I am grateful for my growing circle; for those who seek knowledge and understanding, for those who personally relate, and for those who sit on the floor with me at my best and at my worst.

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