Recently I posed the question, “What does mentally ill look like?” on a picture of me on Instagram. I wrote the following in the description, “What does mental illness look like? People look at me and assume I’ve never been there. Why? Because I dress fashionably? Because I crack jokes and smile often? Reflect on your snap judgements of people based on their appearances and challenge them because in reality you’ll never truly know the demons they battle everyday and hide from the world. I struggle with bipolar disorder type one and have had multiple full blown episodes of mania where I completely lost touch with who I was or what reality is. I may not look the part but I’ve been in the throes of depression, I’ve cried more tears than I care to admit and THAT is why I smile and laugh often cause I choose to see and enjoy the light when I can and am capable. What does mental illness look like? It looks like your daughter, your nephew, your neighbour or the cashier at the local grocery store. Everyone has known struggle but some of us tuck it away better than others. Challenge your judgements, be kind to others cause you never truly know what they are or have gone through.”
My biggest pet peeve is when people first find out I am bipolar and turn to me and exclaim, “You? You don’t look like you’d be bipolar!” Like what does that even mean? Call me jaded but I feel it’s like them saying, “You don’t look crazy!?” There is still stigma around mental health and mental illness to this day despite many people like me trying to actively combat it. I write this blog so people may know a type-A overachiever like myself who seems like “she has it all put together” can also fall victim to having a mental illness and that it does not define you as a person, however for me personally, it’s a large part of what has made me quite frankly well – Me! There’s this idea perpetuated in the media and through film that mentally ill people are generally disheveled looking, talk to themselves or in most cases live on the streets.
The scariest generalization I personally think is that mentally ill people are violent. There are incidences when this is true but its way less common than believed to be. One of the very few times I’ve felt discriminated against was because of this erroneous belief. One of my old high school friends recently explained why we never chill at his place anymore and it’s because since he mentioned I was diagnosed with bipolar to his mom, she is scared for his safety when he is with me. She believes I will turn violent and have some kind of outburst towards him. I find this highly offensive and a little annoyed my friend did not feel the need to stick up for me and instead meets me secretly at the local coffee shop whenever he is in town. I am a very generous, understanding and forgiving person though so ultimately I let this go.
This is real life folks, not One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For example, my mental illness is more prevalent in the population than you would think: More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. And you’re going to try and tell me that they are all bat-shit crazy or violent? Mental illness can be treated contrary to whatever bullshit has been spun about it. On the right medication, a person with bipolar, schizophrenia, etc., can live a relatively normal and productive life. I will admit I have experienced psychoses which are complete breaks with reality but I never had any violent tendencies just delusional thoughts about who I was and what I was experiencing. The first one led to my diagnosis and was obviously a result of being mentally ill without proper medication and the second time was induced by a poor choice in medication prescribed by a well meaning but quite frankly moronic psychiatrist. I have been stable for over five years now that I found the right medication and take it regularly. I don’t look quote on quote crazy for a “mentally ill” person cause quite honestly I am not.
Mentally ill should not be congruous with “crazy.” I find that offensive and way off base, rather an ignorant view. There are people who murder, steal, cheat and are just in general assholes with no mental illness, so what’s their excuse? The reason I do not look mentally ill at first glance is because I got my shit together and because at the core I don’t hide behind bipolar as an excuse for my actions or behavior. I’ll admit it has impacted my life both positively and negatively but at the end of the day I take full ownership of that as being on me, Brittany, not “Bipolar Brittany.” I am everything despite this disorder – I am loyal to a fault (seriously If I love you I will support you to no end and never pass judgement), I am honest also sometimes to a fault (don’t come to me if you want something sugar coated), I am open minded and try to relate to people and life in general on a higher ground, constantly looking for meaning. I am all these lovely things and also not so lovely ones like lazy, unmotivated and anxious. I can easily say oooh that’s just because of the bipolar but I don’t – that’s a cop out and a way to which I choose not to live my life.
My biggest pet peeve is the stigma around these mental disorders and the fear to be identified as having one. My mother is well meaning but freaks out every time I meet someone new and “came out” as bipolar. I am always super upfront about my illness maybe annoyingly so. I mention it on the first date with any new potential lover because they should be aware of it and so I know based off their reaction whether or not I want to pursue that relationship any further. I will not have bigoted people in my life, I won’t, I can’t for my own mental health. People are alike in that we all have gone through some heavy shit. Some of us hide it better than others and some people like me enjoy talking about that struggle openly so others may know its normal. You’re not an alien for being depressed, for grieving loss, or in my case having lost your mind. You’re human and that’s how I feel we should relate to one another – as humans who are muddling through this scary and intense experience that is life.
Just be mindful the next time you throw the word “crazy” out there to describe someone or watch how you judge someone based off the way they appear. You genuinely do not know or will ever truly understand where they are coming from unless you take the time to get to know their struggle.
All my Love, forever ending the stigma,