I really can’t choose to leave my bipolar at home - Melanie’s story
37 year old marketer, Melanie has been recently diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. She discusses the challenge of receiving this news and working out how and why her own perception of it could be so different from other people’s.
It was taking a while for me to refer to myself as “bipolar” out loud without it feeling strained. I felt my body tense slightly as the word made its big entrance into the room, my mouth tripping over itself awkwardly as it sounded the syllables. I had just turned 37 and I’d been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, after years of suffering. The word itself felt monolithic when I said it, my ears groaning under its weight. But every time I did say it, it got a little lighter. It came more freely as I gained confidence, but I knew other battles were on the horizon; I could sense the lines of infantry mobilising.
I sat having a conversation, where I’d decided to be open about my diagnosis. It was still all so new, but I was determined to accept it as part of who I am. That’s when the person I was talking to tried to sweep it aside, saying “I’m talking about you apart from your bipolar”, gesturing that the two could be split and treated as separate entities. My trust felt rattled; were they suggesting that I could choose to take my bipolar out of my pocket and leave it home? You know, if I fancied having a day off?
That’s when the person I was talking to tried to sweep it aside, saying “I’m talking about you apart from your bipolar”, gesturing that the two could be split and treated as separate entities.
As I tried to get my head around it, the conversation had moved on without me. I was pretty lost now, trying to figure out how someone can see a psychiatric illness as something which exists independently of the sufferer. They saw things in the completely opposite way to me.
They’d made it seem like a little trinket that rolled around in the bottom of my bag, getting lost for weeks at a time under layers of stuff. Then one day…oh! My bipolar! I’d wondered where that had gone. In reality, it walked beside me. Sometimes it floated freely, so delicately I’d barely know it was there. Other times it clung to my back with an unnatural gravity, so heavy I could barely move.
I’d completely accepted that my disorder is not all I am, but is an integral part of me, joined with some ethereal cord. Being newly diagnosed I was still learning about the seemingly endless complexities of bipolar, but I’d figured that part out pretty quickly.
Sometimes it floated freely, so delicately I’d barely know it was there. Other times it clung to my back with an unnatural gravity, so heavy I could barely move.
It had only been a few months since my diagnosis. The way the news was delivered felt as if it had been dumped as a deadweight in my lap, and then I’d been left to deal with it alone. I was floating in a small boat, lost in the middle of a lake in the dead of night, knowing the safety of the shore is out there somewhere but I’ve no idea which way to row. No lights on the bank to guide my way towards the stability of dry land.
Taking control myself was all I could try. One thing I felt was a good use of time and energy was talking about it. I was lucky that I had a loving family around me, who did all they could to be there. They couldn’t do anything more at that point, as we were all on page 1 of learning about managing bipolar. They were helpful beyond words, but I needed more.
The conversation which inspired me to write this piece actually inspired me to learn, and push, and challenge harder than I ever have. It set a benchmark in my mind for the general population’s understanding of mental illness. Not only do I now actively talk more openly about my disorder, to try and overwrite these misguided ideas that I could “just decide to not experience it”, but I also understand myself much better too.
I now actively talk more openly about my disorder, to try and overwrite these misguided ideas that I could 'just decide to not experience it'
Hearing misinformation just forces me to realise my truth even more. I can flip it into a learning process. What I need to work on is the confidence to speak up when I hear these things being said. Otherwise, how will perceptions change for the better? And as I really can’t choose to leave my bipolar at home, things need to change to allow those with mental illness to be accepted as part and parcel with their conditions.
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