I am not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder.

Recently I came across a post by a fellow who discussed his dealings with an illness called bipolar disorder (or manic-depression, if you speak the old tongue).  I too have this illness.  Learning to effectively manage this disease is nothing less than developing a science or crafting an art form.  It’s a massive help to share your story or to hear someone else’s, so to the fellow behind bipolarblogging, I commend you.

I’m 23, and I’ve been dealing with manic depression for the bulk of my adult life (since I was 15).  The journey has been interesting, to say the least.  I’m not crazy, but I’ve done some crazy things.  The one thing that perhaps is most lacking when in the throes of this disease is clarity.  It’s clear understanding that has been my biggest tool in managing my condition.  So for those who may not be familiar with the disorder, I thought I would deliver some, in convenient bullet-point form.

  • I’m not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder. 

What this means, in a nutshell, is that I am not defined by this illness.  It’s simply a part of who I am.  It’s very easy to label someone with a mental illness as “crazy” but this is never the case.  I may have done some crazy things in years prior, but as our presidential candidates have shown us, you don’t need a mental illness to do crazy things.

  • I may take medicine, but I still have feelings.  

Glance at this blog with one eye shut for two-point-five and it becomes apparent that I’m pretty gay.  As you would expect, I’ve been privy to many a gay-rights debate.  It’s a hot topic, on both sides of the field. A big part of this is prejudice and discrimination.  I have no problem with this, but at times I wish we could focus on eliminating prejudice towards other groups while we’re at it.  I have faced a bit of controversy in my own life because I’m gay, but it’s nothing compared to the mountain of prejudgment I’ve received for having bipolar disorder.  It’s even come down to a level that can only be described as name-calling.  Call me a “fairy” and I’ll probably brush it off.  But call me “crazy” and, while I may not show it, I can say based on experience that it will hurt.  Deeply. 

  • Sometimes, I hurt.

Bad things sometimes happen, and the result is negative emotion.  One key to understanding bipolar disorder is seeing that with the illness, emotions don’t always have an apparent cause.  Many years ago on a summer day, a friend picked me up and took me for a drive.  This is one of my most relaxing activities, but halfway through our middle-of-nowhere-adventure, I started to cry.  Josh didn’t understand, and asked me, “What’s wrong?”  With tears running down my face, I spoke only the words,       “I hurt.”  

A lonely road, indeed.

The reality was that my neurotransmitters, the chemicals in my brain that affect my mood, were not balanced that day.  As a result I was depressed.  Nothing bad had happened, but I was so deeply in pain.  Recognizing this is one of the most effective tools in my mental toolbox.  So, just as important when dealing with this disorder, as medicine, therapy, or activity, is education.

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