I have an announcement: I’m bipolar.
I almost used the word ‘confession’, but that has a strong connotation of admitting wrongdoing. Bipolar II is not a wrongdoing, or even shameful. Well, it sort of is shameful, but it shouldn’t be.
There is a stigma against admitting you have a mental illness, like it’s something that should only be talked about in whispers, behind closed doors; check over your shoulder. I think it’s especially bad in conservative Christian circles, where people talk as though faith in God, repentance, and choosing to be happy are all you need to be mentally healthy – like it’s really all in the head and the spirit, except for maybe a few people with really severe problems.
But mental illness is real, it’s commoner than we want to believe, and it won’t de-stigmatize itself. We have to talk about it, and we have to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help.
So, yes, I’m bipolar. That’s one, currently large, aspect of my always complex personality.
After what has probably been (in retrospect) a lifetime of intermittent depression, and several years of especially poor mental and physical health, I finally started medication and therapy last month. Both my therapist and my medication NP think I present bipolar II, and I had already wondered that myself for years, ever since I first heard it talked about in an open way that didn’t make me think ‘bipolar people are locked up for being dangerous’.
I had been ‘down and stressed’ (aka in denial about a serious depression) for awhile at that point, when my very nice Rhetoric teacher had us workshop an essay she wrote about being bipolar. This was the first time I thought, Maybe I’m not just doing life wrong. If Dr. R can be bipolar and have a job teaching, maybe I also have a mental illness.
I felt both more alive and more guilty than ever, like it was prideful to consider dumping the idea that I was just a really bad Christian.
I still had years of stigma to overcome, and years of unhealthy guilty feelings and bad ‘biblical’ teachings until I was finally ready to seek professional help, but I feel that my journey to healing began when I first allowed myself the thought, I might be mentally ill. This might be depression, which seems to exist after all.
Depression is real, bipolar disorder is real, mental illness is real, and there is help.
I’m not healthy yet — but I’m finally getting help. It’s a big step.
I’m going to do a short series about my journey from doubting mental illness was real, to finally getting help.
I hope it will be helpful for people with depression and for people who love someone with depression and wonder why they don’t just go to a doctor; there may be more to it than you know.
If you’re having trouble because of the stigma against seeking help for mental illness, then I hope that sharing my journey will help you reach a place where you are also able to seek help, or that it will at least be another voice saying ‘you are not alone – we are here’. The more voices there are, the more chance we have of breaking through the clouds.
mental health series – links added as posted:
- Mental Health: from shame to seeking help – intro – bipolar
- Mental Health – from shame to seeking help – a note
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part One – Learning shame in childhood
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part Two – The Shame of Failing to be Happy
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part Three – Shame Meets Truth
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part Four – Fighting The Shame
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part Five – Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills
- Mental Health – from Shame to Seeking Help – Part Six – Lana Hobbs the Brave