You can't help but go among mad people. We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.
~Cheshire Cat

25 July 2012

Is it even real? Or am I just pretending?

What is bipolar disorder?

Is it a personality flaw, or is this a real illness?
Society hears the politically version and conclude, "Oh, well, yes. It's an illness, sure. That's why they call it 'mental illness.'"
But even I have a hard time really believing it.
You can't see it, there are no tests for it, you can't map it in the human genome, and many people lives completely normal lives with the diagnosis.

"We're all mad here."
People are afraid of those with mental illnesses.
But why?
People with mental illnesses are stereotyped as being irrational, crazy, unreliable, embarrassing, and violent.
In some cases, it can be true.
The stigmas against bipolar disorder are so prevalent that sometimes even I believe them, and I find myself having these assumptions against others with bipolar disorder. I somehow assume that I am different.
I often find that upon the discovery of my illness, some people change their attitudes. What is their assumption?
Am I craving attention?
Will I suddenly turn violent?
Does it say something about the status of other people?

With some more serious mental conditions, such as autism, it's easier for the public to believe that something is not right in the brain. It makes more sense that some wires are crossed and some connections aren't being made because most people with more intense symptoms DO have a hard time living the life of normalcy. Sometimes they can't get a job; or the jobs they can get are menial and degrading. They usually live with family members and may never marry and have a family of their own (this is obviously not true in all cases. The majority of those suffering from autism do very well in their lives, but it's much easier for the public to focus on those cases which prove the opposite). Those are easier to see, and the general public is more likely to acknowledge (and perhaps better understand) that this is an invisible illness that in some cases are not conscience and coherent decisions.

Having bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), adhd, ptsd, etc are still stigmatized because they haven't been "proven to be real" illnesses in the medical sense.
In fact, until 2010, mental illnesses were considered completely separate from physical illnesses, not only in hospitals, but by insurance companies, doctors, etc.

How long will this distinction continue?
Major research is being done and steps are being taken by neurologists, psychologists, neurobiologists, psychiatrists, and geneticists, to help put a "stamp" on mental illnesses.
How long will it take for the public to be aware, understanding, and accepting of these conditions?

We've come a long way in the past 75 years, from institutionalizing individuals at the first sign of madness, to conducting research to accommodate those who are affected.
But the public "view" and the private "views" are not synonymous. 
Despite research conclusions, public awareness, and health reform, peoples' private opinions will be hard to change.
Until then, we have to walk around knowing people are looking down on us, are afraid of us, or frustrated with our madness.

So is this "real?" Am I just "pretending?" Or am I so used to people expecting me to act as one with bipolar disorder should act, that it has changed my cognition and behavior completely? Or worse, have I become so accustomed to being treated a certain way that I never learned how to behave "normally?"
Have I in fact not grown out of having fits and tantrums because of the label that has been placed on me? Does this happen to me because it is expected to happen in someone with bipolar disorder?
In other words:
Has the stigma of this diagnosis, and not the diagnosis itself, shaped my behavior, or has the illness shaped it?
Do I play into the label? Or does the label play into me?

Am I just pretending?
I don't think I will ever know. 


  1. Embrace who you are (label included) and you will be your authentic self. No labels defines you. Sometimes it is just a good description of things you struggle with. To struggle is human.