Don't be a Victim
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Don't Become a Bipolar Victim!

What exactly do I mean by the statement "don't become a Bipolar Victim? 

In essence I am talking about two separate, and equally devastating problems.  Bipolar Disorder, along with any other incurable but treatable medical problem, may create two different and devastating responses by those diagnosed.  Between these two is the healthily adjusted individual who has accepted and learned to cope with his/her illness.  It is a fine line.

On one side of this fine line we have the individuals who deny their illness completely.  Even though they have had ample evidence that "something is wrong", they are unable to handle the idea of having a psychiatric or mental disorder.  They refuse medications, psychiatry appointments, and ignore symptoms that indicate they need treatment.

John was such a person.  In the midst of a manic episode his life was out of control.  He loudly and prolifically impressed his opinions on everyone he knew (and even those he had never met, sometimes stopping people on the sidewalk to talk).  John's wife and children were beside themselves with his actions his entire quality of life changed.  He was out till all hours of the night "hanging out" as he put it.  He was spending money errantly buying new cars, replacing perfectly good household items and had even taken a trip to Vegas where he lost several thousand dollars.  Everyone around him could see that there was something seriously wrong, but when confronted John denied it.

John is truly a victim.  Those who abdicate to the illness rather do what they can to control it are the product of one side of the line.

On the other side we have Emily.  Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder for five years Emily lives the illness.  Her entire life is caught up in a round of doctor appointments, medications, blood tests and support-group meetings.  She worries and thinks about her illness all the time and has become "a bipolar" rather than an individual with bipolar illness.  Emily avoids challenges, withdraws from the community and work.  Emily is a victim.

Neither of these extremes is healthy and finding the proper balance is paramount to living a full and balance life with this disorder. 

So, what is a "normal" person with Bipolar Disorder?  An individual who has accepted that he/she has a major mental disorder has taken the first big step.  Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder comes through education, reading, and understanding his/her own symptoms, knowledge of his/her triggers and more.  Acceptance comes through support, feedback and advice not just from professionals but by other individuals who share bipolar disorder.  Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder means knowing that you have a mental illness, not that you are a mental illness.  Acceptance means the ability to live, love and carry on with your life.

A Bipolar Victim is a sad place to be and there is a fine line of balance to avoid becoming one.  I know for a fact that I myself spent time on both sides of this line as I grappled to get a handle on my bipolar disorder diagnosis and I suspect this is true for many of us.  This is no small thing to figure out as we assess how the illness will impact both our lifestyle and our inner selves.

Stigma is one of the greatest detrimental factors in accepting that an individual has Bipolar Disorder.  Do you know what the word stigma means?  According to Dr Frank Mondimore in his recently published book "Bipolar Disorder - A Guide for Patients and Families" the origin of the word stigma came from the Greeks.  "The Greeks, who were apparently strong on visual aids, originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier.  The signs were cut or burned into the body and advertised that the bearer was…a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places."

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination, though no longer marked into the body are all still much in evidence today and it is this that causes many problems for individuals facing a life time mental illness.  Although psychiatric disorders are not so much considered "blemishes of individual character" anymore they are stigmatized just the same.

From an early age we incorporate these prejudiced thoughts about mental illnesses (or indeed any severe visible disorders).  We listen to our elders and their opinions about mental illness soaks in like a sponge…people with mental illnesses are  "untreatable…unpredictable…dangerous…unreliable…incompetent."  The media portrays the mentally ill as demonic or subjects to ridicule.  Words like "insane, crazy, nuts, schizo" can be heard spoken with contempt in any school yard. 

When we ourselves are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder we have our own feelings of stigma to deal with as well as that of the people and world around us.  Many of us choose to deal with it by denial…by simply ignoring it.  Others choose to deal with it by telling anyone and everyone about it, using it as an excuse to avoid responsibilities and challenges.

I remember trying to deal with this issue shortly after my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  My mom had had the disorder for many years and died four years before my diagnosis.  Her illness was kept secret from all but the closest family members…a matter of shame for all of us.  I grew up with "Stigma" in the worst possible way…taunts from friends when my mom didn't participate in school activities like other moms and no explanation that would satisfy them were frequent.  Telling lies to protect her when she was hospitalized were just a part of life.  All at a time when I really didn't understand what was wrong with her…and had developed my own horror and stigma about mental illness.  In the supposedly carefree days of my youth her mental illness interfered in so many ways.  My mom was diagnosed at a time when there was little treatment…her illness followed a rough course, and the stigma then was ten times worse than it is now.  When I was diagnosed I came face to face with all of this…personal stigma was ingrained.  I couldn't have Bipolar Disorder!  Bit by bit I learned more and more about it, came to terms with many of my long buried feelings about my mom, and gradually came to accept my diagnosis.

Learn all you can!  Find that line between the extremes.  Take care of yourself.  It is the only way to acceptance and continued well being.




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