I have lived with a formal diagnosis of bipolar for twenty years. As a young girl, I witnessed my grandmother’s overwhelming anxiety which prevented her from sitting still for any length of time. She would literally sit, bob her leg up and down a half dozen times, and bounce back up as if she remembered something urgent to do. The rhythm of that bouncing foot matched my own restless anxiety bubbling below the surface. I also witnessed my father manage his feelings by drinking them away rather than dealing with them. The knowledge that these traits can be genetically passed down from one generation to the next should have assisted in my acceptance of the diagnosis. It did not.
I blame you for making it so difficult for me to accept my condition as a disease rather than a weakness of character. I hear you laugh at the woman whose never-ending mood swings indicate that she must be “unstable.” I take note of the fear in your eyes when you see a man mumbling incoherently to himself on the corner. You chose ignorance over empathy because conditions such as bipolar, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and others seem less worthy of concern and empathy than a diagnosis of cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes.
Here’s the deal. Rather than seeing my condition, I wish you would see me clearly for the capable and strong woman I am. Let’s face it, if I had any other “physical” ailment and took a medication for it, my responsibility for my own wellbeing might end there. Keeping mentally well requires much more than simply taking my prescriptions. I also utilize tools like meditation and breathing on the daily. When intrusive thoughts threaten to overwhelm, I reframe my thinking. Meeting with a therapist is always in my back pocket. The battle to stay mentally well is as exhausting as it is necessary.
You could benefit from what I know about mental health. In fact, I would eagerly share my knowledge and wisdom with you if only you would ask. I would teach you how to put social media in its place and not succumb to the lie that everyone else’s life is better than your own. I would demonstrate how limiting the use of it can assist in keeping a healthy state of mind. I could also teach you how I sift through emotions and choose only that worth keeping, how I manage anxiety by resisting the urge to overthink, and how I create healthy boundaries at work and at home.
If the previous paragraphs have resonated with you, if you got the message loud and clear, please act. There are far too many talented, intelligent, change-makers who are living in the shadows simply because they feel alone and trapped in their unhealthy states of mind. In their perceived isolation they are vulnerable. You can assist them in stepping out of the darkness and into the light by choosing to challenge the stigma. To be honest, it's the only birthday present I really want this year. #ChallengeTheStigma
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