(Trigger Warning: discussion of means around suicidal thoughts/attempts)
I sit here on National Day Without Stigma, gazing out the window while on the road. I’ve heard the words, “the weather is so bipolar” over and over and over again. I’ll usually smile or laugh along but deep down, my mind is elsewhere. I know stigmatizing language such as this is the world we live in and truth be told, part of me just wants to accept it. When I hear an individual mutter these words, I actually feel ashamed and embarrassed to be living with bipolar disorder. These words, that seem harmless to many, undermine the hell and back those of us living with the illness go through to defeat it. I’ve realized that if I don’t speak up, more people with bipolar disorder will be reluctant to seek treatment. The treatment that saved my life. I must speak for those suffering in silence and for the public to have a better understanding of the illness so many of us live with.
Bipolar disorder, manic depression, is when an individual goes through cycles of extreme highs and lows. The highs can feel like euphoria, extreme happiness, an overwhelming rush of knowing nothing bad can touch you. It can feel like heaven on earth. Unfortunately, these highs can also consist of anger, fury, a complete loss of rationalization, and a lack of touch with reality. The lows are immense feelings of despair and unimaginable spouts of depression. It is a crawl through the darkness, not understanding why you can’t just “snap out of it.” This depression can manifest physically, to the point where getting out of bed in the morning is painful, the demons are weighing you down. Then there are mixed episodes, when mania and depression intertwine. It was a mixed episode which resulted in admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital three years ago.
I remember the morning of my hospitalization. I had gone to the gym and can still recall the feeling of incredible strength as I lifted more weight than I ever had, that no one could take me down. Everything shifted on the ride home, I recall breaking down crying as my mind raced. I entered my house, sat on the floor and huddled into a ball. I thought to myself, “how can I feel so weak when an hour ago I felt so powerful.” The demons were running amuck. From this point forward, much of what i experienced was a blur. My mind has blocked out a lot of this day but I remember going to the medicine cabinet in my bathroom and emptying a bottle of pills into my hand. I quickly poured a glass of water and for whatever reason, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “oh hell no, Courtney. This is not how things end for you. You are stronger than this, now wake up and fight.” I called up my father and found the willpower to admit I needed to go to the hospital. The feeling of fear swept over me, but this call saved my life.
The months that followed were both trying and rewarding. I learned to accept my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I began to attend peer support groups, where I met people my age also living with a mood disorder. Artists, athletes, comedians, students, teachers, the list goes on and on. We are the creative geniuses, the empaths, the highly intuitives. We can not be programmed to feel so much joy without feeling all the pain in the world. I’ve finally found the beauty in this. I no longer feel alone and am so grateful for my recovery, so grateful I stayed. I have fallen in love with life itself. And you can too. Recovery is both attainable and possible.
I never received a token for my one year anniversary out of the psychiatric hospital. There are no dinners or celebrations for those of us living with mental illness after we’ve gone a certain amount of time without going into a major episode. I rarely received a pat on the back for putting in all the hard work to remain stable. Your act of bravery may go unnoticed, your recovery may not be celebrated the way cancer or diabetes treatment is. I promise to work my hardest to change that, to speak up for every single one of those faces on those backpacks, for your loved ones who are suffering in silence. I will not rest or keep quiet until talking about mental illness is a typical narrative in our society, until not one single person needs to live in shame. We may live with an invisible illness but I am still alive and have the ability to say I see you. I applaud you, I am behind you, you are safe with me.
So please, if possible, try not to remain passive when you hear stigmatizing language. It undermines our fight, our illness that is both a blessing and a curse. The weather is not bipolar, and although I am diagnosed with the illness, I am not bipolar either. I HAVE bipolar, that doesn’t make me bipolar. And neither is the weather. Nope, that’d be climate change. But we’ll save that conversation for another day.
Your story isn’t over yet. I made it through and so can you. Keep on fighting, the sun is coming for you.