Written by the Great Devotchka – culinary wiz, blogger, and pastry chef.
While sitting in a gathering of mixed company once, I overheard words that sent a quick shot of disgust through me.
“I’m so bipolar sometimes.”
I was quickly hit with a wide array of emotions, predominantly anger and frustration. I wanted to retort back in the worst of ways. Something witty like “Bipolar people are usually highly creative or intellectual. You clearly don’t fit either mold”, came to mind.
I opted to sit in silence though, biting my tongue and hoping not to call any unwanted attention to myself which is a sentiment some others people with mental illness can also relate to. Lingering in the background was shame, sadness, loneliness, and despair.
Let me tell you why.
I suffer from depression, anxiety, and manias, and this, for me, is painful to hear.
First of all, there is no “sometimes”. I can’t turn it on and off at a whim. I wish I could. I wish when my friends gave me their support from the heart, I could just shake off my anxiety. I wish when people who don’t understand and tell me to “get over it”, I could just think “Fine, I’ll show them.” and magically be better.
Instead I have days where I am incredibly efficient and feel like I can take on the world while other days, it’s a strain to get out of bed and sleep is my drug of choice. I have no say when these days are or how long they will last. I have tried to adapt a “It is what it is” philosophy towards it, but to be blunt, it still sucks.
Another thing about this “I’m so…” statement that really got to me is, it was like being bipolar was something to flaunt.
Madame, I’m not trendy and neither is my illness.
Saying “I’m so bipolar” ranks up there with “That’s gay” on the offensive scale. You don’t live it, you don’t know it, don’t claim it. This is someone’s way of life that was put on them not by choice and they have to deal with it EVERY DAY.
Don’t put your proverbial blackface on my illness so you can feel like you are a part of “the next big thing” people happen to care about.
Don’t get me wrong, the recent rise in awareness of mental illness is amazing, yet there is still a lot of work to be done.
There’s still a stigma.
A misunderstanding of what it means to have a mental illness and that is also something that bothered me.
I have been fortunate to have friends and family who tries to understand what I am going through, but as a member of the black community, we could do better educating ourselves on this matter. From my experience, it seems as if mental illness is classified as a “white people illness” that cannot affect us. Just for clarification sake, that is not true.
Trying to explain it to some of my elders has gotten mixed reviews and sometimes, downright confusion. They see mental illness as straight jackets, lobotomies, loss of control, and medications that leave people dead inside. The younger generation has improved, but there’s a lot more we need to understand. That may not just be a black thing though.
The lack of knowledge towards mental illness leads to many people going untreated. The ideas of “We don’t get those issues,” or “You’re just picking that up from your white friends.” is a dangerous mentality and is doing far more harm than good.
I have been very particular on who I tell my issues to. I have had mixed reactions which makes me very cautious and so very few people know the extent of my problems.
Some people react with the “Well you seem normal to me”. As opposed to? Was mental illness supposed to make me grow a second head or make me more inclined to wear tin foil hats? I can be a fully functional member of society with my illnesses, I just have to carry them with me everywhere and they can be a hassle to control and they’re exhausting.
Other people actually act differently, in not so good ways. It’s like I have somehow become an evil person, betrayed them for hiding this from them by “seeming normal” but really, I am carrying an awful secret. I never got that and the one time it did happen, didn’t feel like I lost much of a friend.
The lack of knowledge towards mental illness leads to many people going untreated.
Also, we have the “Are you just looking for attention?”, a result of the “I’m so…” lot. If I am coming to you with my issues, I trust you and trust you actually care. That mentality just shattered said trust.
Then there are friends and family. Most of them have the best of intentions, but really have no idea what to say. The result can sometimes be that they are very unsure of what to say to you. They seem to handle you with special gloves, like you are a priceless glass figurine. I completely empathize with them considering even though I suffer mental illness, I am sometimes at a loss on what to say to my friends with the same issues or other mental illnesses.
Other times you are hit with the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality of yesteryear. Unfortunately, I have been hit with this one more than I’d like to admit. I try, but I have learned it is not an easy task to do alone. I need support and help from doctors, friends and family. Even with help and support, I have bad days. Times when I feel no one understands and everything they say is wrong.
“They don’t know I go through.” I often repeat to myself in frustration during days I am too stuck in my own head. Truth is, they may or may not understand, but I need to take time to appreciate their effort.
Sometimes mental illness can cause you to isolate yourself from others due to anger, shame, fear, or other things. I try to let the ones who are still here let them know I see them and thank you.
So next time you feel the need to say “I’m so…”, be prepared to take everything that comes with it. Hell, I’ll give you mine if you can handle it and feel you can wear that label with pride, unlike me.
If you can’t or don’t want to go through what it really means to have a mental illness, pause and think before you utter that “I’m so…” because if you want to glamorize having a mental illness, you’re so wrong.
If you or you know someone struggling with Bipolar Disorder, help is a click or call away. You’re not alone.