Bipolar is an illness, not a personality

Jade: “We do not suddenly lose our identity at the diagnosis of a mental health problem!”

I’m Jade, I am 26 and I have bipolar type 2.

I am NOT Bipolar, but I live with bipolar.

It is a strange thing that seems to occur in our society ‘do you know that this person is bipolar?’ What?? They are the embodiment of a whole illness? Great news, at least we have now isolated it to one person, wait what? There’s another person that is also bipolar? NO! Just flat out no, we do not suddenly lose our identity at the diagnosis of a mental health problem.

It seems to be difficult to convince some, as it’s a battle internally which can naturally mean that some of our behaviour is affected by our health condition, and I know that certain behaviours of mine have put strains on personal relationships and I can often isolate myself when I am going through a depressive episode. I can be extremely flaky, plans with me can often change at the last minute. I have quite an enduring physical health condition that I will use as my excuse when I do flake out. But these are just parts of my personality, not the whole.

I have always been a supporter of talking about mental health conditions, but I have always struggled to talk openly about mine, and the fear of stigma underpins this. It was why I wanted to write about my experience, because only by being open about our struggles can we pave the way for a new society, where difference is championed and we can see the skills that every individual has, not just the label they have been given. I don’t want to have to just use my physical health condition as an excuse, I want to be able to frankly say, ‘hey, look I was really looking forward to seeing you, but unfortunately, the black cloud that sometimes personally rains on me, has decided to pay me a visit, do you mind if we reschedule until it lifts a little?’

It has been a long journey to get to the point of diagnosis, mainly because of a fear of what that would mean for my future, but it took a close relative to challenge my behaviour and encourage me to seek help. I have now found a combination of medication that helps my mood swings stabilise, I do have to keep a close eye on it all, I have also been able to monitor early warning signs and I managed to notice that my dysfunctional thinking was returning regarding suicidal thoughts, and could seek treatment before attempting any harm to myself. I find humour helps me when I am in a depressive episode. I might not be able to laugh my way out of it, but it helps me separate the blackness from my sense of self. Similarly, when the lovely haze of euphoria comes my way and I have 1 trillion amazing new ideas that I urgently must write about or draw, or speak about at 4am, I recognise that I really should take a step back and try and laugh at the situation.

I do work, but it does have an impact, I also have many physical health conditions, so combined they make working life quite a challenge. The hardest part is the self-doubt, indecisiveness and being on the verge of tears at work and at the other end of the spectrum I take on the everything, and then end up crushed by the weight of it all. I am learning to become better at discussing my mental health with my manager, and this will hopefully come with accepting and challenging perceptions of mental health.

So, here begins my new chapter of talking openly and treating myself with the same compassion, that I give others with mental health conditions, and encouraging others in our society to talk about mental health with the openness that physical conditions are treated with.

Find out what you should know about mental health >

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