Cat, January 29, 2020

We need to educate others to  erase the stigma that comes  with mental illness and be  proud of what we achieve.

Having a mood disorder doesn’t make you a bad person, or someone incapable of living a full and meaningful life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder at the age of 25, after a long and painful process of navigating the mental health system. Since then I have had people ask me if I am violent, if I might ‘lose the plot’ and attack them, and if I am too vulnerable to do my job. I have always been open and honest about my illness, it doesn’t define me as a person and I don’t feel the need to apologise for it. I truly believe you can still lead a happy and productive life despite having any form of serious mental illness.

Unfortunately, my family have struggled to come to terms with my illness and have found it hard to cope with. They don’t understand someone planting 28 sunflowers and deep cleaning the house one day, and then not being able to make it past the sofa the next. They have struggled with my coping mechanisms for my illness and see them as a choice rather than something that inherently occurs to take away the sometimes unbearable feelings that come along with Bipolar.

I would want people who are not familiar with this illness to understand that sometimes the choices we make that are not the best are not a deliberate act of laziness or moral weakness, it is something that we turn to in desperation.

People with Bipolar are much more likely to look for a ‘quick fix’ to a feeling, because the rollercoaster can be so incredibly draining and confusing. We need to be taught better coping strategies as a matter of priority, this is something I strongly believe needs to be incorporated into treatment.

On a positive note, I have always found my workplaces to be very supportive of my illness. I work in the care sector and I think having such a serious illness myself has made me a much more empathetic, person centred employee and better able to support my clients. I understand their pain and frustration and I think this is an invaluable skill in this sector.

I have always declared my illness in interviews and this has never had a detrimental effect. If it did, I would not wish to work for a company who did not wish to understand that mental illness is just as life altering as physical illness and needs the same level of support. I would encourage speaking out, even if it is just to a manager or HR. Sometimes others can see when we are becoming unwell and we cannot. Work has had such a positive impact on my mental illness. It gives me a purpose, a routine and a focus, and takes me out of my own head for a while. I adore my job, and have never come across any negativity towards my illness in the workplace from any colleagues, for which I am very grateful.

I would want people to know that people with Bipolar are much more likely to hurt themselves than to ever hurt you.

They will work their hardest because of the passion that comes with mania, and feel sadness more deeply. But we are not bad people, or weak people. We are strong. We fight every day to maintain what society deems as 'normal' which is a place we visit, not where we reside

I wouldn’t change having Bipolar at all. It is hard sometimes, but it is part of what makes me who I am. Mental illness is no different to having diabetes, or any other physical health problem. We should embrace it not erase it. It is not us who need to change. We need to educate others to erase the stigma that comes with mental illness and be proud of what we achieve against all the odds.

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