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The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

This is based on personal experience and the experience of others. If you want to add your own experience, please do so in the comments. Bipolar disorder has a stigma attached to it, and it needs to go away! The more that speak up, the better!

Mental illness has carried a stigma (a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as one’s reputation) not only with family, friends, and the general population, but also with doctor’s, nurses and pharmacists, for as long as it has been around. Which is a very long time. They don’t throw us in snake pits anymore or burn us as witches, but the effects still hurt.

Bipolar disorder is a disease of the mind. The current theory is that it is a chemical imbalance with serotonin, dopamine and GABA. In a nutshell, a typical bipolar person swings between depression and mania, of varying degrees. We are said to be more likely to do stupid things in a manic or mixed episode, but everybody does something stupid. I am pro-medication and pro-treatment, and yes, bipolar disorder can be controlled with proper medication, exercise, diet and a good support system. We aren’t all raving lunatics. (Look at the state of the world today, we’re the sane ones!)

(1) We often get told we’re overreacting. Duh, that’s a symptom. One of my favourite things I hear is “Everybody has mood swings sometimes”. These aren’t mood swings they are mood episodes. Everybody’s mood swings, but not to the extent of that of a bipolar person. Our mood swings/episodes can be set off/triggered, but a lot of the time, they just come out of nowhere. Most people have a reason for having a mood swing, like losing someone close to them, a change in health, or circumstances.

People hear “bipolar disorder” and either don’t know wtf it means and you have to explain “It’s manic depression” and they assume you’re crazy, batshit, bonkers. I had a girlfriend ask if I was dangerous to other people. It didn’t work out. I’m not a “sociopath” (the accepted name nowadays is “Antisocial personality disorder) and there are very few bipolar people that fit the criteria for a serial killer!

I rarely get told I’m normal, maybe its the tattoos and sometimes crazy hair, but people with mental illness hate being told “You seem so normal.” Do you have any idea how much work it is to seem so normal? It’s a daily job. We aren’t “What You See Is What You Get”, nor is anyone. Don’t even get me started on asking if it’s “that time of the month”, either!

When I took Lithium, the second I said “Lithium” to a doctor of any kind, except a psychiatrist, because they’re more understanding (or should be) they’d immediately snap into attention and ask if I was bipolar. Lithium is often used to augment antidepressants and has a stigma attached. They would treat me differently. When I used to self harm, and needed medical attention, I was treated like a criminal in the ER.

Here’s a story. I used to be a competitive horseback rider but one day my horse refused a jump, I fell off, came down hard on it, and took the impact with my right upper arm and shoulder, protecting my head and neck, even though I was wearing a helmet. I thought nothing was wrong, so I put the fence back together, got on the horse, and finished my lesson. The next day I couldn’t grip with my right arm, and went to the ER. I had a fractured humerus and a shattered shoulder.

The doctor’s prescribed NSAID’s. I couldn’t take them at the time because they interact badly with Lithium. So I went without painkillers for a week until I saw an orthopedic surgeon. It was Sunday, my appointment was Tuesday. I didn’t want to wait in the ER because I needed a better painkiller, so I went to a walk-in clinic. I had been popping Tylenol 1’s (tylenol with 8mg codeine) but the pain didn’t fade. I was wearing a sling, so I gathered my meds (key note: when you see a doctor, always bring your medications or proof of medications, it makes life a lot easier) and my mom took me to a clinic because I hurt too much to drive.

The doctor was fine until he saw my medications and reason I was there. He made me submit to a drug test and yelled at me to see my GP (general practicioner). It was a Sunday. I told him the drug test would show benzos, as I take Xanax, and opiates, as I had been taking over the counter tylenol with codeine. He basically accused me of drug seeking and he yelled at me when the hospital was too busy to send my file. He did not touch my arm. “Hmm, you’re bipolar, so you must abuse substances”. He eventually gave me 10 Tylenol 3’s, and I left crying, from the pain and how I was treated.

I’ve had “friends” make jokes about self harm and suicide. I’ve had my parents not understand that my moods were cycling and the meds weren’t working. I was even fired by a psychiatrist once because I made a shitty attempt at suicide. I’ve been told to pull myself up by the bootstraps (whatever the hell that means) and get my shit together.

I’ve included these links below because I find they are helpful in explaining your diagnosis, and how you should be treated.

  1. http://bipolar.about.com/od/stigma/a/10-bad-things-not-to-say.htm

  2. http://bipolar.about.com/od/stigma/a/dont-challenge-bipolar-diagnosis.htm

  3. http://bipolar.about.com/u/ua/stigma/hurtfulthings.htm

  4. http://www.news-medical.net/news/20120913/Stigma-impacts-functioning-in-bipolar-disorder.aspx

  5. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-you/201002/dispelling-stigma-revealing-your-bipolar-truth

  6. http://www.crazyboards.org

 Don’t let others get you down! You are a person too, probably a better person!


7 thoughts on “The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

    • Oh wow.. on self harming.. It’s kind of a trigger, and embarrassing. To put it bluntly, I almost killed myself accidentally. Freaked me out.
      I just gave up the habit. Pretty much cold turkey. It was actually easier than quitting smoking (I think quantum physics is easier than quitting smoking, anyways..)
      I still get urges. I don’t act on them, I distract. The last time I self harmed was May 12, 2011.

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