If you prick my finger, will the blood be bipolar? When a strand of hair falls out, does the DNA scream manic depressive? Stepping out into the street, do my jeans and headband betray my diagnosis?
After the dust of mania and depression have settled, thoughts tend to stray toward the collective identity as you struggle to create a new perception of yourself. The first hurdle I jumped was denial. When my therapist suggested that I might be bipolar, I shook it off like a bad night’s sleep. Of course, I was in the middle of mania staying awake all night, crushing on a younger man, and then, separated from my husband. Months later, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital for the first time and the whole process would repeat twice more before I really comprehended what that meant for me personally.
Regardless of whether you have schizophrenia, bipolar I or II, or even diabetes, you come to a point where you struggle with the diagnosis in terms of what it means in relation to how you define yourself. Do you have bipolar I or are you bipolar I?
Many people refuse to be defined by their disorder or disease and insist they are a person with bipolar I. My opinion is that the label itself hardly matters. I am bipolar and I have bipolar. The disorder is within me and a part of me. I embrace it now and know that it has in some ways brought me joy even though of course, I would rather not have to live my life medicated and watching my moods like most people watch their gas tank.
Part of my willingness to embrace the disorder stems from the fact that the disorder is permanent. There is no cure for bipolar. When I die, I will still be bipolar and the legacy I leave behind will be partially defined by how I’ve dealt with my diagnosis. All the more reason to accept it and learn to live positively.
I garden, practice yoga, and hike with my dog to stay healthy. I avoid alcohol and never self-medicate. When I was first struggling with the diagnosis, I joined a support group and listened to the stories of other people suffering from mental illness. I learned that the trip forward does not have to be a solitary one. Our collective identity as bipolar people can serve as a powerful reminder that we can persevere with treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
Clutch the memories of mania and depression equally and apply them to your life history without worrying too much about labels. The world may label you crazy but you can own how you feel about yourself.
Below is my poem, “Disabled” which describes the period of time in which mixed thoughts turn the bipolar around in a state of trickery. It is a true story in which I actually got lost in my own neighborhood one night after a support group meeting.
Can you google my apartment?
I asked my sister in California,
while back in Michigan I wandered
darkening streets with my cell phone
pressed to one ear, the other listening
to the wind for clues. All the houses
looking strange but friendly enough,
a man drinking a 40 calling out hello
from his porch. Later, my therapist
noted my lack of fear as I traversed
the city streets lost. I responded
that someone knows where I live.
The first person I called didn’t pick
up the phone. I didn’t call anyone
when I blacked out on the freeway.
I drove for a long time sizing up
billboards to discern location,
deciding and exiting a ramp before
I turned the wrong way down a one
way street. Angry honks roused
me to face what I had done, daring
to live in a labyrinth of thought.