What comes to mind when you read this list of names: Francis Ford Coppola, Michaelangelo, Issac Newton, Winston Churchill, Earnest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, Jackson Pollock, Frank Sinatra, Ted Turner, Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Wolfe?
Were some of the images of creative, famous, genius, talented and gifted people? Would you relish knowing them? Would they intrigue you?
Besides being some of the greatest minds in history, they all share something else: Bipolar Disorder.
Despite the fact that Bipolar is associated with higher IQs and creative genius, it’s also an incurable disease that kills one in five of those diagnosed with it. Bipolar affects 5.7 million Americans. It would seem creativity is one silver lining of the illness. Just like almost everything else in life, there are two sides to the coin.
Because Bipolar is often thought of as taboo it’s no surprise that from 1999 to 2006, deaths linked to Bipolar have increased by 90%. That’s not a typo – I said 90%.
Why such a backslide in progress? I have my own theory.
People are outspoken about diseases like cancer and most have a story about themselves or a family member who’ve experienced the disease. There are champions for the cause and patients are rarely blamed or shamed for developing the illness. But no one wants to talk about Bipolar.
Most people who wrestle it do so behind closed doors. There is stigmas attached to it and very hurtful ones. Our family members, for the most part, don’t volunteer that their lives have been touched by the illness. Much more often than not, it’s a dirty little family secret, maybe because it’s hereditary.
I’ve been asked by more than one family member why I talk and blog so much about my illness and that it’s probably not a very good idea. My reasons for sharing my experience is because most people don’t and it’s a cathartic creative outlet for me. The refusal to be candid about Bipolar is why it remains taboo to the vast majority.
For those of us who have been diagnosed, talking about it leaves us open to harsh judgment, ridicule and the loss of friends and family. I’m guilty of letting my fear of reactions bar me from letting certain people in on my illness.
I’m open with you and some of my friends. No offense, but I can take criticism from these people with a grain of salt. Rejection from family, however, cuts deep. I’ve be ostracized by an entire side of my family because of it. They have “washed their hands of me” and I miss some of them.
Could you imagine people with heart disease or cancer being treated this way? No one dares do such deplorable things to them. I think because their diseases can be seen. They can be confirmed and shown on X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds. Bipolar illness is considered invisible. For lack of a better analogy, many people say it’s all in our heads.
It may be in our heads but it’s also now visible on brain scans. The general public can see it with their own eyes but most people prefer old stereotypes over scientific evidence.
With 5.7 million Bipolar people in our country alone, like it or not, you have been affected. Odds are you are related to or interact with Bipolar people everyday. Some you even consider friends and some may be coworkers. One of the most damaging reactions to us is fear. It feels like someone kicking you when you’re down. It doesn’t matter if they’ve known me for years and consider me a friend, when my illness is discovered, they may forever be afraid of me because of the stigmas in their minds.
Now it is all in their heads.
I have never shared my blog on my personal social media pages nor have I been a champion for myself. It’s probably because I have fears of my own. Will they label me crazy? Will they fear me? Will my thoughts be disregarded or somehow matter less? Will they walk out of my life all together?
I should probably hold my head high and say to hell with them if they do. I don’t because their reactions may cut too deep, they may hurt too much. Bipolar individuals are not numb to emotion. It’s quite the opposite. We feel everything much more deeply than others so we sometimes over compensate by heavily guarding ourselves.
I may not do it today, but I long to be open about my Bipolar because if you are reading this, and you consider yourself a friend of mine, you have been touched by Bipolar and didn’t even know it. I am the same person you knew before you began reading this. I control my illness; it does not control me. I am not a victim and please don’t attribute my every action or mood to Bipolar. It is a part of me but certainly not all of me. I have good days and bad days. Thankfully I have more great days than not and I fight everyday to keep it that way.