For a long time, I've hidden a major part of my life from most people. I have bipolar, also called manic depression. For a long time I didn't share this with anyone other than close friends and family. There's a stigma attached to bipolar, and I can totally understand it. Manic episodes can be especially scary and can include extremely irrational thoughts and actions. In some cases this can lead to things like substance abuse, risky behaviors, and even violence (though the vast majority of people with mental illness are no more likely to commit violent acts than those without).
Depression, "mixed states," and "rapid cycling" between mania and depression are also dangerous. Studies have shown a 5 - 15% likelihood of suicide among those with bipolar--incredibly higher than the national average.
But, many are able to lead fairly normal lives with bipolar, and keeping quiet about my bipolar now seems to me to be a way that contributes to the stigma.
Bipolar is a chronic mental illness that can make life difficult at times--difficult on me and difficult for my family. Despite these difficulties, I have a pretty amazing life--a nine month old baby, a beautiful, kind, supportive wife, and wonderful friends, family, and faith community. I could go into great detail and name names, but suffice to say I'm blessed.
It's easy to forget all those blessings at times. It's easy to ask, "why do I have to have bipolar?" or, "where do thoughts and actions I choose end and where do the thoughts and actions from my disease begin?" It's easy to ruminate on these things which can lead to a spiral of depression, anxiety, and mania.
I hear from friends and family that I do a nice job managing my bipolar. While this is good to hear, it's really my friends, family, and faith communities that have brought me to where I'm at today. So any of my friends and family who are reading this, thank you in whatever way you've supported me over the years.
Thank you for kind words, listening ears, and encouragement; for thoughts and prayers; for noticing when I'm not doing well and asking about it. Thank you for bringing me to a doctor's appointment or to the hospital, or for visiting me in the hospital.
Especially, I thank God. At times that have seemed hopeless, I meditate on the person of God in Jesus--someone who although he was perfect chose a mortal life to face suffering and even death in the name of love. Not only that, but he defeated death--and when those thoughts of death and despair come, it's nice to know a God who's experienced those thoughts and emotions as well, and has overcome death.
I could go on with all the many ways I've been blessed, but for now it's enough to just be thankful. I can only imagine where I might be without such amazing people and an amazing God in my life. So many people with mental illness deal with so much--unemployment, homelessness, isolation--these are all things I could suffer as well, but because of the people in my life I do not.
Read more about mental health at MentalHealth.gov: Mental Health Myths and Facts.
Thank you, and live well.