They say that honest writing should scare you. You know you found a deep topic when you write a sentence, erase it, rewrite it, and so on. There should be a knot in the pit of your stomach when you post and a concern that it might change how others see you.
Ironically, that’s exactly why you should write it. It means that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the topic you want to share. That concern should fuel you to stand up for those who are going through something similar and perhaps don’t have a voice to share it.
This is one of those pieces. I have written this particular article a thousand times and deleted it nine hundred and ninety nine. Today, I’m not deleting it. Today, I’m posting it.
I guess I worried that telling people how I had been diagnosed with bipolar-1 in late 2019 would send them down a Google rabbit hole trying to understand what it meant and picturing cartoonish scenarios that it caused in my life. The general idea is that this type of thing would cause a person to be volatile, impulsive, and angry. It conjures up thoughts of celebrities who struggled with it and how they burned bridges around them. It puts me in a class with Kurt Cobain, Carrie Fischer, and other cautionary tales which might paint me in a less-than-perfect light.
Bipolar disorder hasn’t affected me in those ways, though. In fact, upon getting my diagnosis, I was shocked. Much like my son’s autism flew in the face of my preconceived notions of what that means for him, the same can be said for my own label. I couldn’t understand how I, a person who works hard to avoid hurting others, could be seen as BP. After all, this is supposed to be the ailment that pushes everyone away.
But, if my boy wasn’t Rainman, I wasn’t the King of Staten Island. Once again, I was learning about a spectrum that encompasses much more than just stereotypes.
For me, being bipolar is all about my internal fluctuating moods and inner dialogues. I could be on top of the world one minute and feel below the ground in the next. I can find myself letting minor things become major issues in my head or even just finding myself sad for no reason. My down times get pretty down. Conversely, my high times can be pretty high.
I’ve had episodes that could be considered “manic” in the classic sense, but many of them happened when I was younger. In my late teens and early twenties, I can recall staying up for days on end and partaking in risky behavior that I chalked up to being “wild”. I was paranoid and unhappy, yet ready to fill my backpack up with sand and fly to the moon on a moment’s notice. I struggled a lot with my place in society and wanted to be everything to everyone. My brain operated at a mile per minute with no emergency break to pull. For anyone in that age bracket, though, it didn’t seem strikingly out-of-place…or at least that’s how I presented it to the world.
What clouded the realization that I had a real medical issue was that my life wasn’t exactly puppy dogs and rainbows back then. In fact, twenty-some years later, I still find those puppies and rainbows to be elusive. Environmentally, my life has almost always been surrounded by situations that lend themselves to depression.
By the same token, being bipolar seems to have given me some of my greatest achievements. My up-times have always manifested themselves as productivity. Simply put, it has helped me get a lot done. It was those late nights, working way past my biological clock told me to stop, that allowed me to find publishers to buy my first three books. It brought me to the pages of magazines I grew up reading and creating websites that lasted for decades. That mental push has played positive roles in both my personal and professional life. My drive to continue was a beneficial byproduct of something that many would imagine as a detrimental mental issue.
Many might not realize but, while this is the first time I have said this out loud in writing, I’ve talked about being bipolar quite often in my posts. I mention my “emotional rollercoaster” and people read right through it. That’s because the “bipolar” label is jarring to see, but the ways in which it affects many people isn’t as shocking or detrimental as it may read. In fact, the way it has manifested itself in my own life is often viewed as relatable to an abundance of people.
I don’t take medication, but I know people who do. I don’t wear it as a badge of honor or as a scarlet letter of despair. For me, this is just a part of who I am and something I keep in mind when the words or actions of others try to drag me down. Through the identification of triggers and toxic relationships, I’ve learned to mitigate these sudden mood swings, when possible. The diagnosis, while not changing me as a person, helped me to understand myself better. It helped me to treat myself better.
Just as, much to the surprise of many, my non-verbal son’s autism has contributed to some of his best personality traits, the same can be said for my bipolarity. It has fueled my emotional intelligence and desire to help others in times of crisis. BP has pushed me to achieve things that I might never have done otherwise and feel deeper than many others ever get to. It’s part of who I am and I’m not embarrassed by that. No one should be.
And that’s why I had to write this.