Bipolar: Why hide something when there's nothing to hide?
Yes, I had days of not eating; I remember a 3 day period where I had 1 slice of pizza total simply because I wasn't hungry. Yes, I had days of not sleeping; I remember a 4 day period where I got a total of 3 hours of sleep because the amount of energy I had was incredible. Yes, I had exceedingly elevated emotions; I remember being amazingly happy, even ecstatic, for the better part of 2 months with no real reason to be. As crazy as this sounds, while I had my low points, the highs in particular that I went through during my mania were incredibly enjoyable and I had a lot of fun at the time. Doctors have even compared mania in bipolar to the euphoria of LSD without the hallucinations or the high of cocaine.
While it was fun in the moment, in hindsight it was one of the most dangerous periods of my life. I was making irresponsible decisions. I was driving with less awareness of my surroundings. I was bringing people close to my personal life that had no reason being there and then allowing them to damage my personal life. I was simply not being myself, but rather an energized, irrational shell of who i really am.
I must say that was a very crazy time. However, I would like to firmly state while the beginning of 2012 was crazy, I am not. I am normal (whatever that means) and so is every person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. With that said, it is important for me to recognize that I do have a propensity for heightened moods and emotions. And keeping my behavioral, lifestyle, and overall personal habits in check will do wonders for my disorder.
Since that crazy time and my subsequent stay in the hospital, which was the hardest and most important thing my parents have ever done for me, I have been completely stable with no real recurring symptoms. I contribute this to a combination of the right medicine (just 1 pill a day), regular therapy (just to organize my thoughts and emotions), a loving family, and some of the most supportive friends a guy could ask for.
As important as going to the hospital and getting stabilized on medicine was for me, it was not the most important for me feeling comfortable as a person again. Rather, the biggest step in my road to stability and comfort was acknowledging I had this mood disorder, understanding it, and ultimately telling my friends. Now at first my parents told me not to tell anyone, undoubtedly scared what would be the reaction of people after hearing. "People might not understand" ... "People will gossip" ... and so forth. In fact, I did not see any friends for about 6 months after my stay in the hospital because I was dealing with some depression and a lot of emotions having just been diagnosed as well as for various other personal reasons. But soon I told my closest friend over the phone without my parents knowledge.... And surprise, surprise he wasn't taken aback. He wasn't talking to me any differently. He wasn't treating me as a "mental patient." I will always attribute my conversation with this buddy whom I've known since I was 11 years old as a turning point in my self image after my diagnosis.
From then on I was open with pretty much all my friends. Most, having known I was MIA for months, didn't care much about the fact that I was Bipolar as they did about whether I was okay. Whether I was getting through it. Whether we could grab a drink next weekend and catch up. I became very confident in my illness, which may sound strange. But, when you have bipolar, ideally, you take the time through treatment to learn about yourself, your triggers, your tendencies, your own thought process and emotions. In essence, you tend to know yourself very well, which again is only beneficial to you as an individual.
Acknowledging I was bipolar to my closest friends was the biggest step for me becoming comfortable with being myself again after a long time of discomfort. My parents even noticed it and were delighted my friends had been so supportive. They, themselves, calmed down about the disorder as well because if other people don't make it a big deal then maybe.... it's just not a big deal. Sure, I have to make sure I sleep well, eat well, take medicine for the time being, exercise regularly. But aren't most of those things what people should do anyways to stay healthy?
I even learned some interesting things about the illness. For example, people with bipolar often tend to have a higher than average IQ and be more creative. Just look up on Wikipedia how many people in Hollywood and throughout history have been bipolar. People like Macy Gray, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Turner, and Catherine Zeta-Jones to name a few.
I fully understand the worry that initially comes to someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness. I was worried and depressed for a while about it too. But, with people becoming more and more knowledgeable about health issues and an understanding about the mind that we simply did not have say 20 years ago I think it is time for bipolar patients to be open about their disorder if they want and not in a shameful way. I don't dwell on the stigma of having a mental illness, but welcome the benefits it has allowed me, such as the great personal growth and insight into myself I have gained over the last year.
I am glad I went against my parent's initial wishes and told all of my close friends about my "crazy mind" because it made me feel not so crazy once it was out in the open. All of my friends say I am the same exact person I was before, but some think I'm just a bit more in control of myself, which is only a good thing. Dealing with any mental illness is not easy and society may continue to hold a stigma against me but that will change and until then as long as my family and friends are with me, I know I will be accepted for who I am.
The road to feeling accepted can be tricky once you have been diagnosed. But, all I know is I would not be as happy today if I had not had that phone call with a good friend and I will always credit him with being the first one to make me feel accepted in society again.