I “Am” Not Bipolar

I am asthma.
I am depression.
I am eczema.
I am diabetes [no- though “diabetic” may be a step closer to what I’m talking about]

What is wrong with these statements?  People don’t say them.  And why?  Because people “have” illnesses- that doesn’t mean that they “are” those illnesses. 

So why do I find myself saying “I am bipolar?”  I am not.  I realise you can also say “I have bipolar”.  And I’m starting to be unsure that “have” is the right word either- it is more like, I experience bipolar.  Though I’ll go with “have” for now.  Bipolar is an illness and not a character trait.  Of course, like other illnesses and other experiences, it shapes a person’s character and life.  I was talking to someone yesterday at an awesome mental health related Reading Group: http://dragoncafe.co.uk/creative-groups/  and she said that you can’t recover until you accept that bipolar (or any other mental illness) does grow to be a part of you.  But we agreed on what I have written above- that it doesn’t have to be your one defining feature; that it isn’t something you are.  I have a leg.  It is part of me.  What on earth would people think if I started describing myself as “leg”?  Hi, I’m Becky.  I am armpit.

And I hope against hope against hope that my little sister never feels that she “is” diabetes.

Though the language may differ:  I have depression; I am schizophrenic; I have borderline personality disorder… I think the “I am bipolar” disorder does encapsulate some of the experiences of people with mental health issues in general.  Discussing mental illnesses is still difficult because, rightly or wrongly, people are scared that their illness will be seen as their defining feature. That whatever the semantics, people will come to think “Clara is depression”; “Michael is post-traumatic stress”; “Lauren is OCD”.  (Names are chosen at random, here).    Who wants that?  Who wants (a) an illness and (b) a phrase that possibly encapsulates some of the most horrible experiences of their lives, to be the thing that people see when they are looked at?  Why should it mean that and not: “I have had [insert experience]” or “I have/experience [insert illness]”?  Why should it still be such a difficult curtain to see past?

Another woman I spoke to at the reading group said that she was a nurse many years ago and had seen people referred to as “the leg in bed nine” or “the sores in bed eight” and this is the same kind of thing I am talking about.  How horrible, to be defined by something that is seen as being wrong with you?

And again, why is a mental health problem something that is “wrong” with you?  To be explored, I feel, at a later date.



12 thoughts on “I “Am” Not Bipolar

  1. I see where you are coming from. My family (not my husband or his family but MY family) sees me as “I am OCD”. It is a stigma I would love for them to one day be able to move away from and I am going to show them this post. Thank you so much for sharing, keep it up!

    • I am sorry that you have that experience with your family, hopefully one day they’ll see that OCD is something you have/ cope with/ experience, rather than “are”. I hope you stay strong and that you, at least, can remember and hold on to the fact that you are more than OCD.

      (I also hate the term “suffer from” by the way, but I don’t know how other people view this.)

      Thanks for your comment!

      Really flattered you would show your familythis post!!! Blush!

      • I don’t feel like I am suffering, but I don’t mind the phrase, it’s ingrained from older generations I suppose. Why don’t you like it? Negative connotations?
        I will show them this post, I think that true to heart writers/bloggers are so much better at explaining this situation than any doctor or medical reference book can. After all, we are the ones living in our skin everyday, who could know better?
        Love your honesty, cannot wait to read more!

      • Yeah, thinking about “suffering” maybe it doesn’t bother me that much- I think it’s because at present, I don’t feel like I *am* suffering especially but obviously that’s a very individual thing. And since my OK-ness is med-fuelled it obviously still isn’t “gone”.

        Thanks again for your comments, I really, really appreciate your words.

  2. My psychiatrist spent about four years encouraging me to say “I have bipolar” instead of “since I am bipolar.” It finally got stuck in my brain, but sometimes I revert back. It feels sort of freeing, saying “I have….” I feel liberated.

  3. Becky, I stumbled upon your gem of a blog today! Thanks for the thought provoking read~ As one who also has bipolar, I felt empowered by your read. We need more stigma fighters like you in our community! 😀

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