Fuck the stigma – talking about bipolar makes people uncomfortable

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Cartoon of two brains; one green and one red. The red brain is running away from the green brain. Cartoon for an article on fuck the stigma of bipolar.

Fuck the stigma! Why do people get so uncomfortable when I talk about my bipolar disorder | Photo Credit: ©baluchis / Adobe Stock

Fuck the stigma – talking about bipolar makes people uncomfortable

So, I have this thing I like to refer to as an “asshole brain.” I don’t like the term “bipolar,” although, on paper, that’s what I have. And it is not that I have any shame about having bipolar disorder; it is just that I am sick of the people gaslighting bipolar disorder.

In my experience, when you tell people you suffer from bipolar, you tend to get one of three reactions. One, “Sh#t, she’s going to snap and stab me.” Two, “F#cking millennials with their made-up mental issues and safe spaces.” Three, “But you don’t look bipolar.”

Just so we’re clear, all of these are pretty shitty responses. Those reactions are why people don’t talk about bipolar disorder openly, not in the same way they feel comfortable enough to say they’re a little depressed or anxious. Although there is still a stigma about those conditions, for sure.

I know because I used to be one of the many people who shut up about their asshole brain and never spoke about it. 

I’d admit to anxiety and maybe feeling a little sad. But I’d never confessed to having ups as well as downs. And absolutely never dare to use the term “manic.” Because manic means are crazy, right? No, no, it doesn’t.

I’ve only recently begun to be more honest about my mental state with others as well as myself. When I was first correctly diagnosed eight years ago, I didn’t think much about it. I’d been treated for depression and anxiety since I was a teenager; to me, all my new diagnosis meant was a change in medication. Although I have recently tried art therapy and dance therapy– it is too early to see if drawing and dancing will improve my mental health. But drawing anxiety and depression, for me, has, at some level, been therapeutic. 

Looking back, I probably should have given my asshole brain a little more attention, especially given that my original diagnosis was the result of a year-long manic episode that left me having to repeat the majority of my second year at university. I can’t help but think how different things would have turned out for me if I’d merely seen a damn psychologist back then.

A close up of an Asian woman wearing an Equity Shirt.
Original Equity Shirt by URevolution

It is time to Fuck the Stigma

But screw it all; that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. I could go on for about six hours on how I was forced to come to terms with my asshole brain. But maybe I will write about that next time. 

What I want to talk about right now is Fuck The Stigma. And yes, the swearing is intentional; #FuckTheStigma.

The other night I got a little too tipsy and spoke a little too much about being bipolar. I do believe the term “Fuck The Stigma” came up a few times. And yes, I was talking to someone I’d known for more than 20 years and her husband, but that didn’t make me feel any less shit the next morning. I went through the usual anxious, “I hate myself, and I’m the worst person alive” bullshit.

And then I did this new thing I’ve learned to do: cut off those negative thoughts by telling myself (yes, out loud) that I love myself and have done nothing wrong. Believe it or not, I have to do this almost every night and every morning, even when I’m not dealing with a hangover.

Anyway, the point is that I have promised myself that I will not be ashamed of talking about my illness. And nor will I feel shitty about saying too much. In fact, what I’ve found to be genuinely liberating is to make people think hella awkward about it. Yeah, I know that’s not the point of Fuck The Stigma and talking about the real issues and all that. But it is so much fun.

Be careful – someone you know may have bipolar

For example, the other day, someone I don’t know all that well, and honestly, don’t like all that much was talking about how “bipolar” their ex-boss was and how people like that shouldn’t be in management positions. So, naturally, I turned around and told them that I’m bipolar (one of the few times I’m okay with that term). The look on their face was priceless, and the stuttering that followed gave me far too much joy.

Now, it didn’t give me joy because I’m the world’s biggest asshole. No, it gave me joy because, at that moment, you can tell that person realizes that they have no clue what is going on inside of people’s heads. And they can’t just decide to be dicks about mental illness whenever they please because those who they may not expect to suffer from it may suffer the most.

"Not all bipolar people look and sound bipolar. Not all of us are trying to jump off the tops of buildings because we believe we can fly."

Why ‘Fuck The Stigma’?

The whole point of Fuck The Stigma is to make people realize that mental health issues exist and that these illnesses do not necessarily fit into society's boxes. 

Not all people with bipolar disorder look and sound bipolar. Not all of us are trying to jump off the tops of buildings because we believe we can fly. And not all of us are unable to get out of bed and go to work because we’re too depressed to function. 

It’s a spectrum, and nobody on that spectrum deserves to be mocked or treated as less than deserving of human dignity and respect.

Those who try to fly, and those who can’t get out of bed, are still human beings who need people to understand them. And those of us who try to live our lives as best we can with this asshole brain need to be able to talk about the difficulties we face. 

We are not looking for pity or special attention; we just want to be understood and heard. We want people to see our disability in the same way they would view a broken leg. You wouldn’t mock a person for having a broken leg, would you? 

If you would, you’re an asshole, and you should know that.

Besides that, whether you have an asshole brain, try your best to Fuck The Stigma. You have no idea the difference you could make in someone’s life.

Article by
Jes Edgson

Jes Edgson, the author of "Fuck the stigma – talking about bipolar makes people uncomfortable," is a writer and editor from Cape Town, South Africa. After living in denial for far too long, she’s committed to breaking the stereotype and “Fucking the Stigma” of mental health issues.