5 things not to say to someone with bipolar disorder

by Katie Houghton

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Bipolar does not define my being. It is a part of who I am sure, but It is not all I am.

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As someone with bipolar disorder I know firsthand it is misunderstood.

Even though approximately 1 in 100 people have bipolar there is still a lot of stigma attached to it. Here are a few things that may be better left unsaid.

1. “You’re bipolar?” 

Erm, well technically no, My name is Katie and I HAVE bipolar.

I find this quite frustrating as bipolar does not define my being. It is a part of who I am sure, but It is not all I am. You wouldn’t say “Hi, I am diabetes” or “Oh hey! This is my friend Susan and she is asthma” For some reason though I find bipolar to be spoken about in this way more than any illness. i think it’s important to keep the illness separate from our whole selves. Same as when I suffered with anorexia, I had anorexia, I most certainly wasn’t anorexia.

2. “Everyone has mood swings, I’m a bit like that.”

You’re right everyone does have fluctuations in mood naturally but what defines bipolar is that they go beyond that. Happiness becomes Mania and feeling sad becomes depression. These are extremes of mood that hugely disrupt someone’s life and ability to function as they usually would, these episodes can last for weeks or even months and need intervention. They are not the same as normal mood fluctuations.

3. “Mania is where you’re really happy isn’t it?”

Technically on some level you may be correct. There are different forms of mania. Hypomania and Mania.

Hypomania is where someone will often feel full of energy, happy, excited, productive, have lots of ideas, confident. It generally lasts a shorter amount of time that mania and it does not include any psychotic symptoms. A lot of people like these times due to the feeling. It’s like a buzz. It does feel great at times, I’m not going to lie. I myself can get a lot done, come up with some of my best ideas and just feel great. BUT there is also the other side that can creep in too. The agitation, irritability, lack of concentration because of racing thoughts so it’s often not quite as simple as people think. There is a dark side to mania.

Mania is a step up from hypomania it often starts with the feeling of happiness, euphoria, wellbeing but it quickly progresses in too much more. You feel untouchable like you can do anything, you can’t catch a thought as they are going that fast and so speech may seem chaotic. People sleep less, sometimes not at all and this only drives it further. People can get themselves into trouble through lack of inhibition, spend money they don’t have, drink more do drugs. It can cause a huge amount of frustration and irritability. We will start multiple tasks and not complete any until quite frankly it all comes together in one big cluster fuck and we lose control. It can often lead to loss of reality where someone experiences hallucinations and delusions. For me these have included believing people are watching my house, seeing shadows, hearing my name called, believing there is evil in my house and carrying out rituals to counteract it.

So yes, while it may start as feeling happy it is a very teeny tiny part of what mania actually is.

4. “You take lithium? Isn’t that for proper mad people?” 

Yes, I take lithium. No not everyone with bipolar does. There are various medications and what will work for one wont work for the other as with anything else. Lithium is the oldest psychiatric drug. Therefore it really must have proved it’s worth right?

I’ve had nurses and even a GP say to me ” surely there’s a more MODERN medication you can be given?” There may very well be but that haven’t worked as well for me. Lithium still has a reputation from the “Lunatic asylums” and “Lithium zombies”

Actually I am less of a “zombie” on lithium that other medications I have tried. Everyone is different to how they react and this is a stigma that really gets my goat.

How long has paracetamol been around? Is there nothing more MODERN? Precisely.

5. “Some of the best people have bipolar! They’re all famous” 

This is often said like it’s something that we should be very pleased with ourselves about. Stephen Fry is a very common point of reference.

While I genuinely would like to say that having bipolar disorder has made me a genius, I can’t. Sad but true, having bipolar does not give you a free pass to a genius mind, a creative mastermind or anything else.

There does SEEM to be a link to bipolar and creativity. I myself am very creative and have an etsy shop off the back of it but is this due to having bipolar or would I indeed be creative anyway? I guess that’s the chicken and the egg question but i think it’s fair to say that not everyone with bipolar will be creative and it does not automatically make someone an intellectual genius as much as I wish that were true.

Also just because some famous people have it it doesn’t mean that it’s a great thing to have and plus these celebs will have experienced all the horrible, destructive symptoms the same as the rest of us.

I hear Channing Tatum had the flu not long ago for example…Now as much as I think that guy is HOT it doesn’t make me want the flu…see where I’m going?

These are just a few, the main ones that I hear getting banded around quite freely. Like all mental illnesses, there seems to be a lot and I could be here forever but the main thing is to remember that bipolar disorder is a mental illness. It’s not just being “too happy”, it’s not just “being moody”, it’s not just something that famous people have and it definitely doesn’t define us.

I am me. Katie. I need support sometimes, I struggle with things but I am not Bipolar. I have bipolar. The difference is a huge one.


Republished from the blog Mental Health Journey with the kind permission of Katie

Black and white head and shoulders shot of Katie Houghton. She looks knowingly at the camera with a bit of a twinkle in her eye: as if she knows something funny that we don't. She wears large dark rimmed glasses and has wavy hair that drops past her shoulders.
Article by Katie Houghton

You are not alone in your battle with mental illness. I too, thought it would never end. That is why I am now so passionate about mental health awareness and reducing stigma.

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