What does it mean to be bipolar? If you asked me this question fourteen years ago my answer would be far from the definition I would give today. Fourteen years ago I had never even heard of a mental disorder or had I even been in the know about the notion that a mental illness existed. I would probably just shrug and tell you that it means you're off-the-wall crazy. A response of clear ignorance compared to what I know today. At the very start of the new year in 2007, I, myself, was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, something that I continuously define and redefine to this day as I march forward and discover what this illness is truly all about. My first manic episode came when I was a sophomore in college at the age of 20, and it changed my life. At the start of the second semester, a year and a half into Boston College, I stopped eating and sleeping to an extreme extent. I got caught up in my own little world. It did not take long before my roommate suspected something was amiss. I was acting erratically, talking to myself, and skipping all my classes. Luckily my roommate was able to get into contact with my mom after about a week of strange and destructive behavior. She rushed out, pulled me out of school, and went about having me checked into a mental institution where I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I.
The recovery after being diagnosed took five years. I was out of the hospital in three weeks and given a leave of absence from school for as long as I needed. Although I ended up graduating only one semester late from college, the road to recovery after the initial diagnosis took many years past graduation. First, I had to get ready to go back to school. With a new medication regimen, I quickly gained about seventy pounds. School was never the same. I lost a lot of who I
was after being diagnosed; I lost a lot of confidence. Confidence I really could have used as I went about fighting the negative stigma of this illness. Instead, I was a shell of myself. Even classes, something that always came easy for me and something I took for granted, became a tremendous challenge. It didn’t help that I was in an atmosphere where it seemed like the whole world knew of my bipolar diagnosis, and so many already had their own preconceived notions about what exactly was wrong with me. It felt like all eyes were on me for all the wrong reasons. For the first two years after sticking it out and graduating college, I ended up living back in my parents’ basement. I was still not prepared to take control and confront my bipolar disorder as I was still struggling to accept it as part of my life.
A change of scenery can really help put things in perspective. Early in my mid-twenties I moved to Hawaii. For the first time after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was leaving the stigma behind me and getting a fresh start where no one could have these ‘preconceived’ ideas. I learned to feel like my old self after being in Hawaii for nearly a year. After being diagnosed you battle the stigma of mental illness with other people, but you also battle the idea of having a mental disorder with yourself. It takes a long time to come to grips with the diagnosis. You fight it until you can’t fight it anymore. Then you learn to live with it; oftentimes out of shame as you can cower from the sheer weight of the whole thing. Moving to Hawaii, getting a fresh start in a new place with new faces all around me, made me ready to own the disorder I was dealt with. It made me want to fight and able to fight the stigma I had been dealing with since the earlier
After my time in Hawaii came to an ironic and abrupt end (I ended up leaving due to a manic episode), life has taken me on twists and turns or ups and downs that have made me cry both of defeat and utter joy. They say that bipolar disorder will do this to you. I asked earlier what it means to be bipolar. Of course it means intense manic episodes filled with grandiose thoughts and some crazy stories that go with it. Of course it means being left alone in utter and intense sadness battling depression. More importantly, it means a constant battle to push onward, and have the resilience and fight from within to push onward despite the glaring obstacles.
Being bipolar means to have a story worth telling and worth listening to. It means being counted out but never crossed out. People with bipolar disorder, myself included, are faced with a challenge we sure as hell never volunteered for. We were chosen because we are strong, intelligent, and striving to change the negative light that bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses are stuck with on a daily basis.
Will Morro is the author of Nobody Believes Crazy
LinkedIn: Will Morro
By Ryann DeLisi
In this article, Ryann DeLisi, a young woman living with bipolar disorder, discusses the significance of art therapy in managing her symptoms. She also shares her thoughts about social stigma and other issues surrounding BP.
Van Gogh's, "Poppies" is what heavily inspired me to make this piece. Since I was a little girl I've always been in love with art and colors. Painting forces me to be present, it's almost a form of meditation for me. Being diagnosed with Bipolar Type I, I experience both Manic and Depressive episodes and painting is a healthy way to keep me focused and let out my emotions productively.
Honestly, I was hesitant at first about having my name next to a mental illness on the internet because of the stigma that goes along with having Bipolar Disorder, but I think it's really important. It's so much more common than you'd think, but there are a lot of people out there too afraid to say anything for fear of being judged or seen as "crazy". I think most people see having Bipolar as something aggressive, like we are all a bunch of ticking time bombs -- but that's really not the case. In my years of therapy and group therapy, people with Bipolar Disorder are some of the most creative, empathetic, compassionate people I have ever met.
Bipolar Disorder is a very serious lifelong illness that often takes lives. Due to financial issues, finding a doctor has probably been one of the hardest parts of having Bipolar Disorder for me. Your quality of life should not be determined by how much money you have in your pocket. Finding quality help should not be so hard and it is a huge issue that needs to be addressed.
If you are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I think it's important to realize that you are not your illness. You are not Bipolar, you have Bipolar, so please don't let it define you. I genuinely think that we see the world in a different way and while that can sometimes be painful, it is also beautiful, there is balance to everything in life. There's a quote that sticks with me, (I can't remember where I heard it) "Don't deny your mental illness, embrace your mental skillness," and I think that's a good way to look at it.
To see more of Ryann's artwork, check out her instagram @yeti_rex
Note: Ryann's creative work featured on BP Swing Sets and elsewhere is her intellectual property (IP) and cannot be released or redistributed without her express permission. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
However, just months later he confusingly stated that he had stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder. He said that felt that he wasn’t actually bipolar.
Shortly thereafter he had a spiritual awakening wherein he embraced his Christian beliefs to the extent that he decided to scrap other musical projects he was working on. Instead he decided to release a hastily composed album album entirely centered around his religious beliefs. He titled the album, “Jesus Is King.”
Kanye West’s relationship with his own mental health appears to be inconsistent. In his art, Kanye often references mental health — I even quoted one of his songs, “FML,” in my own book about bipolar disorder! This is why his actions are compelling to people who live with various forms of SMI. Many of us find it easy to relate to the strange and sometimes disastrous headspaces mental illness can take you to. We find hope in his successes and tragedy in his failures.
When Kanye West erupts like he did last week, numerous posts speculating about his mental health begin showing up on internet forums and other media. We begin fearing for his safety and fearing for the safety of the SMI community.
Our preoccupation with Kanye is not solely out of the spectacle of his actions, his fame, or his notoriety. Our concern also becomes: Will this blowback affect all of us?
A core mission that myself and many others with SMI actively work toward is destigmatizing SMI. Instead of focusing only on the negative aspects of diseases like bipolar disorder, we seek to educate the general public about what it’s like to live with SMI on a daily basis. We work to show people that our diseases are real, treatable, and are not a death sentence.
One of the primary reasons we work toward this goal is in order to be taken seriously. Because many people misunderstand the nature of hidden disabilities like bipolar disorder, educating the public and destigmatizing mental illness is paramount.
While having celebrity spokespeople can bring attention to lesser known topics such as bipolar disorder, they’re also double-edged swords. When people like West have ambiguous relationships with such sensitive subject matter, the resulting discourse is often distracting and counterproductive. Even harmful.
When I see high profile figures like Kanye West embracing the label of “being bipolar” and bringing attention to it, I naturally become excited. But I become frustrated when I see the same high profile figure backtracking on such statements and effectively muddling conversations surrounding SMI. I think this notion is shared by many in the bipolar community. This is because we, the group of people with this dangerous disease, are directly impacted when mainstream media begin haphazardly introducing buzz words like “manic” or “bipolar” or “certifiable” or “psychotic.”
The reasoning behind Kanye West’s rants from last week is, perhaps, known only to West himself. He could have been experiencing mania. Or maybe he was intoxicated. Or maybe he was experiencing symptoms of a different type of mental illness altogether.
Because we don’t know — and we can’t know — we have to leave it up to West to spearhead his own narrative. He has claimed to be part of our unique community, yet has gone on to actively disrupt the conversations around this complex disorder … and it’s upsetting.
The public deterioration of a celebrity who has, at times, spoken about being bipolar and how it’s “awesome” is toxic. My hope is that West goes on to speak more about his relationship with his mental health and clarify some of the problematic statements that he’s recently made. I hope that he will provide context and explain what was behind his meltdowns and that he will hold himself accountable and relay those thoughts in a coherent and tactful way that supports the SMI community.
Most of all, I hope that he is able to get healthy and keep his life on track (or, if you prefer, get it back on track). No healthy person wants to get themself hurt, and no healthy person wants to hurt their community.
Hunter Keegan is an author, musician, and visual artist based in Greater Washington, DC. His works have been featured by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Shatterproof. He recently published a new book about bipolar disorder titled, “My Brain Is Trying To Kill Me.” His full works can be found at hhkeegan.com