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