Bipolar AF: Getting Honest About Mental Illness

I don’t think of myself as a person who harbours a lot of fear, but there must be some reason I’ve been staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen for longer than I care to say, knowing what I want to write and unable to do it.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is deeply ingrained, otherwise this would be easy to do. Speaking out about my illness is not a spontaneous, ‘new year, new me’ decision. After I was diagnosed eight years ago, I felt that one day I would be able to write honestly and publicly about bipolar disorder. Things don’t happen for a reason in this absurd universe, but you can create meaning out of anything. My bipolar struggles and triumphs could be made valuable by sharing them with the world and illuminating this strange existence from the inside. I could be an advocate, maybe even an inspiration. That was my hope. But first, I needed to be healthy, stable, and ultimately get over my fear that I’d be considered unemployable if I ever spoke on any social media or professional platform about being bipolar. The first years of my twenties were far from inspirational. Only those closest to me were in on my secret. I kept waiting for my ‘After’ picture to develop. This disorder is a lifelong thing, though, so I just found myself in a constant state of readjustment. It was a balancing act that got easier and easier as I learned and grew to be more comfortable in this new iteration of self, the bipolar me. Granted, I’ve always been bipolar, but officially finding out and suddenly being medicated for symptoms I thought were core parts of my personality shook my sense of identity for a while.

Here I am in 2017, though, and I’m good. Really good. This is the year I marry my soulmate, my sweetheart. It’s the year my first book gets published, an event I’ve been fantasizing about since I was in grade school (Thank you, Guernica Editions!). Going into this enthusiastically, there is a truth I need to face, the Very Important Thing that marriage and writing both share: honesty. Someone once told me that for every secret I kept, my writing would suffer. My secret has certainly shaped my writing, especially in that I am most comfortable writing poems; elliptical, cryptic, densely metaphorical poems. My poems are satellites circling gargantuan, hidden truths. They were equally formed by the desire to share creatively and the fear of revealing too much. Each poem, a partial eclipse. Now that that my manuscript will be published later this fall, a manuscript that I began writing around the time I was diagnosed, I feel like it’s time to finally come clean.

To be honest, if a little green fairy came along and said I could choose not to be bipolar if that was my wish, I’d say f— that! Give me a different wish! Give me the gift of free education for life. Let me never experience writer’s block again. Give me a soulful, haunting voice. Make me a synesthete. Grant me the ability to recreate everything I see on Pinterest without frustration. Promise me healthy children in the future.

But what if they aren’t? What if they’re bipolar like me? Then I’ll teach them this. We are creative. We are empathetic. We are curious. We have the intelligence and willpower to learn self-awareness and create good habits. We have the intuition and strength to create our own destiny. Our perception of the world is different. We are different, and it’s okay to celebrate our otherness.

Expect to hear a lot more from me on this subject. I’ll keep writing poems, but there is so much more for me to say and do now that I’ve told my secret. Know that there are many more people than you realize that deal on the daily with mental illness. To anyone living with bipolar, feel free to contact me. I’m here to talk and here to listen. More than anything, I want to help end the stigma as well as to locate and research resources in the community for those whose lives are affected by mental health issues.

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