Home About Patreon


- 7 min read

Stigma and Bipolar Disorder

img of Stigma and Bipolar Disorder

Well, today is World Bipolar Day. I learned about it this year from Archer & Olive of all places. This highlights that not a lot of information is out there about bipolar disorder. It was a last-minute decision to write about this.

This isn’t going to be a well-crafted essay. It isn’t going to educate you. That stuff is already out there if you go looking for it. And you should. Out of common decency. Instead, I want to talk about my experiences with people. The sort of stigmas that I’ve encountered in my life.

Introduction to Bipolar

There is a certain amount of meta-awareness that coping with bipolar requires. When you are in the thick of it, especially after the first onset, it is difficult to handle. It took me a long time to understand how some of my behaviors were detrimental to myself.

A lot of breakthroughs happened for me in my thirties. Where I started to manage my moods and remain stable most of the time. Learning my triggers was valuable in avoiding prolonged episodes. As well as finding the right combination of medication. I didn’t start to get my life together until I understood that I had to change for myself. And not focus on pleasing other people. Becoming what they wanted me to be.

I will admit to you though that there are behaviors that prevent me from thriving in life. Those are the ones that I work on while fostering self-acceptance. But, I don’t want to change myself to some version that makes people comfortable. When I would like to push people to accept more things outside their experiences. Something isn’t wrong because you don’t understand it. Ask any Neurodivergent or LGBTQIA2S+ person. That list is a lot longer too.

The biggest difference between me and you is the intensity of my emotions and their duration.

There is still a lot of stigma around bipolar disorder and I face that every day. The following are three stories of how this has manifested in my life. I hope that you will keep an open mind. Question some of the things you believe about it.

You Can’t Tell if Someone Has a Mental Illness

This conversation starts innocently enough. I was passing the time talking to my cab driver. He took offense when I referred to myself as queer. This is understandable because it is a slur. People of my generation may not know that because we grew up with it. It is a reclaimed word.

Well, then it is my turn to get offended. He tells me the story of his ex-friend who did some despicable things. But, he got his comeuppance when diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is outrageous. That this driver would treat bipolar as a punishment. I informed him that I had bipolar disorder. To which he replied, “You don’t act like it.”

I let him know that people aren’t stereotypes. That there is no way that I’m supposed to be. I’ve worked hard to manage things so that my mood is stable. Even when it isn’t, I do my best to cope and not let it interfere with the things that I want to do in my life. I’ve been able to cultivate some small hope that things will change and that no mood is forever. That is all I have to hang onto sometimes.

You’re Screwed

You can’t judge a mental health professional based on how much you pay them. Results will always vary. Some practitioners stigmatize mental illnesses despite their training. This has happened to me on several occasions. Though my best friend says that I have bad luck.

My parents always wanted me to be like everyone else. They sent me to a lot of people to try to fix me. My father got a recommendation for a therapist who was a friend of a friend. One of those people who treat rich people and celebrities. Like that even matters when it comes to quality of care.

So, I spend an hour re-traumatizing myself by telling her my life story. It was a waste of time. She was never going to help me. At the end of our session, she tells me, “You’re screwed.” Saying that no one can help me. That didn’t stop her from taking her two hundred dollar fee. It might have been more. It was the most expensive appointment that I’ve ever had.

You Can’t Please Everyone So Please Yourself

This last story is maddening and infuriating. It is still fresh in my mind. You have to understand my childhood. My father was not good with emotions. I don’t know if I was the worst or best kid for him. I challenged him a lot.

I did not get comforted by him when I was emotional. No hugs. Sent to my room until I calmed down. He was also the one who told me not to cry in front of others. Not to show people my vulnerabilities or weaknesses. I still struggle with this even with my closest friends. Masking was survival. Frequently a victim of bullying and abuse, there was no hope that I could fit in. But I wouldn’t let those people see me suffer. I put on a smile and tried to move through life keeping my own company.

This mentality has not served me well as an adult. I tried to get Disability but my lawyer told me that I didn’t have a chance. Turns out that I haven’t complained enough about my life. My health record doesn’t have enough evidence to show my condition. I can’t win. The lawyer was also ableist AF. Telling me to try harder to get a job. Not listening when I told him about my experiences. Completely invalidating them. Then he told me he was doing me a favor by encouraging me. That it was his purpose. I was in tears feeling humiliated the whole time.

The Trouble with Stigma

You might start to think when you get mistreated by people for who you are, that it is your fault. This is what stigma does to people. It makes you doubt yourself and it causes real harm. Many suffer in silence afraid to seek help because of how others would treat them.

I am a friendly person and like to engage with people. Listening is one of my super powers and I’m genuinely interested in other people’s stories. People in conversation will reveal, “I can’t be friends with someone who is bipolar again.” Why would you volunteer that information to a stranger? Am I supposed to sympathize with that? I’m grateful that people out themselves so I know not to invest in those relationships. But, stigma, it sucks.

My big epiphany this year is that I’ve successfully managed my bipolar disorder. I have yet to resolve my social anxiety and PTSD. Most of it related to my difficulties and misunderstandings with other people. It is very difficult for me to understand that there are people out there who like me for who I am. Making it more difficult to make the connections that I need to build friendships.

So, I hope that this helps you understand some of the stigma of bipolar disorder. Or at least what it feels like for some people. This is another way to explain it in song.

I Crush Everything · Jonathan Coulton

If you’re feeling generous, consider supporting me on Patreon with monthly support as low as $1.

You can also send me a one time donation via the tip button.

Thank you for your support!

Related Posts

There are no related posts yet. 😢