From a Bipolar Person:
These are my feelings about our mental health community, meaning everyone that has a mental illness. To me, this means people with an illness that qualifies as clinical. It doesn’t include people that are occasionally depressed but depressed in normal ways, like if they suffer a family loss or other major upset but are able to rally relatively quickly without getting too low. In short, people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, etc. People that can legally qualify for disability and usually need some form of medication, etc.
Whether society like it or not, we’re part of the world and there are a lot of us. My views are my opinions on things our community should consider. Obviously, none of this is written in stone but illustrated how I WOULD LIKE our community to be structured.
1. Be true to our community. Be true to each other.
We’re a frequently persecuted minority group. Most persecuted minority groups like black people, gay people, etc, are strongest when they rally around each other. I feel this is of paramount importance to us, especially, because we need all the strength and support we can get. We need to help each other, look out for each other, be there for each other. Our responsibilities are to ourselves and each other. This doesn’t mean we have to ignore or repulse the rest of the world. It just means our community is our extended family and we need to be true and committed to our family. It’s very true that often as we have are each other.
2. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to care about yourself more than anyone else.
It would be wonderful is we’re all healthy and fortunate enough to have fewer personal needs and more time and resources to primarily help others but that’s not the reality of nearly every one of us. We’re challenged. We’re burdened. We have to face it and live it. For our own good and, indirectly, the good of the rest of society, we need to think of ourselves first, our community second and the world third. Of all the people in society that need help, we’re one of the groups at the forefront. We can’t feel guilty or selfish by being more inclusive, that is attending to our own often substantial needs above all others. If we take care of ourselves, we help the world and society. While not a burden as people, we can be a burden to the financial system. It can be a vicious cycle for us because we want to be responsible human citizens but often just aren’t able to function 100% in that capacity. We need to do the best we can. If we do, we need not feel like a burden in any way. As is frequently said, we didn’t ask for major mental illnesses. We didn’t sign up for this. I personally have a bit of a challenge here because my ego gets in the way and I do at times feel ashamed for not being 100%, like it’s my fault. I often overcome this feeling but not as often as I’d like to. That leads me to my third point.
3. It’s very, very normal for us to be confused about our place in the world, if we have a purpose in life, etc.
Defining a purpose in life is easy for the healthy and, at least, the functionally normal. Make it through the stages of life. Succeed in school and at work, get married, make money, have children and play out the rest of the string. For us, that’s often not possible, at least not fully. So, if our job as physical beings is to do all this yet we can’t, what the heck should we do? This question frequently bedevils me. It seems like we get stuck on the societal ladder and are passed by just about everyone on the way to success or even “do your best” failure. We’re a big pea under the mattress for the human condition. Those that deny mental illnesses exist what their life views simple. We’re all normal, we all start the same way, we all have the same chance and, if we fail, it’s our own faults. This is the kind of thing that the American Dream is all about. For us, our community knows it’s bunk. We’re not all created equal and we don’t all have the same chance. For me, as an American, that means disillusionment. So many people in our country live on illusion. We’re taught that the Constitution is the Bible of how to live life in America. Sorry, but our very existence proves this value set has limitations. We’re not included. We’re not invited to the life party. We’re the hard reality society wants to sweep under the rug. We become outsiders by sad fate. Are normal people at fault for functioning normally? Are they at fault because we understandably can’t keep up? See my next point.
4. We can’t blame the rest of the world for not being sick.
This can be a tough one. We need to be magnanimous. We need to rise above our own pain and ostracization. Yes, many, if not most, of normal people don’t give a shit about us and don’t know anything about us. Yes, they often fear and resent us. Yes, we have the right to hate that quality in them. However, we can’t blame the world or the people in it because we’ve been dealt a terrible hand. We need to be better as human beings. We need to forgive those ignorant about and hateful towards people in our community. We know and understand pain. We know what it felt like before we were diagnosed when many of us were as dumb and intolerant as the people that never manifest a major mental illness. This is our time to pity them for a lack of perspective and forgive. The one gift we’ve been given is insight into the less fortunate. We need to take that gift and develop it. We know pain and misery. Let’s not make others feel the pain we do.
5. Let’s just do the best we can. If we have clarity, that means responsibility.
Though sick, if we have moments of clarity, we need to do the right things. That means medications if necessary, despite the potential side effects. Yes, it sucks but it’s important. We can go about the world untreated and symptomatic and be problems for ourselves and our loved ones if we choose. I’ve had several periods of taking meds and getting off meds because I felt that best. When not on meds, I’ve had massive bouts of bipolar psychosis. I’ve been a danger to myself and others. I know this. I’m aware of it. If I don’t take medication, I know I’m being irresponsible. When I take meds, I feel much better and can have a sense of self and sanity. Without meds, I can’t have that. Through experience, I treasure my sanity because I know the pain and fear of not having it. Taking my meds is an easy choice for me because the alternative is horrible. We all know living with a mental illness is so tough. We often have our bouts of depression or mania or psychosis and we do the best we can but we still don’t always succeed against it. This is why we just need to do the best we can. Little progress can be vitally important. It’s good for our sense of self. We feel good knowing we’re doing the best we can to make lemonade out of lemons. It’s often two steps back for one step forward BUT WE MUST STEP.
These are the points that come to mind the most right now. They’re how I see myself, our community, the rest of the world and our place in it. We exist. We’re mentally ill. We need to do what we can to make the most of it. Thanks for reading.
Author Jeffery Riley
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