When I tell someone I have bipolar 2 disorder, the shock that comes across his or her face often takes me aback.
If they know me, their shock is a tad annoying. What does me saying I have bipolar disorder change for them? What does the admission trigger in their mind about what someone with bipolar is supposed to look like, supposed to be like? How am I so different from what they expect?
If they don’t know me, their shock is a bit terrifying. What have I done? Why have I told them? Was it necessary?
Sometimes, I worry that they do not believe me. I’m usually revealing for some purpose: to explain why I need a different schedule, or to explain why I need more sleep than others. Why I need time off for doctor’s appointments. Why my medications make me tired. Why I need to take only three classes instead of five. I worry that they think I’m making excuses and trying to somehow get over.
But I don’t need to make excuses. My accomplishments speak for themselves.
There’s no amount of getting over that would explain what I’ve done. I have three young, healthy, and intelligent children. I am successfully and happily married to a partner who adores me. I have a bachelors, masters, doctorate and law degree. I’ve attended the top schools in the nation. I have a very successful career ahead of me, where I will do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do. By the time I’m between 41 and 45 years old, I will have lifelong job security.
I don’t say this to be arrogant. I say this to be real.
Because I have contemplated suicide, have lost months of productivity because I could not get out of bed, have spent time in a psychiatric ward of a hospital and have attended weeks of outpatient day programs. I’ve spent a lot of money I knew I didn’t have and saddled my young family with mounting debt. I’ve left my kids and husband to chase a half-baked idea of singing background for a hairstylist-by-day, singer-rapper-by-night. I’ve sat in Starbucks downing lattes at ten o’clock at night and crying because the words on my screen are swimming and I can’t think but I can’t stop trying to think. I’ve cried when I had to be alone with my children for even a few hours. I’ve totaled my car. I’ve begged on the altar at church praying to God to help me and wondering why He’d left me.
But I’ve survived thrived. I’ve made it. I’m a working class black girl from Philly who went to college on a full scholarship and suffers from bipolar 2 disorder and has had to fight for my life. I’m one missed night of sleep away from an episode. But right now, I’m still here.
I want to tell you how.