I have a confession to make. I have been in treatment for bipolar disorder since 1996. I have felt the effects of mania and depression as far back as college. Doctors have dithered over what diagnosis I was – depressed, no, bipolar, no, really really depressed, no, classic type 1 bipolar… I had one therapist do a survey with me – a personality quiz of some kind – that had some 100 or more multiple choice questions. Afterwards she told me that most people have balance in their psyche – if they are depressed in one aspect, they have a strength that balances it out somewhere else. However, not me – nope, she said I was just depressed on both ends of the spectrum and she was surprised that I’d never been in an abusive relationship. Gee, that’s swell, lady. She also met with my husband (I was married at the time) and wouldn’t let me sit in on the meeting nor would she discuss with me what they’d talked over. I had one doctor prescribe a medication that, as a side effect, had forgetfulness and mental confusion, which was terribly helpful as a teacher, and now there’s very little I remember from those 3-4 years. I’ve had doctors who wanted me to take almost no medication to doctors who gave me a new medication for every concern I presented them with. I’ve seen more therapists than I can remember and filled up more journals than I can count (they’re hidden somewhere in my mom’s attic in a box or boxes). I’ve read books about being bipolar, living with people with bipolar, and healing oneself in five easy steps.
All of this has lead me to losing myself along the way – I’m not Jen, a woman who has bipolar – I am bipolar… Well, that’s incorrect. I was that way – identifying myself first as the disability – as if it defined me – all of me. A person who, when manic, spent too much money, drove too fast, couldn’t sleep, talked quickly, started a zillion projects and finished none – – – when depressed, couldn’t stop sleeping, couldn’t leave the house, cried, thought about dying all of the time, contemplated moving myself along that path sooner than later.
But, now that I’m actually on the right medications, seeing a good therapist, in a safe and secure place physically and emotionally (relatively speaking – understanding that this can change from day to day), working in a job that I honestly love – I’m me. I’m Jen – 43 years old, a Gemini, a sort-of artist, writer, girl who loves dogs and most other animals, woman who loves to sing in the car as she drives, reader, crossword puzzle solver (in ink, even if I screw up and have to scratch out or sometimes cheat), social butterfly, traveler, dreamer, friend to most she meets, volunteer coordinator, Catholic school survivor, one-time English teacher (and unapologetic grammar Nazi), older sister, “ruined for life” Jesuit Volunteer, etc. etc. etc. My experiences define me, my beliefs, my work, my love, my passions, my dreams… I define me.
And the older I get, the more people I meet who are affected by bipolar one way or another – themselves, in their sisters, their daughters, their sons, their fathers. We’re definitely better at diagnosing and treating mental illness. Plus, there are more medication options available. And, it’s a little less of a stigma – though I know that there are some who may read this post and judge me – find me wanting (and not because I’m a poor writer, but because of a chemical imbalance I have absolutely nothing to do with).
So, here’s my confession – I’m bipolar. I have a mental illness. I take medications, I see a therapist, I work, I love, I help others. I am so so so much more than just that diagnosis – as are all the others who have some type of mental illness that they’re being treated for.