“I am not my bi-polar disorder”

Project Description:

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 13 years old. Growing up in a small community, and being a moody 13 year-old, I learned very quickly the stigma that comes with this diagnosis. The people and friends I had grown up loving suddenly didn’t consider my emotions valid – if I was happy, I must be getting manic. If I wasn’t happy (for any reason, including my pet dying), these same beloved people began to walk on egg shells for fear that I would hurt myself, dive into a crippling depression, or even try to commit suicide. Understandably, they tried to not let me be unhappy. This resulted in, “What’s wrong?” being asked of me about 20 times a day, and I’ll tell you, people not letting me show that I was less-than-happy tended to make me more unhappy and uncomfortable. Because of this reaction of my friends and family, and by proxy because of my diagnosis, I began to form a mask around my feelings. Instead of waiting and hoping for people to understand the validity of my actions and myself, I created a perfectly bubbly and non-bipolar version for the world. As most people can imagine, that didn’t work.

Knowing that I was Bipolar at a young age was a fact that seemed insurmountable at the time. I didn’t know if my choices, feelings, or thoughts were my own – I lived in fear of my own mind because I wasn’t sure if it was telling me what was truly happening around me. The only times I wasn’t scared was when (as I later learned) I was having a manic episode. I felt invincible. I felt like I could be the best version of myself, that nothing could even get close to hurting me. I was also incredibly productive, which may have (definitely) been a result of me not sleeping for 3 to 4 days at a time. Not sleeping, forgetting to eat, being constantly busy with my mind racing a million miles a second: those were the days that I loved myself the most. It seems weird to admit that to strangers, but it’s also one of the most honest things a person can say about them self. I would be the friend and daughter that these people around me had always seemed to want me to be. I wanted to stay like that so that we could all be happy with myself again, but I never could maintain it. Those times never lasted nearly as long as I wanted, and eventually, the resulting downswing became harder and harder to climb out of. I craved the mania because I thought it was the only part of me that this Bipolar diagnosis had been kind to, and that’s why I chose that word for my What I Be photo.

It’s taken years to begin to look back and realize I was actually lucky to be diagnosed young. I grew up being able to form my identity and understanding of myself to include Bipolar. To do this, I had to create a system of checks and balances for my own thoughts. While having a conversation, I now absent-mindedly work to ensure that my true self is hearing what another person is saying. Through years of trial-and-error help and understanding, I finally accept that Bipolar is a part of me. Even while manic, depressed, or not noticeably having an episode, I am Bipolar. I’m Olivia, I’m now 21 years old, and I am still Bipolar. I’m also a writer, a movie aficionado, a swimmer, a baker, and I’m quite possibly addicted to Cheez-its (to be fair, I’m on a college student’s budget). Thanks for the time, and I hope the next time someone says, “they’re acting Bipolar,” you might think to help me in fighting the stigma of this disorder.