Do I Still Have It?

220px-carrie_fisher_2013I’ve been thinking a lot about my illness (bipolar affective disorder) since Carrie Fisher died.  She was such a wonderful advocate. She managed to live a meaningful, successful life by fighting the fight.  I take inspiration from that, but something functioning bipolars have to deal with is wondering are we still really bipolar?  This is a curse for many because it means that they cease taking their medications thinking this way.

I share because every time someone with a mental illness shares their story, it becomes more normalized; the stigmas become weaker.

I’ve never quit my meds not even for a day, and although I still struggle, I have this really misguided desire to prove to myself or others that I am actually bipolar.  How messed up is that?  Imagine that I had any number of treatable illnesses and I was able to live healthily because of treatment…say, type 1 diabetes.  Would I ever question if I still had it?  I don’t really know the answer to that, but it seems so very absurd that someone who has to take insulin every day would doubt their illness.  And certainly NO ONE would doubt that they had it.

I make no secret about my illness, but I believe that I might be able to if I wanted, just as an insulin-dependent diabetic might.  Sure, I have occasional mood issues, but doesn’t everybody?  And that is the goal of treatment; to fall within the realm of normal mood fluctuation.  Because I function, I have this feeling that some people are skeptical of my diagnosis.  Maybe they’re someone who has never seen me manic.  I tend to hide out when I am.

And this is a factor.  I worry that they are right.  And you know what?  I resent these quasi-imaginary people.  They have no true understanding of what my journey has been or how it has affected my wife and children.  I’m so grateful for the people who accept me and support me.  Maybe these quasi-imaginary people have seen movies with a fictional depiction of a person with bipolar and think they know what it looks like and I don’t match.  Maybe they even know someone and I don’t match.  But there is no one way to be bipolar.  It’s a complex disorder.  I respond to that excess production of serotonin or lack there of in my own way and it is not always apparent to the onlooker.

Then there are the people who believe that bipolar is an emotional/psychological disorder instead of primarily a neurological disorder.  Very “Church of Scientology”.  If it were simply an emotional issue, then psychotherapy or spirituality would make me well.  I wouldn’t need medicine.  Oh, therapy helps for sure.  It helps me learn how to cope with the disorder.  The problem is that if it is in my head and not in my brain, then I should be able to think my way out of it.  If I can do that, then aren’t I just making myself a victim by not unlocking my emotional issues?  Not meditating enough?  Not eating healthily enough?   All of these things help, but this is not so.

Carrie Fisher said a few things that I would like to highlight.

Without medication I would not be able to function in this world.  Medication has made me a good mother, a good friend, and a good daughter

If you’re manic depressive and you’re functioning in this world and doing at all well, I think, Wow! You should be proud of being able to say, “This is what I’m getting through right now.”

I do need medicine and perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit.  I am functioning.  I’ve made it this far without losing a job, losing my family, or losing my freedom. Isn’t that something I should be proud of?  And yet my response is this silly nonsense that maybe I’m functioning because this is all a sham.  I’ve not been sick, I’m just been an asshole.

But today, to honor Carrie Fisher, I say No!  I do have Bipolar Affective Disorder (3 out of 4 doctors agree. The 4th thought I was just a cokehead) and I’m doing a damn good job at being a successful person in spite of it.

If you know someone fighting to function, give them credit!  If you know someone who has stopped fighting, give them support!

God bless people like Carrie Fisher who live bravely and authentically with their mental illness.

4 thoughts on “Do I Still Have It?

  1. David, this article has been educational for me. Thank you for being so forth- coming about your illness. I appreciate all that you share and think it makes me a better person and especially supports my volunteer job at T House.

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  2. David-I wish my family had been open like you are about my grandfathers mental illness. I grew up next door to my grandparents and constantly heard “don’t be loud your granddaddy is not well.” I thought until I was in college that he had the worlds longest bout with colds! I learned in my late college years that he suffered from manic depression– and I had no clue what that was. Your articles have helped me understand more what bipolar disorder is than anything else. My family would not talk about it— just would say Granddaddy wasn’t well. He was extremely smart, but after a “breakdown” at age 30, he never worked again. I have so many questions now but my family has all passed away. I know he met with his therapist once a month for over 40 years. I know he had shock treatments at Mayo Clinic and took medicine but that’s about all I know. So I totally admire your being so open with your bipolarness as I call it. Thank you, Donna Lawson

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