Today, March 30, 2015, is the 2nd annual World Bipolar Day. (WBD) I read a really great article written by the c0-founder of the International Bipolar Foundation, Muffy Walker, “Why a World Bipolar Day”. Walker writes:
Mental illnesses have historically been misunderstood, feared and therefore stigmatized. The stigma is due to a lack of education, mis-education, false information, ignorance, or a need to feel superior. Its effects are especially painful and damaging to one’s self-esteem. It leaves people with mental illnesses feeling like outcasts from society. Whether the perceived stigma is real or not, it is the subjective interpretation that affects the person’s feelings of belonging. Like most groups who are stigmatized against, there are many myths surrounding mental illness.
I couldn’t agree more. Almost 5 years ago, when my doctor was able to confirm my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II, I wondered what people’s reactions would be if I told them about my diagnosis. I wondered, will they look at me differently, will they treat me differently? Was I different? Was I “abnormal”? Would their perception of me change?
If someone judges me because of my illness, what does that say about them?
I love the Dr. Seuss quote, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind,” because it’s true. The people who matter won’t judge, and don’t mind if you have days where you “aren’t yourself”, are quiet, hyper, sad, whatever your symptoms are that day. IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY. Not every day is the same. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We just have to make the rest of the world understand that.
I think World Bipolar Day is a great idea. We need to educate the masses and combat stigma in every way possible. I hope that WBD succeeds in educating as many people as possible and in spreading awareness. Stigma is dangerous. Stigma, as it has for me at times, prevents me from being me, “my true self”, at work, in public, in crowds – around people who don’t know “the truth” about me. I don’t want that to be my reality anymore. Stigma is frustrating. Perhaps the more World Bipolar Days we have, like Bell Let’s Talk Day, the more celebrities and individuals will feel comfortable sharing their stories, inspiring hope and sharing positive messages about mental illness/Bipolar Disorder.
Let’s tell the world why it’s wrong to use mental illnesses as adjectives. The weather is not “bipolar” or “schizophrenic”. We need to treat mental illness like physical illness. See the person, not the illness. Let’s stop stigma together.
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!