Is there lettuce in my teeth? Can you see my patterned underwear through my leggings? Is my bipolar showing?
Each day I try to avoid showing my symptoms to others. I’m always monitoring my interactions: am I talking too fast, getting overexcited, or making bizarre, childish comments? Am I looking sad, acting bored, or avoiding people? I worry that people will think that I’m bipolar. I’m almost constantly concerned their perception of who I am will be tainted by the diagnosis that is printed in black pen on my insurance claims.
Knowing I’m bipolar because I personally told them or because they read my blog is completely different. When I tell someone that I’m bipolar, I’m relieved when they tell me that they never would have no. To me, that means I’m not claimed by symptoms. It means that I am Jenna first and bipolar a distant second, third, or even tenth.
I try to present myself to the world as a BIC – bipolar in control. I get out of bed every day, shower, and take my medicine. I have friends. I function. Episodes are unwanted threats to this carefully constructed label. They jeopardize the most critical component – control. When I succumb to mania or depression, I feel so weak. I feel like my brain chemistry has overcome my personality and my will to live normally.
My dream is to be an intelligent, well-adjusted teen with nice teeth and shampoo commercial hair, and bipolar doesn’t really fit into that equation. It’s like having a handmade jigsaw puzzle, and all of the pieces fit except for one grotesque piece that refuses to work anywhere. Does this one piece ruin the whole puzzle? Of course, the answer is no. Roses are beautiful with their thorns, dalmatians are cute with their spots, and many men and women function with their bipolar.
Everyone has minute insecurities that can translate into worry or panic. But for people with mental illness, there’s an additional issue that occupies mental realty. I think this is because we perceive mental illness with so much stigma – we think that we could be doing more to control ourselves and our symptoms. When someone has lettuce in our teeth, we don’t change the way we think about that person. We usually just tell them and continue our conversation. We probably don’t even remember the next hour, let alone day. With mental illness, the way we feel about the person exhibiting symptoms may change. We get frustrated or angry with them, almost as frustrated and angry as they are with themselves. These thought processes help no one.
I believe that it will be easier for individuals with mental illness to accept themselves and their symptoms if others can accept them, too. Everyone needs to start seeing the illness separately from the individual – myself included.
So yes, there will be days when my bipolar shows, just like there are days that you can see the pink polka dots of my underwear through my leggings. There will be days when everyone can tell that I am manic or depressed or numb or angry, and that’s okay. Because that’s the funky little puzzle piece I carry in my pocket.