I look perfectly well.
I can get out of bed. I shower, I wear clean clothes. I apply make up. I smile and chat and laugh.
But I’m not ok, I’m far from it. I was severely depressed in March of this year. My medication had been lowered and it wasn’t working as it used to. I was left feeling like I was on the edge of a precipice, and I was barely clinging on. At the time of writing, my medication has been reviewed and increased, and I’m feeling more stable, more like myself. But I still look the same. I look as healthy as I did when I was struggling. Having Bipolar, or any mental health problem, means understanding what it’s like to have an invisible illness.
I have good days, good weeks, and if I’m lucky, good months. These are the times I can get on with life. I can go out and enjoy living without the ogre of Bipolar looming large. Although, there is a voice. A voice that at first irritates and then consumes my thoughts,
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re faking it.”
It tells me I’m just lazy, or attention seeking. That I’m making all of this up. Even when I’m depressed, or in the midst of a psychotic episode or panic attack, the voice is there. Sometimes I believe it. It’s a dangerous voice, because on more than one occasion I’ve stopped taking my medication when I believed what it was telling me. That has never ended well.
I know I’m not the only one that lives with this voice and the fear that they’re faking. For me, it comes from years of misdiagnosis, and the worry that maybe this diagnosis is wrong too, and actually, really, there was never anything wrong. Even after nearly five years of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I still compare myself to others with the condition and convince myself I’m fine. Deep down though, I know Bipolar is a complex disorder, and everyone has a different experience of it.
It comes from people misunderstanding mental illness, believing sensationalist ideas, or making sweeping comments such as,
“I don’t believe in mental illness.” or, “Medication and psychiatry is all a lie.”
To be told that everything you know is happening in your mind, that you feel so intensely is fake, a lie, is suffocating. It’s wrong of these people to make such judgements. It’s strange to me that although mental illness touches 1 in 4 people in their lifetime, it is still so widely misunderstood and underrepresented in society. That leads back to the beginning of my post. Because it’s invisible, mental illness is difficult for people to relate to or understand. People often want to find an explanation for behaviour and because they can’t see mental illness as a cast or bandage on someone’s body, or on an x-ray, they look for other ways of defining what it means. As humans we want answers. We want to fix what is broken. There aren’t always answers for where mental illness comes from. There aren’t any quick fixes, and for some it’s a life time of mending over and over again what’s broken.
I know that seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication has saved my life. I know that I wouldn’t be here without the intervention of medication alongside lifestyle changes. No amount of calming baths and cups of tea would’ve had the same effect. I have to remind myself of this fact on a daily basis. I know I need to educate and inform friends, family and strangers about Bipolar and mental illness in general. The more people I talk to, the quieter that voice becomes.