A few weeks ago I was at a party, and I started speaking to a group of people that I didn't know very well. The subject sparked my interest and I joined the group. They were speaking about a friend, who was being accused of faking bipolar. The general consensus was that she was attention seeking, and were scathing about her behaviour. Then came the inevitable conversation about the status of bipolar in society. One person chimed in with,
"Well, everyone these days is bipolar, because it's 'in' and fashionable." There were nods of agreement.
What they didn't know is that I suffer from bipolar. It took twelve years for me to be diagnosed. It's not fashionable and in fact it's terrifying and debilitating. To me, it will never be 'in'. The reality is that it's a life long, severe mental illness. It takes a great deal of effort and determination to live with, and even more work and drive to find some form of stability.
People seem to hold on to the idea that bipolar can make them seem more interesting; that others will see them as edgy and vibrant, or brooding and mysterious. It's infuriating that there are those that are playing make believe because they want their lives to be more exciting. All this does is add to the stigma. It's harmful to those actually suffering and trying to reach or maintain good mental health. I find it insulting that people would go to such extremes and use an illness I live with everyday to impress others. Depression saps the life out of me and leaves me feeling hollow and numb. I have felt suicidal many times in my life and have been close to acting on these thoughts. It's only because of my family that I am still here. It doesn't make me remarkable or interesting. It makes me unable to go outside, complete simple tasks or look after myself.
I would do almost anything to trade bipolar for constant stability. It is beyond me why anyone would romanticise or glamourise this illness, or purposefully want it. Mania, or the idea of it, seems to be the most enticing notion. People believe that mania transforms you into a creative genius. That you will suddenly become the life of the party and go on epic adventures. The difference between being confident and exuberant and mania is stark. Manic symptoms will make me feel invincible, to the point where I have had delusions where I believed I couldn't be hurt.
Mania for me is reckless, dangerous driving. It's spending masses of money I don't have. It's an irrational, intense anger toward everything and everyone. Paranoia follows me everywhere, whispering in my ear. It's hearing voices that boost my self belief. I often say bipolar is an explanation for some of my behaviour, but never an excuse.
The reason seemingly more people are now diagnosed with bipolar is not because it's fashionable, but because there is more awareness. According to Bipolar UK 2% of the population in the UK have a lifetime prevalence of bipolar, so the idea that, 'everyone has bipolar' is untrue. As a teenager, I was fairly ignorant about mental illness, whereas teens now seem to be much more clued up on the subject. Even though stigma is still prevalent, we are able to talk more openly and society as a whole is becoming more aware.
From the conversation I had on Saturday though, there is still a long way to go in terms of education about bipolar and mental illnesses. People are quick to judge and repeat stigmatising myths they've heard surrounding conditions. One of the reasons bipolar is seen as fashionable is because celebrities are being honest about their condition and people want to emulate them. If you want life to be more exciting do something about it, but don't fake an illness. If you see it as in fashion you are not aware of what bipolar really is; a disorder that impacts all aspects of a person's life. It can harm, destruct and kill in all its forms. It is most definitely not a fashion statement.