Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Daniel

Dear Daniel,

Feeling stronger today. Still not one hundred percent but the light is oh so much brighter. I want to talk about something today that is close to my heart. Stigma and stereotype.

I often talk about my journey and my recovery as beacon of hope for those still struggling in the depths of despair. I rarely talk about the experiences of those who are the friends and family of those persons with bipolar disorder except in the terms of how they function in relation to my recovery.

The truth and whole truth is, when someone has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder the whole family has it. And both sides of the coin will, at least in the beginning of the journey, at times, fail to see and comprehend what it is truly like to be the other person in the equation.

Bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum. Bipolar I, bipolar II, and unofficially bipolar III. They can exist autonomously or with traits of other illnesses. My diagnosis is bipolar I with mixed episodes. What is a mixed episode exactly? It’s when you are cycling so fast you feel as if you are physically being torn in two different directions at once. One minute you are fine, the next you’re sobbing, the next you are so hateful you can’t stand yourself.

I’m fortunate. I’m much more likely to harm myself than ever hurt someone else. I’ve never had an issue with too many violent outbursts, but I have felt the rage and I have been in its grip before. And let me state now, that it is no joke to be at its mercy. In this state I have thrown things, I have cut my own hair short, and I have said and done other things I am far from proud of.

There is a stereotype that everyone is paranoid and violent. And while those symptoms DO indeed exist and believe me I have been paranoid, but reaching out for help is something I have never rejected. I’ve never stopped taking my meds because I was ‘feeling better’ either. And that really is a struggle for some.
There is this idea that somehow one is weak because they need this medicine and that is simply not the case. 

It’s like you wouldn’t stop taking your metformin or insulin if you were a diabetic would you? The difference is the whole family must be treated. There is a stigma in that if people knew about the sick person in their family there would be shame to cope with. When in fact they are already feeling shame. As is the person tormented by the illness. Sometimes an improperly treated mentally ill individual has the end result of being a tormentor as well as being tormented. The guilt one feels as a result of their actions is horrendous. Paralyzing and so strong you can taste it. And making amends for it is hard because sometimes what we do is so out of character for us that it shocks everyone around us. And it becomes ‘oh no, what will they do if I look at them sideways’ which sucks for pretty much everyone involved.

The stigma and stereotype that follow those of us living with mental illness is no fun whatsoever. A perfect example of this is when Maurice Benard gave a s/o to everyone with bipolar disorder stating if he could do it so could they when accepting an acting award, there was laughter in the crowd. Not applause for his courage an bravery which there should have been.

So this goes for everyone living with mental illness either as the person struggling with the diagnosis, or the family and friends grasping at as to how to survive it and learn to live with it without self-destructing themselves.

You are all, courageous, you are all brave, you should all be commended for being at whatever stage you’re at in the journey. And not ever at any moment laughed unless you are using humor to survive and live through the situation and through life itself.


Amy McCorkle

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