The Only Way To Help Bipolar Disorder Is To Understand, Not Judge

by Sara Berelsman

Everyone has ups and downs, but I know a girl whose ups and downs are not so “normal.”

Being bipolar means that for stretches of time, she is so depressed she sometimes can’t get out of bed and function. Things she normally enjoys, like playing with her kids, are devoid of happiness and fulfillment.

She feels empty, aching and heavy. She hurts all over -- a constant, indescribable hurt.

She doesn’t want to see or talk to anyone. She cries, and she’s learned it’s better to “embrace” the depressive episode than try to combat it.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, when the “high” (mania) kicks in, her brain is bombarded with thoughts so fast and furious that she can’t write them down as quickly as they come.

She is compelled to constantly “do” in this state: clean, bake, exercise, shop, etc. She can't stop; no amount of stimulation is enough.

She is euphorically happy, yet there’s an uncomfortability that goes along with it because, in this state, she is never satisfied. She feels invincible and, therefore, can act impulsively. In this state, she finds it unbelievable that she was ever depressed.

The lows are more frequent than the highs.

It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or if everything is going right, she can plummet into a downward spiral. The depression rolls in like a dark fog, and hangs on. And hangs on. And hangs on. She just has to wait it out and keep breathing, even though it feels hopeless and never ending.

She feels guilty, guilty about her past mistakes. She feels guilty because she’s a terrible mother. A terrible wife. A terrible friend.  A terrible daughter. She feels like a burden to everyone. She doesn’t want to be here, and it would be better for everyone if she wasn't here.

From the outside, this girl has the perfect life. When people find out about her reality, they are shocked. They tell her she’s pretty; she’s smart; she’s funny; she has a beautiful family. She has it all, so why is she depressed?

I’ve also tried to convince her of these things, but… The girl is me.

There are so many misconceptions about bipolar disorder and mental illness, in general. For one, it is not a flaw in character; it is a flaw in chemistry. My brain isn’t the same as a “normal” person's.

I did not choose to have this disorder, and I can’t simply “snap out of it.” People also seem to think bipolar disorder means one second, the afflicted person is perfectly happy, and the next second, madness and anger take over, but that’s not how it is.

The moods fluctuate over the course of days, usually weeks at a time. It’s not a matter of flipping from happiness to being angry or crazy; it involves being happy for days or weeks at a time, and then falling into a depression.

A lot of times, on the news, we see that a person has gone on a killing spree, and then find out the person is bipolar.

The misconception perpetuated here is that most mentally ill people are not violent; in fact, mentally ill people are more likely to have violence inflicted upon them.

I understand that unless you’ve experienced this disorder first-hand, you will never truly “get it.” My husband doesn’t get it; my parents don’t get it; my friends don’t get it. I don’t even get it.

All I know is that it's real, and even though you may look at me and I appear fine on the outside, I am not fine. I am trapped in a living hell, and I never escape my brain.

While I would choose mania over depression any day of the week, it’s still not how I want to feel or how people are meant to feel.

When the depression comes, it’s like someone has hijacked my brain. The awful, intrusive thoughts about what a horrible person I am play over and over in my brain on a continuous loop; I can’t escape it.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Depression has no future; all I can do is keep breathing.

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not the most despicably evil person alive. The mental pain is worse than any form of pain I’ve ever experienced, including giving birth without an epidural.

Mental illness is an equal opportunity disease; it doesn’t care how beautiful you are, how talented you are, how many Oscars you’ve won. Anyone can be a candidate.

I want the stigma associated with mental illness to go away. The very strong misconceptions never cease to amaze me, and they hurt. Though I might look fine, I am suffering.

There is no logic when a chemical imbalance is involved, and no one should have to suffer in silence. We need to educate people about that -- we don’t choose to feel this way.

As Maya Angelou said,

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

I’m not lying about my disorder to get attention or pity, and no one can “fix me,” so don’t bother trying. Just be there for me.  The support system I have is the only reason I’m alive today.

If you believe you are suffering from a mental illness, get help. If you are ever feeling suicidal, reach out. You are not alone. I know it can be scary to talk about it, for fear of what others might think, but not talking about something doesn’t make it go away.

It is crucial we talk about it to obliterate the stigma, so people aren’t afraid to get help. It's no different than people who get help when they get a cancer diagnosis. Talking about this is the one and only way to make it socially acceptable to admit to a mental illness.

We shouldn’t have to prove we are sick, but that is the sad truth of our society. We judge what we don’t understand, so start talking. Together, we can erase the stigma.

And, maybe one day, the girl I know who is bipolar will no longer feel hurt because of judgment; she will feel loved because of understanding.