I Am Bipolar vs. I Have Bipolar vs. Wavering Terminology of Disease
This past week was everyone’s favourite holiday, Mental Health Day. It’s that one day of the year where all flavours of crazy get to openly talk about stuff on the news and everyone pats themselves on the back for how far we’ve come and how there’s totally no stigma whatsoever anymore and treatment is there if you want it. And then the next day we can all go back to the reality of the situation.
My reality, which I’ve openly written about on here before, is that I’m bipolar. I tend towards depression, which is why I was initially misdiagnosed and treated for unipolar depression. That triggered a pretty massive mania, which messed up a lot of things in my life, but got me the right diagnosis. When I’m at my worst, when I hit absolute rock bottom or soar to Himalayan heights, I get the fun of what are referred to as ‘psychotic features’, too. If you ask me my full mental health diagnosis, my answer is always ‘I’m Bipolar I with psychotic features’.
Of course, reading through all the many posts that came out on the aforementioned holiday, it seems that I’m in a minority with that. There are plenty of bipolar folks out there, some with the same diagnosis, but there seems to be a backlash against the ‘I am’ part of my statement.
It seems the more popular choices are to say ‘I have bipolar disorder’ or ‘I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder’ or ‘my diagnosis is bipolar disorder’.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
While I could easily say bipolar is something I have or have been diagnosed with, like you would say you have or have been diagnosed with arthritis, it doesn’t seem quite right for me. To me, bipolar is the fundamental description of my brain. It’s not an ailment, it’s part of who I am. Without bipolar, my personality, my achievements, my life would not be what it is.
I am bipolar.
It’s also acceptance that it’s not something that will ever go away. While medication can keep me stable, balanced carefully between depression and mania, it will always be a balancing act. I’ll always be up there, teetering away with the risk of tipping to one side or the other. One combination of medication might work for years, and then stop working. Something else might change that makes it impossible to take those medications. Underneath all of that, I’ll still be bipolar.
Right now, I’m in one of those teetering stages. After giving birth, I’ve had to change my medication. What was working before I was pregnant, and through part of my pregnancy, no longer suits me. It makes me very drowsy, which was great for my occasional insomnia and pain issues, but not great when you have a toddler. So with the depression lingering around, I went to a different medication. It didn’t work. I switched to another, and it gave me unacceptable side effects.
Today, between when I started writing this and when I’m now finishing it, I had another appointment to discuss my medication. Bipolar depression isn’t an easy thing to treat, especially when sedation has to be avoided. The two-page list of medications I’ve tried in the past only complicates things more. While I’m at this stage, though, we have the ability to try things out. I’ve been in situations so dark there hasn’t been that luxury. I’ve been at points where hitting things heavy is the only choice, and the only way to keep me alive.
I am bipolar because I’ll always be bipolar. There will never be a day where I wake up and no longer have it. There is no hope for a cure. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want it if there was. Because I am bipolar. It’s not a disease or a disorder or a syndrome. It’s a whole package of traits that I wouldn’t want to give up, a club whose members I am proud to stand with. It’s who I am.