I have Type 1 Bipolar. I ‘outed’ myself last October on World Mental Health Day. Since then, I have spoken candidly about various aspects of having bipolar and a panic disorder, but these have usually been fleeting bursts on Twitter. Until now I have not committed anything to the permanence of this site, partly because being open in a post that can be called and recalled by anyone, at any time, is scary and worrying. I am on the market for a permanent academic job, and I am obviously concerned that this will negatively affect that endeavour.
I am worried about the stigma of having a chronic mental illness. Will I be able to be ‘open’ about my diagnosis until the stigma is gone? No. Will the stigma be lifted unless people, like me, are ‘open’ about their diagnoses? No. It’s a vicious cycle. To break it, I have to step forward and be open. This is the small thing I can do to help.
Living with bipolar isn’t easy. Twice a day I take my medications, I will take these for the rest of my life. Perhaps not these exact ones, because that’s the thing about medication for chronic illnesses (of all kinds, not just mental illness) – sometimes they stop working the way you want them to work. Everything I do is a balancing act. If I do x, I will feel like a. That means that I might not be able to do y later on. It’s Spoon Theory. Do I need to go to the supermarket with my 5-year-old? That will take four spoons. If I can go on my own, it will be two. Do I have to take the 6:55am train to Leicester to make a meeting with a student? That will be one additional spoon than taking the 8:56. If Kiddo doesn’t sleep well tonight I will need an extra five spoons, so do I want to keep three in reserve – that means it will only cost two of tomorrow’s spoons. You get the point.
Even though I take meds, I still experience the fluctuations of my mood disorder. They obviously aren’t as pronounced as if I wasn’t taking medication. I have learned to match my work to these – when I am ‘up’ I produce new research and do as much teaching preparation as I can. When I am ‘down’ I edit – I am brutal and mean, and the comments I leave on my own work are sometimes heartbreaking. When I am ‘even’, I submit work. If I can help it I never push ‘submit’ while I am up or down, because even though these are very mild versions of mania and depression I am still not as measured as I would like to be when I do the final checks of a manuscript or abstract.
This is not a glorification of bipolar. Yes, I did write tens of thousands of words in a manic frenzy during my PhD, but I also completely neglected my own health and let my marriage crumble around me. I have – like anyone who faces a chronic illness – learned how to work with myself, rather than fighting against myself.
It doesn’t always work, and I am particularly bad at preventative ‘self-care’. My ability to recognise when I need to break out of my bubble is dulled and broken. Fighting this is something I will be doing forever.
I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. That’s an important distinction. And over the last six months, I have forced myself to come to terms with having a lifelong invisible illness, a disability. It has made it easier to be open. But it will always be an uphill battle, and I will always be fighting a war against myself – I just hope for more, longer, periods of peace.
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