Jul 27, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
For every person who gets what it’s like to have mental illness, there’s 3 others who think you spend all your free time hyperventilating in a corner. That’s why what we do at SickNotWeak is so important – the only way for us to rewrite the standard definition of mental illness is to share, to open up and show the world what we’re really made of (hint: it’s not stress balls and bowls of ice cream, either). When I was diagnosed with bipolar at the ripe young age of 17, I probably didn’t have the best idea of what to expect either. This is probably because the only bipolar role model I knew at that point was a character from The Young and the Restless who was often accused of sleeping with people’s husbands (or husbands’ fathers) and pushing people into volcanos. That was not the life path I had envisioned for myself.
I’m happy to report that there have been no volcano fatalities on my part, and that being bipolar wasn’t the horror story it was all cracked up to be. Yes, there are times when I make 27 phone calls in 12 hours, and there are times when I go through half a Kleenex box in a single night. But there are more times where I am grateful for the good days, and the opportunity I have to connect with other people who understand how valuable those days are (aka you guys). Having a mental illness is definitely a struggle, but it’s by no means as dramatic as everyone thinks it is. We just go through more Kleenex sometimes.
I’m happy to report that there have been no volcano fatalities on my part.
That’s why it can be so confusing to come across one of those people who thinks your mental illness is the end of the friggin’ world, the people who are amazed that you can even get your laundry done on a weekly basis (okay, bi-weekly – I like to wait until it’s a giant mountain so my dogs can climb it). There are a lot of negative stereotypes floating around like dandelion fluff in the wind, and while they can be hurtful to hear, sometimes the best thing to do is to laugh them off afterwards. Here are five bipolar/anxiety stereotypes I’ve been slapped with in my lifetime:
1. When you sleep over at a guy’s house and he looks you dead in the eyes and asks if you’ll still like him in the morning because you’re bipolar.
I mean, there’s rapid cycling and then there’s just plain ignorance. Dating with bipolar takes a certain kind of patience and understanding, but average mood cycles take months, not hours.
2. When people don’t understand how someone with severe anxiety can give speeches for a living.
Being anxious doesn’t necessarily mean being shy. My anxiety is triggered by change, and manifests itself in the way I react to environmental stressors. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and I don’t have to explain why an unfinished to-do list gives me more worry than a stadium full of people.
Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
3. “That guy should be locked up in the loony bin!”
Someone said to this me on a date once, without knowing that I had been institutionalized the year before. I think people have a certain idea of what mental health patients look like, and they tend to forget that mental illness takes many forms and affects millions of people, regardless of where they grew up, what marks they got in high school, or how pretty their hair looks that day (mine was a solid 5/7).
4. Anxiety + anxiety = more anxiety?
Dating someone with a mental illness when you have a mental illness is challenging, for sure. Not only do you have to keep track of your patterns and triggers, but you also have to watch out for the person you love. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time in an anxiety blanket fort together – it also means that you don’t have explain panic attacks at parties, insecurities, or days where you’re just plain sad. It can create a place where it’s really okay not to be okay.
5. When people lower their expectations of you because of your illness.
This is something we all encounter on a regular basis. I’ve been told I can’t do stuff – or should be realistic about what I can achieve – so many times that I’ve lost count. Whether it’s working your dream job, starting a family, or writing the book you’ve had inside you for years (that’s mine), you don’t have to lower your expectations. You just need to accommodate what’s important to you.
These are some of the roadblocks I’ve stumbled across, and I would love to hear your funny stories of being underestimated, or even just times you used all the Kleenex in the box. Comment on this article with the worst mental illness stereotype you’ve come across, and let’s start rewriting our stories!