This is part 2 of a 3 part series on stigma and bipolar disorder. To read part 1, please click here.

Part 2- Blame and guilt

 

Over my time of dealing with having bipolar disorder I have felt like it is my fault that I have this problem, that I somehow make a choice to be lazy, low in mood and feel negative about the world, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts and plans.  I feel like I should be able to be constantly buoyed up, happy and positive, grateful for the life I have, and that I am being self-obsessed to be anything else. 

The truth is that there is a chemical imbalance in my brain which means that I cannot process stress in the same way as others, and that I will have these extreme and sometimes prolonged lows when life throws something my way that is hard to deal with.  Unlike others, these things seem to affect me more and make it difficult to function; not wanting to get out of bed, eat or socialise.  In the past I have had to deal with abuse, and this too has triggered bipolar episodes, and potentially, according to some studies, may even be the reason for my having developed it from the genetic predisposition that I have inherited.

 

My hardest experience that has occurred due to having this illness has been being hospitalised long enough that when I came out the decision had been made that my children would live with their Dad, whilst still seeing me regularly.  Up until that point I had been their main carer post-divorce.  I was absolutely devastated by this and continue to regularly be upset, in part because I sought help and the result was that I “lost” my children and one of my most important roles in life – that of being their main carer.  I feel like the impact on their lives is my fault and that if I could somehow have stayed well none of this would have happened.

 

With experience and a deeper understanding I now remind myself that:

 

  • Realising that you are not to blame for struggling mentally is crucial; you are NOT responsible for having an illness, but you are responsible for how you handle it.

 

  • Instead of blaming myself for having bipolar disorder and the negative experiences that have come from having it I should hold on to the following quote:

 

‘In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you're living with this illness and functioning at all, it's something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.’
(Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking, 2008)

 

  • Having symptoms when low of not wanting to engage with the world is not a choice, it is not simply laziness or self-indulgence. It is part of an illness that whilst you are able to take some charge, it will inevitably have an impact on your life and cannot be one hundred percent avoided.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Mary-Rose's series on stigma. If you would like to comment on any aspect of our blog, or for information about submitting your own piece, please email [email protected]

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