Maintaining ones identity is something that most of us battle with at some point in our lives, for someone who struggles with their mental health this is even more prominent.

Along with our behaviour, symptoms of bipolar disorder can also affect aspects of our personality.

This doesn’t mean that we become different people depending on our mood, however, in my experience it can change our attitudes towards different things and different people.

Irritability as a bipolar symptom

I have never been someone who regularly felt angry or irritated and suddenly I was noticing that every so often I would irritable with people around me and I didn’t understand why. I would feel angry with my family and I would sit in my bedroom and steam and then later I had no idea why. Irritability is something that I have had to come to terms with and knowing that it is a symptom rather than who I was made it easier to deal with.

As relieving as it is to know that I’m not just plain mean, it also further shattered my sense of identity. How am I supposed to tell the difference between who I am and how my bipolar disorder affects me.

Often other people’s solution to this problem is – remember who you were before you had bipolar disorder, but for a lot of people this is extremely difficult. For me, I started becoming symptomatic at 15, no adult has the same personality that compares to when they were 14.

In my opinion, the best way to find out who we are is from the people around us, you see we are so stuck in our own heads, involved in our thoughts or emotions but the people around us are the people who really know us. They see how we act and the things we care about, what makes us angry and what makes us sad. Even our choice in friends says something about us.

I don’t know everything or even close to everything about living with bipolar disorder, I am still learning everyday, still making mistakes and getting lost. However, so far here are some of the things that I have learnt about separating myself from my bipolar disorder and how my symptoms affect me.

Separating me from my bipolar

When I was diagnosed I spent a lot of time researching the disorder and finding out about all of the possible or potential symptoms that I could experience. This helped me to see the aspects of myself that could be related to my disorder and distinguish them from my personality and my identity. Not everything that I feel and do is due to symptoms, this is something that I have to be so careful about, but it's helpful for me to know that if something doesn’t fit with who I think I am then it’s reassuring to know that it may be part of the disorder, something I can address with my mental health team.

It’s so common to hear someone say that they are bipolar but, you aren’t bipolar, it’s not your identity and it’s not the only thing about you. It’s so easy for your identity to become entwined with your diagnosis and it’s important to remember that you as a person are independent from your diagnosis. You had a whole life apart from your diagnosis and this doesn’t go away just because you receive your diagnosed. 

Bipolar disorder affects who we are not just because of our mood swings, but also because of our ability to deal with it. This is a part of my identity that although has come from dealing with my bipolar disorder, I am proud of. It’s something that has come from my experience with bipolar disorder but not due to the symptoms of my condition. It is possible to see who you are when you are not experiencing symptoms, you have time to distinguish who you are when you are not symptomatic.

When I noticed that I was feeling unusually irritated I knew it was something that wasn’t normal for me. I didn’t even know that I was experiencing a symptom, but I did know that it was abnormal. You fundamentally know who you are, even if you don’t know that you do.

This is just one area of discussion that is taking place right now via Bipolar UK’s eCommunity. You can join today and talk to like-minded individuals about issues affecting you or those you know living with bipolar disorder. 

"Bipolar UK was my first point of call when I was at my lowest and first diagnosed. Their helpful advice and eCommunity was invaluable."

Join our eCommunity - always open, free and a source of support