Bipolar disorder is a complicated mental illness. It has a variety of layers and symptoms, which can make it difficult to understand. However, this doesn’t mean that it — or the people who have it — should have to deal with unfair assumptions and misconceptions.
As someone who has struggled with bipolar disorder since I was nine, there are several misunderstandings I have faced from others because they had no idea what the condition is actually like. And for those of us with bipolar disorder, these interactions make us feel as if we’re not loved or supported.
Here are some of the things I’ve heard that people get wrong about bipolar disorder.
Myth: We’re more troubled
The struggle associated with having a mental illness can be similar, regardless of what a person’s actual diagnosis is. Having bipolar disorder is hard; having schizophrenia is hard; having borderline personality disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression is hard. We all have to work toward recovery.
Just because a label makes an illness sound more “intense,” usually due to portrayals in popular culture, doesn’t mean that it actually is. The assumption that those with bipolar disorder are more troubled due to the name of our illness is just a lack of understanding. In truth, the severity of mental illness varies across diagnoses.
Myth: We only feel two emotions
Another common assumption is that since people with bipolar disorder swing from mania to depression, those are the only emotions we’re able to feel. Although it’s true those emotions are often a major part of a person’s symptoms and are felt very deeply, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel confusion, peace, confidence, happiness and all sorts of other emotions, too.
It is also true that based on bipolar type, people with this condition experience varied intensities of mania or depression. However, in no case are they the only two emotions we ever experience.
Myth: We don’t know how to function in society
Despite all that may be going on inside, many of us with bipolar disorder have learned how to put on a “normal” face for the outside world. We have learned over the years how to use our tools and coping skills to keep symptoms under control. For someone who actively works to manage their emotions and take care of themselves, others may not even know that they struggle with mental illness.
With that said, please keep in mind that we’re not a danger to society — you probably can’t even tell us apart from anyone else.
Myth: We’re always aware of how we act
During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder can have what’s called a bipolar blackout. During a blackout, the individual is not aware of their surroundings or actions and has trouble remembering them afterward. This can make interacting with someone in a blackout very frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be.
The more you educate yourself, the more you’ll be able to help during an episode. I had many blackouts growing up, which makes memories of my childhood very fuzzy. I only remember about 40-50% of my childhood due to incorrect diagnoses, wrong medications and inadequate coping skills. Remember to be patient when someone is experiencing a blackout or an episode, and to offer help when they come out of it.
Myth: Therapy and medication is a cure-all
Much like every other mental illness, bipolar disorder cannot be “cured.” Even with treatment, people with depression will still feel down, people with anxiety will still have anxious moments and people with bipolar disorder will still have swings from time to time. However, the introduction of therapy and/or medication can significantly help a person’s mood, actions and well-being. Bipolar disorder can be treated — and a person can learn to live well with bipolar disorder — even if being cured is not currently possible.
Bipolar disorder can be considered a “rarer” disorder as opposed to depression or anxiety, which are talked about more often among the general public. However, that does not mean that having bipolar disorder makes you any less of a person or that you will necessarily have a harder time getting through life. With the right tools, there is always a way to live with your mental illness and find the peace, rest and understanding you deserve.
Emmie Pombo is a mental health advocate originally from Upstate New York hoping to bring knowledge and understanding about mental illnesses and struggles that go along with them. Majoring in Digital Journalism at Southeastern University, she works as an editor and marketing strategist and is looking to focus on mental health awareness.