| Family Reflections |

Beyond Bipolar

Raizy can handle everything about her bipolar condition except for the stigma

Raizy is 25 years old. She works as a bookkeeper in a small firm close to her home. Raizy is well-liked by her colleagues and her many friends, and she’s a beloved daughter, sibling, aunt, and cousin. Apart from her mother, no one knows that Raizy has bipolar disorder.

“I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old and I’ve been on medication ever since. My mom warned me from the beginning to keep the diagnosis between us. I didn’t really understand why that was necessary or even what it was that I had exactly. But I trusted my mom and did what she asked.

“As I got older, I heard people talking about ‘crazy people’ and ‘bipolar’ people in derogatory ways and I began to learn that this thing that I had was somehow bad. I began to understand why no one — not even my siblings — was to find out about it. I didn’t know why it was so bad, but the older I got, the clearer it became that bipolar people are believed to be ‘mental,’ dangerous, and shameful.

“ I knew that I carried this dark secret that I was defective, and as my friends started dating, I became more and more alarmed. Would I have to hide this condition my whole life? Even from my husband?”

The Silent Side of Bipolar

Raizy’s experience raises so many questions. To begin with, why is she so confused? Surely, with a diagnosis like bipolar disorder, she herself would recognize that she’s “different” from normal people in a not-good way.

But like many others with this mental health disorder, Raizy’s condition has been successfully stabilized with medication. She hasn’t had an episode of mania in almost 13 years. She lives a normal life and feels like a regular person. Yes, she has to take daily medication to attain that state, but her cousin with diabetes has to do the same; what’s the big deal?

Another question concerns the burden of secrecy. Why is it that the cousin with diabetes can tell the world about her health condition, while Raizy has to remain tight-lipped about her own health? Why is her condition so shameful?

Most people don’t know that much about bipolar disorder apart from what they hear others say and what they read in magazines or see in the news. Unfortunately, the “newsworthy” types of bipolar articles are about poorly managed cases of bipolar illness and/or extreme symptomatology, which is rare.

Common belief has it that all people with bipolar disorder are dangerously out of control, even violent. This is akin to believing that all people with depression are likely to commit suicide, when the vast majority of people — including our friends and relatives — with appropriately treated depression lead normal lives.

What is not spoken or written about is the more common “invisible bipolar disorder” —the condition that Raizy and millions of other people live with. This is the bipolar that we can’t see but that is living among us, working beside us, and standing alongside us everywhere. It isn’t noticeable and it’s certainly not newsworthy.

Medication and proper treatment enable most bipolar sufferers to lead normal lives, build healthy families, attain career and financial success, and enjoy all the markers of a good life. They simply have a health condition that requires treatment, just as other lovable human beings must manage their stomach diseases, their migraine headaches, their thyroid conditions, their high blood pressure, and all the other mental and physical states of unwellness that we humans are prone to.

I Don’t Want to Have to Hide

“We were schmoozing during the coffee break and someone started teasing a colleague that he must have bipolar disorder. Everyone started joking about it, imitating their idea of a crazy bipolar person. I wanted to scream, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ But I did what my mother taught me and kept my mouth shut.

can’t describe to you what this makes me feel like, but I imagine that it’s something akin to being secretly Jewish in an anti-Semitic country and your colleagues start to make anti-Semitic jokes in front of you. I feel like I can never be fully and honestly me. Bipolar disorder is not my biggest problem; the social stigma is.”

You wouldn’t want your Raizy to suffer this way. But your Raizy is our Raizy. We all need to help our Raizys...

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 659)

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