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I Can’t Go Out, I’m Too Depressed; I Mean, I Have The Flu

I have had a lot of bad bipolar days in my life. Days when I was incapacitated. Days when I couldn’t make food for myself. Days when I couldn’t work. Days when I couldn’t talk to anyone. Days when I just couldn’t function.

On these days, I’m sick. And in some regards, it’s a type of sickness that is like many others. I feel like trash, I don’t want to move from the couch and everything hurts – that could describe a cold or the flu as well. But as it happens, it also described a bad day for depression or bipolar disorder.

But here’s the thing, when someone calls and asks if I want to have coffee, saying I’m too depressed isn’t seen as acceptable. That’s seen as weakness. That’s seen as something wrong with me. Whereas, if I said I was sick with a cold, that would be alright, because, after all, everyone gets colds and when they get them, it’s okay not to feel like socializing.

And I can’t tell you the number of days I’ve said I was sick with the flu, or a cold, or a stomach bug or anything but sick with bipolar. But really, that’s what I am.

I’m Sick with Bipolar

Being sick with bipolar isn’t just an overarching problem, although it is, it’s also a daily problem wherein bad days come and make you feel very unwell. It’s the kind of illness that flairs up for no reason and must be dealt with immediately. It’s the kind of illness that can ruin your whole day, or week (or more).

I’m Sick with the Flu

And the flu is just like that too. The flu is some nasty virus that gets into your system and wreaks havoc for a while. It produces all kinds of symptoms and makes you feel very, very unwell.

People Understand the Flu, They Don’t Understand Mental Illness

The difference is, people understand the flu – they’ve had the flu – people don’t understand mental illness. People don’t understand how you can wake up one day and cry over peanut butter. People don’t understand how one day you can be fine and the next day the world can come crashing down around you. People don’t understand how your brain just ceases to work normally all of a sudden. So if I say I’m sick with bipolar, it’s just fundamentally something that people don’t understand. It just sounds wrong no matter how accurate it really is.

And this is sad. It’s sad to have to lie to others on a semi-regular basis. It’s sad that a virus is seen as more “acceptable” than a brain illness. It’s sad that admitting to a bad bipolar day will get you looks of scorn whereas a bad day because of the flu will get you looks of concern.

Changing the Perception of Mental Illness

But maybe we only change this by standing up and admitting to bad bipolar days, to bad brain days. “Sorry, I can’t see you today; my brain’s acting up again.”

It sounds a little on the funny side, granted, but it’s real and it’s accepting of the facts. It says that we’re not ashamed to be sick. It says that we’re not ashamed to admit that our illnesses get to us once in a while. It says that our mental illness affects us just like any physical illness does – because it is physical.

So yes, I’m having a bad bipolar day. I can’t come out and play today. My brain is acting up, again.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

This entry was posted in Being Crazy, Coping, Denial, Depression, How Others See Bipolar, Impact of Bipolar and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to I Can’t Go Out, I’m Too Depressed; I Mean, I Have The Flu

  1. Liz says:

    It’s taken 55 years, but all I have to say now is: I’m not well.
    Everyone who knows me, knows this means I’m too depressed to function.
    Sad but true. But I’m not ashamed, I’m just honest with everyone. I have also said, my mind is not well. And sometimes I say, I working on “Auto-Pilot” today, which they know means, don’t ask more of me then what I’m giving you.
    Thank you for sharing this post.
    Be well.

  2. Jennifer says:

    WOW I can so relate. My friends and family think I am the most unhealthy human. The truth is, I rarely actually catch a cold or the flu – it IS my brain acting up. I am sick of lying, too, but not many people get it. This is an excellent article and thank you for writing it so candidly!

  3. Sarah says:

    Another great article. I must admit I am tempted to lie. It’s people’s reactions. I usually just go for ‘sick’.
    It’s gotten me fired before. The actual reason for letting me go was because I beat my boss in an argument. But too much being ‘sick’ was a good excuse to get revenge. Sounds ridiculous? It was.

    It’s brave to admit bipolar disorder but it’s also empowering.

    It can also lead to annoying situations like people who don’t know what to say, and they try to empathise “oh I have trouble getting up in the morning too”. There is a definite difference between not wanting to get up in the morning and not being able to. Sigh. You can’t explain the difference without offending, even though the person already has offended you.
    It would be like saying to someone in a wheelchair how difficult it is for you to climb the stairs.

  4. jro4715 says:

    This so touches everything..

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful article on such a simple, yet profound idea. If we all felt empowered to simply be ourselves whether it be mental illness or personality preferences (like introversion), perhaps we’d all begin earnestly accepting one another. Acceptance is followed by compassion and understanding…what a great goal!

  6. Suzanne says:

    People DON’T understand! I’m having a series of bad Bipolar days right now, and I actually had someone tell me to just be happy! Believe me…if it WERE that easy, I’d have done it days ago! Today is actually better, so maybe I’m turning a corner finally. But being told to just be happy was not helpful. I have never encountered such a lack of understanding before…but it is also exactly why I don’t talk a lot about being Bipolar.

  7. Julia says:

    Some very valid points raised herein. With employers, Sarah, or anyone else who has dealt with being employed and bad bipolar brain days (be they depressed or manic, or anywhere in between except for baseline), don’t forget that you are entitled to certain accommodations provided you’d still be able to fulfill the essential functions of your position. I won’t go into all of the legal issues (because it would take a long time to explain it all), but do know you’re protected (for the most part) and that there are many guidelines about how to ask for such accommodations and what are and aren’t legal responses from the employer.

    Switching focus, I think the only thing perhaps missing from this article is the recognition and acceptance that sometimes we have to beat our own illness. Knowing when to rest and when to push through, when to isolate versus when not to, is UNBELIEVABLY (at least in my opinion) crucial. Do we not do the same for any physical ailments? I always did. A simple cold never kept me from anything–that’s not sick in my book. Of course if it’s a full-fledged cold, that’s a different story. You don’t want to get the rest of the world sick and you don’t want to move anyway. But I digress. For me it was learning how to rest that was the trick. And I think that we who have mental illnesses really need to work especially hard at achieving this balance and being accountable enough to own up to our illnesses, if not by name, at least by manifesting symptoms and difficulties. Only then can we really expect any hope to reduce associated stigmas, despite how hard that may be.

    julia

    p.s. Natasha, did you see my questions about catatonia?

  8. helen says:

    this is so true

  9. Hi Julia,

    Sorry, where did you ask that question? Maybe contact me through Facebook.

    https://www.facebook.com/BipolarBurble

    - Natasha

  10. Sarah says:

    Thanks Julia. I’d love to sue that employer, but he’s a dangerous and practiced sociopath. I am a nice little girl with assertiveness issues who is battling a difficult illness. He knew that when he targeted me – but I’ll pick my battles. There are many things worth fighting for in this life, and that one’s not worth the effort.

    It’s nice to hear that someone thinks I at least deserve some legal redress though.

  11. judy says:

    It is difficult to beat a sociopath unless you think like a sociopath. I, for one, really can’t wrap my head around that – even if I wanted to (which I don’t).

    You would have to be completely devoid of a conscience, and that would make you inhuman.

  12. Nadia says:

    Natasha – I love your blog. I am not bipolar myself but have a very good friend who is. This blog helps to understand the illness a little better and hopefully to be a better friend.

    My friend has had a lot of bad days recently and I have been trying to be as understanding and supportive as possible. What I find myself wondering is: what is the best way to support someone who is having a rough time? I plan to talk to her about this once things are a little easier for her. Any advice that you or the other readers could give me in the meantime would be much appreciated. Many Thanks!

  13. Hi Nadia,

    Thanks.

    You might want to read this article I wrote on the best things to say to a person with a mental illness: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2010/10/supporting-the-mentally-ill-best-things-to-say/

    - Natasha

  14. Julia says:

    Natasha, ok I’ll do that. It’s here somewhere, but I don’t quite recall where. I think it was under the borderline and bipolar combination. But I’ll still go through facebook too.

    Sarah, I know what you mean about picking battles, I chose mine because I believed (and still do) that there was no other choice. Little did I know it would be a war. Too bad for them; I made sure I was on the strongest possible footing before taking any action. The longer they take it, the more expensive it gets, the less likely I’m inclined to settle, the settlement gets bigger, and oh so many wonderful things to learn and find out about. ;) Yes, I’m a little cynical now with this.But it’s not were I aim to be of course.

  15. Emma says:

    Hi, thank you for posting on this blog. Everything you say resonates with me and i am grateful for that. I feel like this all the time, nobody understands when im having a bad day it is because of my brain. You are completely right as well about saying i have a cold or the flu i say that all the time because otherwise they wouldnt understand. I get “its all in the mind” alot of the time when in fact that is not helpful.
    Anyway i just wanted to say thank you

  16. anewbeginning says:

    Thank you for the article Natasha. I’ve had a few months of those days when I just can’ function. I have been granted FMLA at work for Bipolar Disorder, GAD, and Panic Disorder and when I have those really bad days, I am fortunate to be able to call in and just say, I want FMLA sick. They can’t ask questions. It is also useful for the numerous doctors appointments. I’ll have two or three really bad days and I just NEED to see my psychologist. It’s becomes essential otherwise I sink into a deep hole and my demeanor and behavior goes with it. I am hoping things are finally turning around. Crossing my fingers.

  17. Cyndi says:

    Thanks for writing your blog. I know now why I am the way I am. I wish I have been diagnosed earlier. I get the feeling of alienation because people do not understand bipolar , why they dont seem to ‘get’ that I”m not acting out. That my moods really do affect my behavior .

  18. Sarah says:

    I love this article. I can so relate. The timing is perfect because it just so happens that my brain is acting up again right now.. I do lie if it’s someone I don’t know because that stigma is so overwhelming. I actually feel shame – which is absurd. I don’t lie to my friends, but some get it and some don’t. I had someone tell me to take charge, that I have to force myself out of the house, I have to force myself out of bed, and I have to go out and socialize – yeah, like I really want to socialize when I can’t sop crying. Don’t you think I would if I could?? I get pissed at the “you’ve gotta suck it up” people. I have a friend who has experienced “normal” depression, whatever that is – just feeling down I guess… but she’s fortunate because she can just pull herself out of it. So she doesn’t really get it, she thinks I should do the same. She also says that I’m letting bipolar define me. Which is not true. When I’m in a good place being bipolar is not an issue, but when I’m in a bad place, whether depressed or manic then yeah, it takes over. I have absolutely no control over my brain, and I just cannot get out of my head. My unwelcome thoughts torture me. I cannot just “think happy thoughts.” Anyway, I’m venting. Thanks for the article, it’s great. It made me feel better. I also feel isolated when I get like this, so it’s nice to connect. (I love the humor, too!)

  19. Melissa Adams says:

    Thank you for this. It really resonated with me. This is my first time reading your blog, I feel at home already.

  20. Phil Jordan says:

    I always tell the truth about my illness to all of my friends. BTW, where have they been?

  21. Amber says:

    Hello – thank you for your blog, which I’ve been following for quite a while. I’m in a similar situation as Nadia, a very close friend of mine has bipolar. He has been having a lot of bipolar days lately. He still works full time (we are colleagues) but seems to be struggling. I’m concerned that he is isolating himself more and more. He spends the entire weekend at home and watches TV. He has no family in the town where we live, and not many friends. He went through a very difficult and long depressive phase last year but appears to have been relatively stable since late 2012. I’m not sure if he’s sliding into depression again – he says it’s just a bit of a “dip”. He takes his medication and regularly sees his psychiatrist. We used to catch up on weekends but now he just seems to prefer to be on his own all the time.
    I’m not sure what I should do. At the moment I text him a couple of times on weekends just to make sure he’s ok, and he always responds. (He won’t answer calls though.) I don’t want to be intrusive but at the same time I’m very worried about him. He says that at the moment he’s totally focussed on himself and dealing with “crazy thoughts”. I would be very grateful for any advice or tips as to what I should ( and shouldn’t) do. I care about him and don’t want to let him down.

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