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.