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The Scars of Self-Stigma After Being Branded Bipolar

January 18, 2010 Cristina Fender

Self-stigma permeated my being when I received the diagnosis of bipolar. I cried for the person I thought I had been and the person I now was. I was my Bipolar.

I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 on October 6, 2006. I remember the date like it’s my birthday. It’s the day my whole world collapsed and I became a person I didn’t recognize. I was branded, disgraced and humiliated (Living With Mental Illness and Self-Stigma). It was I who took in the online questionnaire to my psychiatrist, hoping that I was wrong.
Self-stigma permeated my being when I received the diagnosis of bipolar. I cried for the person I thought I had been and the person I now was. I was my Bipolar.I thought I wanted to know what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t function like my peers. Instead of reassurance that I was not this ugly word, my doctor looked at me and told me that he had already diagnosed me with it. Great. When was he going to tell me about it (Dealing with Doctors Who Won’t Tell You Your Diagnosis)?

Looking back I wonder if it would’ve been better if I hadn’t known the truth. The next year of my life was hell. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations. I was angry, confused and distraught. Was this really my life? I was pregnant with my second child when I found out I had bipolar. My anxiety levels were out of control and my sleep patterns were even more messed up than they had been in my entire life.

I began to blog about my experiences and I wondered where I was headed. Would I be one of the 20% that committed suicide? I remember sliding a sharp knife across my wrist to see what it felt like. I promptly put it away. My family needed me so I had to find the strength in me somewhere to resist.

I resisted, but it was difficult. I cried, threw tantrums, clawed at my skin to release some of my internal pain. It was painful to wake up in the morning, or the night as it often was. Everyday brought with it a range of emotions that tested me. I mourned for the person I thought I was and the person I now thought I was. I was my bipolar.

The brand upon my skin was painful and obvious to me. It was all I could think about. This is not my life, I wanted to scream! I wanted to claw the Bipolar out of my soul, but it stuck like heavy duty super glue. It wouldn’t get out. I had been this way for a while, only now it was so much worse because I was pregnant. Pregnancy and bipolar are never a good combination. I was in my own personal hell.

My psychiatric nurse suggested therapy. Ugh. Therapy. A lot of talk about the past and how I had a horrible childhood. How would that really help me? But I went and I insisted that we delve into the problems at hand instead of how I got there. Eventually I told my kind therapist everything. Eventually the branding on my skin became less painful. I learned that the bipolar was in me, but it was not me (Accepting That You Have a Mental Illness).

I still cry when I go into an episode, but I'm also more resigned that this is my fate. The branding is not gone, but it is less painful. I've learned that my life will never be that of a super star (High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder). There are days when that's okay and days when I soulfully reject the idea of a bland life. I miss the euphoric mania, but I don't miss the crashes. I've learned to be okay with the bipolar inside of me. But, stumble I shall. Such is a Bipolar Vida.

APA Reference
Fender, C. (2010, January 18). The Scars of Self-Stigma After Being Branded Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/bipolarvida/2010/01/painful-branding



Author: Cristina Fender

BRDave26
August, 6 2010 at 12:51 am

Cristina,
I just wanted to applaud you on the help you have been giving everyone on here. I know how hard it is just to keep it all together ourselves, and still reach out a helping hand to others. Apparently, you make a big impact on people because of all the comments your blogs receive.
I have made it my goal, now that I am doing quite well after 10 years of struggling with this disease, to try and help others. In the last 10 years, I have been through it all in my mind. The struggles, the loss, the hospitalizations, self-medicating, the list goes on. But now, after deciding I was going to accept my illness and be pro-active in the treatment of it, I can say I'm doing quite well. Your blogs have helped me a lot too. And I thank you for that.
I am part of a support group on HealthyPlace called "Bipolar Support, You're Not Alone." I encourage everyone to join this group. We have some caring people who would love to lend you support, advice, and a place to go when you feel you have reached the end of your ropes. Also, feel free to add me as a friend if you rather talk privately. I wish all of you wellness. And again, Thank You Christina.

Tyson
March, 2 2010 at 8:42 pm

Cristina,
Do you have an email so we could talk without the world to see?
The new meds are not working. plus they want $450 per month for them. I feel so screwed.

Tyson
February, 5 2010 at 6:19 pm

Oh no,
If you read the study it states; "Note that in all the bipolar studies, and several of the depression studies, the omega-3 fatty acid dose was added to prior medications. These data should not be interpreted to indicate that O-3's alone are a treatment for mood disorders. "
It's an addition to proper treatment. We all know that just one drug has yet to work for a prolong period of time. I myself has been switched from one to other and other drug. But this may help increase the effectiveness of the therapy you're currently on.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
February, 6 2010 at 11:58 pm

Tyson,
My warning still stands. Please discuss any changes to your medication with your psychiatrist.
Cristina

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
February, 5 2010 at 7:03 am

Tyson,
I would strongly caution others against the use of homeopathic vitamins. They are not a substitute for a doctor and prescribed medication. If you decide to take the vitamins, please mention it to your doctor so he can be advised.
Cristina

Tyson
February, 4 2010 at 7:11 pm

Hi Cristina,
Thank you for your advice. It has seemed to help. But maybe not, I want to run a coup d'état against all the normal people. Was trying to be funny.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
February, 4 2010 at 11:08 pm

I'm glad my advice helped, Tyson. Keep up the good work!
Cristina

Tyson
February, 2 2010 at 8:26 am

Cristina,
Not doing to good lately. I think I'm in need of meds but can't get to a doctor. I don't know what to do. I'm at the "I'm loosing it" stage.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
February, 2 2010 at 9:39 am

Tyson,
I'm so sorry you're not doing well. I wish you could get to the doctor, but you can't so I'd suggest some coping skills. My favorite thing to do when things are going downhill is to jump into bed and watch TV. Shut out the outside world. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your computer. Just veg. Watch a comedy on TV. Laughter is the best medicine.
I hope you feel better soon. Let me know how you're doing.
Best,
Cristina

Tyson
January, 28 2010 at 5:58 pm

Sally,
You never really know the highs. It's the other people around you that notice. Ask them, my wife knows. You know the lows because it's the closest you get to knowing yourself. The highs are in disguise. It's when you can handle a million things at once but can for only short period of time. But they are fleeting. But to let you know you can use them to your advantage. It's God's gift for this infliction. Luckily, I used my highs for my advantage. Stay with us please. You can do wondrous things on these high like no other can. But at the end you need to step away because it will crash. And that where loved ones come into play to help. Us Bipolar's have been creators, innovators, and names we remember. Not for the fact that we will run down the street half naked (George Stephanopoulos and myself), but for the inventions, the science, music, poetry, art, and beauty we create. Watch the movie Pollock. The shot where he was riding the bike with a case of beer was me. I only had three bottles of vodka. In fact I think all of us should watch that movie.
Stay with us hon.

Sally South
January, 28 2010 at 8:30 am

Very good reading for me today. I just left a job because of complications from severe depression and not being able to function. I thought in order
to be diagnosed as bipolar, you DID experience the HIGHS and the LOWS.
I don't feel that I experience the HIGHS; and I've noticed here that some folks DON'T. I had one doc say I was bipolar and one say that I'm not.
How do you know for sure? The trial and error side of meds IS very difficult.........

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 28 2010 at 8:44 am

Sally,
Diagnoses can be difficult. Did you ever feel high? Ever? Maybe your medications are keeping you too low. I would discuss it with your doctor.
In the meantime, have you completed the Goldberg Questionnaire? You can find it on the HealthyPlace Bipolar Disorder page or http://www.healthyplace.com/psychological-tests/goldberg-screening-for-bipolar-spectrum-d…
Let us know how you're doing. We're all here to help.
Cristina

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 27 2010 at 9:35 am

Tyson,
You're new to this world of bipolar. I believe you have a story to tell that needs to be heard.
I'll be pleased to follow you.
Cristina

Tyson
January, 24 2010 at 7:20 am

Cristina,
I want to thank you for "coming out". My wife found your blog. She is my guiding light in my sea of darkness. I've been working on a blog as well. And for the future working on a book for and about bipolar. I call it "The Funny Side of Midnight". Only for the fact that it's around that time things tend to fall apart.
One thing I haven't seen anyone talk about are triggers. Things that causes episodes. Once you can identify them life can be better. Mine are many. Unfortunately family causes problems for me. My father is the main cause. I haven't spoken to my sister in two years. They feel that I'm embarrassment. Also my ex-wife knows of my problem and knows what to do and say to destroy me for the night or week.
Once I have identified these triggers and stay away from them. They would cause me to go into tyrants. And yes I've cut myself because the pain from the cut was better then what I manifested in my mind. I was also committed twice because of these triggers.
But I have turn to comedy to counteract the pain. If I can laugh other then cry it's better for everyone. Mainly me. Like the time I escaped from the psycho ward in a hospital gown in 20 degree weather, and tried to convince the cop that stopped me walking home on the highway that I lost a bet! Almost got away with it.
One other thing about "us" is that with the terrible feelings, near suicidal triggers, we can do wonderful things that the normal can only try to imagine. I have witnessed and done some wonderful things.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 25 2010 at 7:12 am

Tyson,
I'm glad you found me. Please comment when you've published your blog so I can follow you.
Triggers are hard to talk about. Maybe that's why they're hard to come by. I experience several triggers including family. I'll be sure to include them here.
Cristina

Sandra Sweeney
January, 20 2010 at 10:21 pm

Hi, Christina!
I couldn't grasp the amount of work it would take to maintain some semblance of "normalcy" when I was diagnosed with Bipolar I about six years ago. And the stigma of being diagnosed with a serious mental illness was painful and humiliating. But now I am stabilized and enjoying life so much more! I think three things are responsible for this - the right combination of meds and learning as much about Bipolar Disorder as possible so I can do what is necessary to manage the symptoms. I also saw a psychologist who helped me learn how to manage my triggers effectively.
When I questioned if I really experienced highs (the lows were easy to identify), my two best friends said in unison "Oh yes, you do!" and they gave enough examples for me to recognize it in myself.
Thank you for beginning this blog!
Sincerely,
Sandra

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 21 2010 at 2:37 am

Sandra,
I'm so glad you're in recovery! It's nice to feel stable. What you did to become stable is what I recommend for everyone to do. Research is a must for every Bipolar!
Thanks for commenting!
Cristina

teddybear
January, 20 2010 at 4:50 pm

Thank you for your blog. I have Bipolar II, panic and anxiety disorders as well as being a nearly 11 years sober alcoholic in AA. I think the term you used - "branding" a person as Bipolar just so apt. In some ways I think the the general community and specific family's views about mental illness and Bipolar are still in the Dark Ages. It's like we are branded as witches, pushed to the edge of society and isolated because of our illness. And there is fear, bigotry, ignorance and judgement of us and our illnesses. And once branded, the assumptions about us will never stop.
When I admitted that I was an alcoholic, I went to AA, after 18 years of blackout drinking, faced my problem, did what was suggested and have never drunk again since Day One. Not so mental illness and Bipolar. My life has gone down the tubes due to my illnesses themselves, but also unfortunately due to 7 years of terrible mis-prescription by psychiatrists for profit on their part. I have lost my career, my house and I am now on the Disability Support Pension (Australia), which is under the Poverty Line.
I have discussed with the mental health practitioners why I haven't been able to achieve the same level of recovery I have for my alcoholism and they explained it is because there are so many more variables at play: the large variation in the quality of mental health practitioners, the hit and miss nature of psychiatric medication, the fact that psychiatry and pshychology are sciences in their infancy and of course the complex nature of the human brain - the most complex thing in the known Universe. It helps me to understand WHY it is hard to recover, but it really doesn't get me any steps forward.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 21 2010 at 2:34 am

Teddy Bear,
I think that stigma creates such a large fear in all of us that it doesn't allow us to heal as well as we could. It impedes progress when you're constantly looking over your shoulder.
Bipolar Disorder is different for everyone. Some people take a little medication and they're cured. Some people take medication and they still have to struggle with symptoms every day. Some people never recover, not even a little bit. I think the difference between a functional and non-fuctional bipolar is self management and positive self talk. I'll be discussing it in a future blog.
Until then, keep your chin up! You can do this!
Cristina

Deb Johnson
January, 20 2010 at 1:21 pm

Cristina,
This is such a good post. I love how you open your heart and let it all spill out. Your reaction to your diagnosis made me really think about the day I was diagnosed - I don't remember the day. That fact had me writing my own post. (My post mentions yours and has a link to this post. I haven't posted it yet and will send it to you first, if you'd like.)
Thank you so much for all that you share with the rest of us. It's nice to know we aren't alone on this brain jungle gym.
Take Care,
Deb

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 21 2010 at 2:25 am

Deb,
Sharing this experience of life with you makes it all a little easier. Thanks for following me over to my new blog!
I look forward to reading your post!
Cristina

Ashleigh
January, 20 2010 at 1:09 pm

I'm a follower of yours on your other blog, and I'm so excited for you with this new way to reach people in our world! Being bipolar sucks. There's really no other way to put it. Quick question: How bad is being pregnant and bipolar? My husband and I are thinking about starting a family soon, and quite frankly, it scares me!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 21 2010 at 2:23 am

Hi, Ashleigh!
I'm so stoked to have you visit!
I found that it was near impossible to be pregnant and bipolar, but there's a 50/50 chance that will happen to you. There are also medications that are available to you like Lamictal (beginning in 2nd trimester), Seroquel, and Zyprexa. Ask your psychiatrist what he recommends. It would be good to get started on a medication before you get pregnant. I think it would make you more stable.
Keep in touch. I want to hear how it goes!
Best,
Cristina

E Gerald Oberman
January, 20 2010 at 10:50 am

I'm twenty-three years old and I've been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Bipolar disorder, General Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ADD by one doctor and ADHD by another doctor. I have been on almost every anti-depressant and mood stabilizer out there and for more than half my life.
Currently I am on no medication. I have no mood swings that aren't justified by life situations. I'm not depressed, in fact I'm gloriously happy. I'm still anxious and I have absolutely no trust in Psychiatrists.
I know that on this arduous journey of human experience we can find ourselves so lost, so confused and upset and depressed by the situations around us, in us and outside us--that we cling easily onto the first name brand diagnosis we receive.
When I was told I had GAD I started having panic attacks. When I was told I had GD I started feeling more depressed. When they told me I was ADD I acted out in school because that's how I was Supposed to act.
I'm not here to say that Bipolar disorder isn't real, or that we are all just being given convenient titles in order to coax us into taking medications; but, I do want to say that through a very rigorous exploration of my self, of my actions and thoughts and beliefs. I came to find a peace of mind that I never, never came even close to on medications.
Going from happy to sad is human. Going from blithe to furious is human. Crying is human. Laughing uncontrollably is human. I encourage everyone, before you start taking barely tested medication and beating yourselves up for a name some doctor gave you: take a good look inside of yourself. Ask yourself if there could be any reason outside of "chemical imbalance" that leads you to the feelings you experience.
Behind every shadowy corner is a source of light from which the shadow birthed. Be not afraid my friends. In the end all life reverts back to love and laughter.
I'm positive that each of you can find the peace of mind that I have found outside of psychiatric diagnosis and prescriptions.
I would recommend a book, too. One that changed my life dramatically and that was written by the only psychologist I found who actually seemed to care about my well being, not just about his pay check or Pfizer endorsement.
The book is called A Language of the Heart and can be found at www.aloth.com
Stay bright my friends. Stay in love.
Sincerely,
E Gerald Oberman

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 21 2010 at 2:17 am

Gerald,
While I applaud your efforts to take a different path, I do not think that path is for me.
I'm a firm believer of medicine. I do not blindly take a prescription drug. I do my research. If it doesn't work for me, I change it.
I really believe that the fatality statistics for this disorder are enough for me to sit up and take notice. I do everything I can to alter the course that bipolar takes in my life. This includes meditation, therapy, and medication.
Good luck to you!
Cristina

Suzanne
January, 20 2010 at 9:38 am

I am bipolar and have been out of work for a year, and there aren't any jobs in my field.
I am stockpiling my anxiety meds for suicide if it becomes necessary. I don't think it will, and I would hate to destroy my family, but I don't know how bad my finances are going to get and if I am going to lose my house and come close to being homeless.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 29 2010 at 2:35 am

Suzanne,
I'm so sorry to hear about your predicament. Try and remember that the sun will come out tomorrow. Don't stockpile your meds for a bad, rainy day. You and your family deserve better than that.
I know life can be hard, but you can't give up. I'll be thinking of you and sending good vibes your way.
Best,
Cristina

Lee
January, 20 2010 at 8:11 am

This isn't easy. It is the hardest thing to realize you are out of control. Yes, I am mostly depressed and my highs aren't really that high.
My situation seems doubly depressing as I haven't any support, including my family, which now, after my son's suicide (he had it too). Even a support group I belonged to seemed unsupportive.
I had the bad auditory hallucinations for about 4 months last spring, and it is bad to be alone in the house without any backup to say "oh just like the beautiful mind" you really are hallucinating. I am starting to have them again, and dont dare tell anyone, except my social worker, because I can see the look on their faces: Oh she's nuts. My psychiatrist is a pill pusher and puts me on medications I can barely afford or meds that either dont work or make me worse.
There is more, but I am getting more depressed talking about it. Last night was a really bad auditory one - at least I hope it wasnt real.
As for psychotherapists, there is not one in my town, nor even area. The electro-convulsive treatments they are now touting are way out of my price range, as I had to retire early, due to bipolar, before I thought I was going to, and paying $600/mo insurance premium plus co-pay.
It seems you all are doing better than I am. I do wish you the best and hope you can continue with all your bright attitudes.
Having the disease and being self-medicating for 50 years really does seem to have an impact on "who I am"
Please send me good vibes,
Lee

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 20 2010 at 8:50 am

Lee,
First of all you are not alone. I'm sure you're family loves you and wants the best for you. I want the best for you.
With that in mind--I want to recommend that you go see your psychiatrist. It sounds like you're in a mixed episode. I've had several, unfortunately. You feel really depressed, but you still have hallucinations. I bet that you're not sleeping more than four hours a night. That is not a good place to be.
I know you don't trust your psychiatrist, but this is the person you need to see now. You need medication or you will be heading down a really wrong road.
Like I said--I wish the best for you. Please keep in touch and let me know how you're doing. I hope I've been helpful. And, remember, you are never alone when you truly need it.
Best,
Cristina

denise
January, 20 2010 at 7:00 am

read through your experiences and my heart aches for you! i understand completely what you went through/are going through. i've been diagnosed as bipolar since 2002, and believe me, life hasn't always been easy since then! i've had some suicidal ideation, some mania, but mostly depression. i guess i *got* the depressive side of this awful, awful disease! wish i'd gotten more of the mania part of it! but oh well. these are the cards i'm dealt, and i truly rejoice in the good days of my journey! God bless & keep you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 20 2010 at 7:26 am

Denise,
I, too, suffer more on the depressive side. I think I appreciate the good days more because of it.
Thanks for commenting. I wish you days full of sunlight!
Cristina

Keith Nightingale
January, 20 2010 at 4:39 am

sure appreciate being alive
have had a few close to the edge times alond the way but...love of my daughter and not wanting to leave her the legacy of a suicided father kept me hanging on...even when i didn't think i could.
my highs are only 2 inches or so off the ground - ie don't interfere with"normal" life,,,,just a bit showy and eccentric....the lows are the more dangerous side for me.
but thankfully over the last year or so things have been going pretty smoothly.
Good on you for starting the blog
the internet has been a literal life saver for me on at least two occasions over the years...
good resources in times of need.

Keith Nightingale
January, 20 2010 at 4:08 am

Hi Cristina and others
i am now a 54 yo male in australia...tried to kill myself 15 years ago. been on and off(briefly) meds since then and have survived the ups and downs in the interim.
Happy to be here and share whatever i can
love keith

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 20 2010 at 4:30 am

Thank you for commenting. Bipolar is a hard road to walk. Doesn't it make you appreciate life more?
I look forward to getting to know you better.
Cristina

Patricia
January, 19 2010 at 1:26 pm

I am so sorry that you had to go through that horrible experience, especially while you were pregnant which in itself is a very emotional period of time. Thank you for being so brave to open up and tell your story. You are a super star!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 19 2010 at 11:45 pm

Hi, Patricia,
Thank you for your understanding. Yes, pregnancy is already a stressful moment in a woman's life and that particular pregnancy prompted my psychiatric nurse to suggest that I never have any more children. It wasn't an easy decision, but I believed she was right.
Thank you for listening to my story. I write so others can relate and find courage in themselves to go on and live their best life.
Cristina

JourneyBeyondSurvival
January, 19 2010 at 10:48 am

This is the first time I've heard someone talk publicly about what happened to me April 1, 2008. It seemed like such a searing thing that it was actually April Fool's day.
I'd been running away from bipolar for over 10 years. Ever since my sister experienced post-partum psychosis. I was so ANGRY that I didn't see it when I'd been managing my mental health so diligently.
Now, I'm coming to terms with it, but I am in awe of your attitude. Rock on Bipolar Vida, it's all part of the dance.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Cristina Fender
January, 19 2010 at 12:41 pm

Hi, Journey,
Thanks for the comment. It's always nice to hear that someone can relate...and I relate to you. It took me a long time and a lot of courage to discover I had bipolar. I think you're a rock star for discovering who you are and what you can do to get through each day.
I wish you the best.
Cristina

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