Judging Mental Illness – You’re Not Bipolar

June 7, 2012 Natasha Tracy

For some reason people like to come on here and tell me (and sometimes others) that I’m not bipolar. They feel, for whatever reason, that my writing is not that of a person with bipolar and somehow it indicates that I’m not bipolar. I’m not expressing the right emotions. I’m not writing whatever it is that a “real” bipolar person would be writing.

And this happens in real life too. People somehow feel qualified to determine a person’s mental status simply by the way a person with bipolar acts in front of them.

Well, for the record, I would like to say from me, and all the other mentally ill people in the world: bite me (or, you know, us).


A “Real” Bipolar

I would really like to know how these people know what a “real” bipolar is? Am I supposed to write a manic post followed by a depressed post and so on? Is that the only thing that will “prove” that I’m a “real” bipolar. And how, exactly, would I prove the veracity of these posts? What if it’s not depressed enough? What if it’s not manic enough? What then? Fake bipolar again?

A Real Bipolar

The problem with this line of thinking is, of course, that I am only a person with bipolar disorder. That somehow the only thing I am able to express is a mood directly related to my disorder and that everything I do is directly driven by my disorder. This, of course, is nonsense. I’m a full-fledged, three-dimensional, complicated person – like everyone else – and I am quite capable of behaving outside the bipolar spectrum and I most especially am capable of writing outside of it. I’m a writer. It’s what I do.

And everyone with bipolar disorder is just like this. We are all multi-faceted individuals that act many different ways depending on the circumstance and just because we don’t act sufficiently bipolar in front of you doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

And, for the record, most of us don’t act especially bipolar around people – it’s called a coping mechanism and treatment – look it up.

Judgey-Wudgey Was an Idiot

And you, with your superior diagnostic skills, don’t get to come in and say someone is or is not bipolar just because of your tiny, port-hole view on their existence. There’s a reason people go to doctors and that’s because they’re actually qualified to make a diagnosis and they actually have access to the information you don’t. They actually have access to all a person knows, thinks and feels as opposed to the tiny view one gets from social interactions or a pile of writings.

So, by suggesting you know what diagnosis a person should have and suggesting that you know better than them and better than their doctor simply proves one thing – you don’t know what you’re talking about.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, June 7). Judging Mental Illness – You’re Not Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 26 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

September, 18 2023 at 5:16 pm

Thank you for the excellently written post. I recently had a good friend of my tell that I'm not bipolar because she has relatives who have bipolar and I don't act like them. In fact, I myself rejected the odea that I jad bipolar in a session with my therapist because I wored with a woman who had bipolar and I wasn't "like her." She cautioned me to not compare myself with others because it affects everyone differently and as you mentioned in your post, we are all multifaceted individuals with complex personalities made up of many beautiful qualities and traits shaped by unique genetic makeup, upbringing and life experiences. The different degrees of the disorder and can be intertwined with other mental illnesses as well. Also, as one ages and grows, different aspects of the disorder can arise and some may get better or be exacerbated by life experiences or physical health or who knows. So, agreed to take bipolar questioner and immediately hit the 1st few questions for "I may have bipolar. " Bottom line, a label doesn't define you, people don't have to believe you, and you know what you need to do to take care of yourself, so don't waste energy being pissed off at some imperfect human being to doesn't know everything, doesn't have all the facts and doesn't live in your brain and body. Spend your precocious energy on stuff like... eating icecream. 😄 thanks. Much love❤

July, 8 2013 at 9:22 am

Kylie, your childhood friend set them straight? Sounds like she is feeding into the usual stigma to me by telling people you are not well - as if it is her place to share aspects of your life that is really nobody's business. Maybe you should turn around and tell people what an overbearing busybody control freak she is. But then again, that is pretty much stooping to her level.
What is her motive I wonder? I'm not sure she is much of a friend.

July, 8 2013 at 7:56 am

I am bipolar 2, and am currently experiencing a hypomanic episode. I feel confident and I am a very productive person right now. Recently some of my newer friends are questioning my diagnosis simply because I seem like I am functioning better than even normal people. Th ey think I just matured and won't have problems anymore. I don't get hypomanic often so they do not understand that I am not better. Thankfully my childhood friend set them straight. I find this funny because even symptoms of bipolar disorder can lead people to feel you are not really bipolar.

Miranda vd Broek
March, 26 2013 at 2:03 am

This is my outcome from telling people about my illness:
- about 4 in 10 say: "oh.... really? That must be hard" (quite the acceptable answer)
- about 4 in 10 say: "I would never have thought that of you"
- about 2 in 10 say: "It doesn't surprise me at all of you"
People are funny, aren't they?

December, 31 2012 at 9:42 am

This is my first time finding this site. I don't often look, because what I find informs me of what I already know with regard to symptoms. So I would like to start with a thank you to all who have shared their thoughts. Especially Natasha, as well as a writer on her Kaitlin. Thank you for being so brave. I try so hard to WILL my way out of this, then when I have an episode like you described ie; curling up on the floor crying. Thank you for taking that risk. I too have self injured. Its been a month or more and it takes a great deal of effort to stop my fist in motion on its way to my head. I have broken my hand by this behavior. I have broken my foot from kicking things. I thought these were safe, since they hurt no one but myself. However now, the anger that can often go with a manic phase, involves me throwing things, swearing, cryin and completely isolating from everyone. My parents sent me a long and hurtful email about how I dont care about them and this is one straw of a thousand, Im really struggling. I did so well getting through the holidays, but since that email the day after Christmas I am a mess. The Mask I used to be able to slip on has vanished, I cant find it anywhere. My husbands birthday is new years day, and he died on Jan 29th. Its a rough time of year. I feel like I am being ravaged by this "thing" thats wrong with me. I used to be a writer and now I just want to finish the 2 remaining classes I have left for my B.A. I get so confused and cant focus. But I want to finish,,,,,, even if its the last thing I do.

October, 14 2012 at 9:05 pm

Well of course you never know--it's always up to the DSM so if criteria change, you could end up with a different label. That is what's going on now with them taking Aspergers out and sticking it under general autism spectrum disorders. Some diagnoses are more ambiguous than others...

randall ross
June, 14 2012 at 10:47 am

love to read the articalls it is so nice to read so many have to deal with same things

June, 14 2012 at 9:58 am

i have a problem keeping amask on i am bypoler 1 and yhe sychosis slips through constantly i tried to get a job got sick and had to go to menal hospital . i got a job 3 mounths and got sick agian ha AND TO GO BACK IF it was not for the meds and therapy idont know were id be . the bad part is i have dealt with all my life

Kaitlin Panda
June, 14 2012 at 8:14 am

John, I'm not angry, but it certainly does get frustrating trying to explain something that can really only be understood through experience. I do hope you never have to experience such. Describing a bipolar's suffering as "self-aware behavior" insinuates that there is a way to avoid it. For some people, there isn't.
Remember, the brain controls all these functions, all of your behavior... if the brain is not functioning correctly you have NO control.
In the past I would self-injure and not even remember it fully later on. When I'm in remission I would never dream of hurting myself. It's completely out of character, like I'm watching someone else do these things. Of course, a lot of people exhibit certain traits of mental illness for attention's sake and they do not make it easier on people like me.
Natasha, I recently discovered your blog and and it's amazing to find total strangers describing my problems with such detail. It helps me to remember that I'm not alone and to stop beating myself up for something I can't help. Thank you.

Natasha Tracy
June, 14 2012 at 7:23 am

Hi David,
I'd say you're right on both counts. People _don't_ know and most of us don't share our horrors with people. That's just normal. Rightly or wrongly we're embarrassed. But of course that means it's difficult for others to get a true picture of where we're coming from.
It sounds like you probably have a wife that understands though and that one person is important. They can tether you to the truth of your illness.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
June, 14 2012 at 7:16 am

Hi John,
I'm sorry but that's not even a little correct. People don't "choose" to "nip their mental illness is the bud." Some people are simply sicker than others. Some people will be fortunate and have a depression once and not again. That is not the same thing as "choosing" your way out of it. It's like saying to someone who survives cancer that they "chose" their way out of it simply because they didn't have a reoccurance of it like many other people.
What I think you're saying is that you don't have a real view of how devastating a brain illness can be. Some would argue that until you have experienced the severe pain of an illness, you cannot understand it, nor can you understand what it would drive you to. I'm not sure I believe that, but I will say that until you find that compassion and that understanding it's very easy to suggest that you can "logic" your way out of an illness. You can't. You can't logic your way out of a brain illness that shrinks your brain and produces cognitive deficits. You just can't, any more than you can "logic" your way out of any other disease.
- Natasha Tracy

John Radon
June, 13 2012 at 8:30 pm

This is an interesting topic. Can you trace when you first got bipolar? It seems that some people can nip thir depression or mania in the bud ie they choose not to go on like that. And they can do that because they're not psychotic. Pease don't try to excuse self aware behavior such as not showering or lying on the ground in a ball. We know that felings mean a lot to us but the more you use logic to do things you know you lik the more the positive emotional feelings will come as you enjoy and learn to like life. But please don' be angry at me for telling you this.

June, 13 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks for this, Natasha. I myself wonder if I'm really bipolar, and I need to remind myself that my excellent psych M.D. wouldn't be stuffing enough lithium in me each day to kill a garden full of slugs if she didn't think this I was the "genuine article."
Friends also don't know some of the terrifying things I've been through that I never tell another soul apart from my wife.

Kaitlin Panda
June, 13 2012 at 9:45 am

When people tell me I don't seem Bipolar, I want to punch them. I typically only leave the house on "good days" when I can at least pretend to be my healthy self. If only people saw me when I was curled up in a ball in the floor, sobbing so hard I can't breathe, unshowered for days and hungry, trying to find reasons to live. Then maybe they'd shut up.

June, 10 2012 at 8:36 am

I think this shows why it can be beneficial to have strong peer support in the mental health community. I've learned through a woman's social group that I attend weekly that everybody presents differently-- some people, yes, you can see right away that they have some kind of diagnosis. But others, who may actually have more difficulty with particular life skills, seem to "have it together" and I suppose I fall into this category. I think it depends on what your priorities are and whether you feel it's worth it to put a lot of effort into presentation, which I tend to do. (I even wear mascara in the hospital!)

Natasha Tracy
June, 9 2012 at 6:07 am

Hi Jane,
I love that a dentist feels qualified to make such calls. Maybe I should tell him which teeth have cavities.
And I know the boyfriend thing. My first psychiatrist was _very_ big on me getting one. He really felt like that would solve a lot of my problems.
Ah yes, the new bipolar cure - a boyfriend.
(Of course, he was an older man who said this to me. I'd like to think the more modern professionals wouldn't be so redonkulous.)
- Natasha

June, 8 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thank you for this. It always seems the price of coping - if you try too hard there can't have been anything wrong with you in the first place! On such foundations is government policy built.
I once had a dentist tell me I wasn't depressed. I'm not sure how he was telling that from my teeth. Then again, I once had a psychiatrist tell me I was fine on the basis that I was "a nice looking girl and could maybe get a boyfriend", so you can't always trust the professionals.

June, 8 2012 at 1:43 pm

I think a lot of people have all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to mental illness. I can be deeply depressed, but when I say something intelligent or manage a smile, my mother will say, "see, there is really nothing wrong with you inside." I am either broken or not broken. I can't be both.

Patricia Bosley
June, 8 2012 at 10:52 am

I am so thankful to you for writing a blog on this subject. I found your blog yesterday on Twitter and now I feel like I have a place to vent with people who "get me". I dont feel quite so alone and that I belong to a community.
Thanks agian :)

Natasha Tracy
June, 8 2012 at 9:20 am

You may be seated ;)
You're welcome. Happy to be a voice.
- Natasha

June, 8 2012 at 6:07 am

This deserves a standing ovation!! Thank you for saying what I so often feel.

Natasha Tracy
June, 7 2012 at 7:00 pm

Love to read your comments guys. I'm glad I've found something for us all to rally around :)
- Natasha

June, 7 2012 at 6:37 pm

"It’s funny because it’s like being punished because we’re successful."
INDEED! Oh my! Yes, I echo everyone else's comments. An absolutely terrific job of talking about something so irksome. And yes, if you were to run for office, you would definitely have to be nuttier (wait, who says you're not already nuttier? oh yeah, you did!)

Dina Marie
June, 7 2012 at 6:27 pm

Oh heavens, I love this post and the comments that have been made. Thank you once again for your wise and witty words!

June, 7 2012 at 4:39 pm

I am SO SO glad to see you write this. When I was first diagnosed last year I heard that so much. "You don't act like someone with bipolar" How am I suppose to act? They don't know what goes on inside my head, which is where the battle is. I even had some people say "well, once you get over whatever it is that's bothering you then you will get better" If only it were that simple. It frustrates me to no end when people say that or if someone does something then they are automatically labled as bipolar or something. So much stigma out there and that is a lot of the reason people don't reach out for help. It took me over 10 years to get myself help. Now I am glad I did.

Natasha Tracy
June, 7 2012 at 1:14 pm

Hi Harryf200,
For me to be a politician I'd have to be way crazier than I am now ;)
- Natasha

June, 7 2012 at 10:57 am

Yay! Right on! If you were a politician I'd vote for you because, time and time again, you put a voice my thoughts!

June, 7 2012 at 10:33 am

Amen to that!

June, 7 2012 at 9:08 am

Kudos Natasha! You said it so well, I have had many people say, you don't act bipolar, its all in your head. Okay, well let me put on the foil hat and bounce around the room chanting some song and spitting everywhere, is that how I'm suppose to act? Lol. I've had a social worker say this one time, it confused and actually hurt because I was trying to explain how hard it is to function and the comment took away the urgency and pain from what I was trying to convey to her. Yes, infront of you I can act normal, believe me it takes a lot of strength to appear normal.
Also the comment made me feel like bipolars are not intelligent people, which she commented on as well, "you seem so well put together." I guess I was suppose to babble and drool on myself. Sometimes I'm half tempted to act like such a fool to get my point accross, i'll switch the crazy on if you

June, 7 2012 at 8:40 am

I will write to say that this has been yet another article from you that I have really enjoyed and can related with. Although my diagnosis is BPD I can never understand when someone tells me that I dont appear to have BPD just from some introduction or not really getting to know me. I tried a therapist once who upon the first interview did not think I had BPD, at which point I didnt feel comfrotable moving foward with them and felt just as you were writing that at that time I had a 'mask' on and they really had no idea who I am or what I have gone through, etc. I guess it is sort of like the saying you cant judge a book by its cover :)

Natasha Tracy
June, 7 2012 at 8:12 am

Hi Norell,
It's funny because it's like being punished because we're successful. Or, perhaps not even successful but simply being ourselves and not a cookie-cutter character.
- Natasha

June, 7 2012 at 8:07 am

Thank you for the excellent post!! These people don't realize they are just showing their ignorance. I know very few people would look at me and know I am bipolar. I cope very well or don't leave the house. As discussed previously, my "mask" is fully in place when I am in public. It takes a lot of emotional energy at times, but I can do it. If I find I can't do it, I don't leave the house. I agree with you - Bite Us!!!

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