I'm Not a Psych Patient Survivor or Bipolar Survivor

July 13, 2020 Natasha Tracy

I have bipolar disorder, but I'm not a bipolar survivor. I am a psych patient, but I'm not a psych patient survivor. Which is to say that I am surviving a life as both, but I don't feel the need to take the word "survivor" as my own. I find tacking the word "survivor" after everything unnecessary and clunky. It strikes me as being a cry for external validation that I just don't require. I'm not a "bipolar survivor" or "psych patient survivor" and that's okay.

Surviving Life

We all survive everything we do because, well, we're not dead. I know this because dead people rarely write or read blog posts. But we don't claim to be a "survivor" of all the things we do in our lives. We're not "driving test survivors" or "physics class survivors" or "someone-stole-my-parking-spot survivors." We're just not.

Bipolar Psych Patient Survivor

I get that the word "survivor" is tacked onto things we perceive to be traumatic and negative. People are "sex abuse survivors," for example. This is as opposed to "sex abuse victims." Personally, I see no reason not to say a person is a victim of a crime such as sex abuse, such as one might be a victim of a mugging (not a mugging survivor), but that's the politically correct times in which we live. "Victim" is out. "Survivor" is in.

But okay, if you want to lean that way, that's your business, but putting bipolar and being a psych patient in the same category as sex abuse is ridiculous and insulting. Bipolar disorder is a chronic, medical condition much like diabetes or epilepsy. People don't force you to say, "diabetes survivor" or "epilepsy survivor." And this is because these aren't considered inherently negative and traumatic things that require reframing to make people feel better. (Of course, if you've ever seen a person have a seizure, you know that it is both negative and highly traumatic [at least initially] for the person who has to go through it.) And while I'll give you that bipolar disorder can be negative and traumatic, one doesn't "survive" it, one lives with it on a chronic basis. One is continually attacked by it. One carries it around like an anvil on a chain attached to one's ankle. That's bipolar disorder. 

And as far as being a psych patient goes, it's in the same category of being a cardiology patient or a neurology patient or anything else -- it's awful because of whatever you're treating, it's hard because of how difficult treatment is, but it doesn't deserve to be treated like something akin to being kidnapped.

Reframing Surviving Being Bipolar or a Psych Patient

I know that adding the term "survivor" is supposed to reframe things in a positive light. I consider this to be a tacit lie, however. It's a lie on two accounts:

  1. You don't get past bipolar disorder -- you live with it forever. (You're also a psych patient survivor.)
  2. Bipolar is not positive no matter how you frame it. Light "bipolar" in pink, neon letters, coat in candy and have a unicorn jumping over it -- it's still not a positive situation. An illness in your brain trying to kill you will never be a good thing, in my estimation.

I know people like to highlight the positive, and that's okay if that's your thing. But please remember that those of us who deal with reality in a non-rose-colored way don't want to and don't need to do that.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2020, July 13). I'm Not a Psych Patient Survivor or Bipolar Survivor, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 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.

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