I Hate Talking About Bipolar as a Disability
Recently, I've had to talk about bipolar as a disability way too much. I talk about it online as part of my advocacy work, but that's not the issue. I have no trouble talking about it in general. The issue is talking about my bipolar as a disability in real life. The issue is talking about it to a psychiatrist, to a family doctor, to a nurse practitioner, to whomever I need to in order to get the help I need.
Bipolar Can Be a Disability; We Need to Talk About It
Make no mistake; bipolar disorder can absolutely be a disability for people. Bipolar meets the definition of a disability under the Americans with a Disability Act,1 but also, it simply meets the definition of disability in general.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disability is defined as:
"any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions)."2
And if we look at the experience of having bipolar disorder, it certainly qualifies as an impairment of the mind/brain that makes it more difficult to do all sorts of things. Simple examples include bipolar depression keeping people from showering, people with bipolar mania having trouble thinking logical thoughts, and, of course, people with psychosis being able to comprehend reality.
When dissected this way, it's clear that bipolar disorder can be a disability for some people (although it isn't necessarily for everyone).
Your Bipolar Disability and Ableism
One of the problems with saying that bipolar disorder is a disability is that disabilities tend to be looked down upon. The discrimination and prejudice those with disabilities face is known as ableism, and ableism says there is something wrong with your for having a disability.
Ableism is particularly rampant against those with invisible disabilities like bipolar disorder. If you can't see it, it can't be real; some people seem to think. And even people who acknowledge bipolar disorder as an illness may not understand how disabling it is. And if bipolar disorder as a disability doesn't exist, then people who are claiming it are whiners, lairs, leeches and otherwise awful people. It's no wonder that people don't want to admit to a bipolar disorder disability.
I suppose that I don't need to tell you that ableism, like sexism and racism, simply indicates a faulty train of thought on the part of the ableist, sexist or racist. It isn't about the disabled person; it's about the person looking at them.
Bipolar Disability Isn't Your Fault
But as anyone with bipolar disorder can tell you, we didn't ask for this disease, and we didn't ask for it to be disabling. It doesn't matter what other people think; that is the truth.
This means that the disability of bipolar disorder is not your fault.
The disability of bipolar disorder is not my fault.
I understand that. Logically, rationally, intellectually, I understand that. Somehow, that doesn't make talking about a bipolar disability any easier. I still feel almost guilty for talking about it. I think it's internalized ableism. I think that the faulty thoughts that affect other people when they look at the disabled affect me too. It's humbling to admit this, but it's a product of society -- and I live in the same society as everyone else.
The important thing to do, though, is to fight those thoughts. It's important to keep talking about bipolar disorder as a disability when we need to. It's important to admit to this reality. It's important not to hide. The only way it gets easier for me to talk about it is to talk about it.
I encourage you to do the same. Talk about your disability to get the help and accommodations you need. That will make it easier for everyone.
- ADA National Network, "Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace and the ADA." 2018.
- Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Disability and Health Overview." September 2020.
Tracy, N. (2021, August 20). I Hate Talking About Bipolar as a Disability, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2021/8/i-hate-talking-about-bipolar-as-a-disability
Author: Natasha Tracy
Thank you for sharing this! Conversations like these always strike me as ones that are so important for everyone to read. Whether you are someone with bipolar, know someone who has it, or isn't directly connected at all, it's important for us collectively to be aware of these kinds of feelings so we can all learn to have better, more supportive, conversations around topics of mental health.