Writers With Mental Illness

Bipolar Barbie: Let’s Stop Bipolar Disorder Stigma

I always wanted to change the world. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I found a cause to devote my life to. The more I struggled and the more I faced the ignorance of bipolar disorder stigma, the more passionate I became. I got sick of people belittling my struggle. I got fed up with the people closest to me acting like I was the only one in the world with issues. Bipolar Disorder is not as rare as some people think.

According to the World Health Organization, Bipolar disorder affects 60 million people worldwide. Click To Tweet

But people said that I was making it all up for attention. I didn’t understand why no one wanted to talk about bipolar disorder. How could they not care? My cries for help always seemed to fall on deaf ears. People began to distance themselves from me. They just wanted me to be quiet, to hide my pain because it was inconvenient. People avoided me as if I had come down with a highly infectious disease. Those frustrating experiences I had because of bipolar disorder stigma ignited a fury within me that created an unstoppable determination to get help and share my story through art.

bipolar disorder art

The Effects Of Bipolar Disorder Stigma

I began to wonder why in this day and age with the amount of research we’ve done on mental illness… Why did people still outright deny its existence? How could anyone be so ignorant and naive, especially when the reality of it (me) was staring them in the face? Bipolar disorder stigma often leads to incorrect preconceived ideas about what mental illness should look like. This stigma meant that if I didn’t fit the stereotype, then I must be making it all up! My diagnosis was a big lie, my symptoms nothing more than a ploy to prove my own made-up story. I was pretending to be sick and willingly throwing my life away. But WHY would I do that? Why would I pretend to have bipolar disorder? Why on earth would I publicly seek attention for my mental illness in a society that negatively stigmatizes such ailments?  Why would I broadcast something to the world knowing very well it is ammunition to be used against me to discredit me or make me seem unreliable?

For attention, they said. They accused me of wanting to be this way. But who would want to be this way? Living with bipolar disorder can be HELL. I felt like I was drowning with everyone else standing around, watching, unwilling to lend a hand. No one was going to rescue me. They either didn’t think I was worth saving or denied I was in trouble. Because of bipolar disorder stigma, I felt like I had to prove to everyone I was sick just so I could get the help I needed. For a long time, it didn’t even work. No one believed that I truly needed help, but I persisted and I still don’t know for the life of me why I did. I guess something inside of me was not willing to admit defeat.

Bipolar Disorder Stigma Prevents Individuals From Seeking Help

What I found the hardest part of it all was being made to feel like I was alone, an outcast or a freak. A disappointment. Judgment was everywhere I went. I felt like a failure. I put myself down, thinking, “Why can’t you just get your shit together like everyone else?”

bipolar artist

I found the courage to reach out to doctor after doctor, friend after friend, family member after family member. But I got different versions of the same response:

Try not to think about it. Just put a smile on your face and you will be alright.

I know that my struggles must have come as a shock because I was so good at pretending I was okay. I had been pretending for so long that they had no idea of the gravity of my situation or how close I really was to the edge. It was years later that I realized what was missing from mental illness awareness campaigns. It was actually very simple:

Just tell people. Talk about bipolar disorder stigma. Discuss that bipolar disorder exists and encourage people to ask for help.

It’s not so much that people don’t want to talk about bipolar disorder or mental illness in general; they just don’t know how. It was when I began talking about mental illness like what I ate for lunch that I realized there was a hell of a lot of people who wanted to learn more about it. Some of these people began to open up to me because I understood them, and I listened without judgment. This made me realize that a lot of people by nature compare themselves to others and their struggles. None of us want to make a big deal out of something that seems so insignificant to the greater issues in the world. Even as a child, we are told to remember how lucky we are. We have food on the table, a roof over our heads and clothes to wear, so why should we bring up any mental health struggles? We feel guilty and ashamed.

bipolar disorder stigma

Mental Illness Is More Common Than You’d Think

Those people who said I wanted attention were right in that I wanted attention, but wrong about why. I was fighting to prove I was sick to get people’s attention and receive the help I needed for bipolar disorder. I was fighting for people to take me seriously because I didn’t want to live this way. I was told that I functioned too highly to get the help I needed. It’s a catch-22:

We must hide our symptoms to survive, but if we hide our symptoms too well, we’ll never get the help we need.

Despite the very real symptoms of bipolar disorder that people saw, they still didn’t believe me. They came up with their own completely false and outrageous explanations for my behavior. They refused to believe anything else. Perhaps they didn’t know the signs of bipolar disorder. Or perhaps, they believed it was too rare to effect a family member or friend. The truth is that mental illness is more common than you think!

The World Health Organization reports that mental illness is “among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”

And those statistics are only the number of people who have sought help. What about the ones who are too afraid? Admittedly, I became a mental health advocate kind of by accident. I was manic at the time and in my heightened state of euphoria, outrageous confidence and sexual promiscuity I concocted a plan to make my narcissistic ex-boyfriend jealous because he destroyed my self-worth. I took pictures of myself in revealing outfits. I wanted to get attention to prove to the world I was worthy and likable to make myself feel good. That didn’t last long.

bipolar art

Social Media And Mental Health

I just got tired of seeing everyone else’s highlight reel on social media and realized I had played a part in it. The more depressed I was, the more often I posted about how awesome my life was just to keep up. What I don’t understand is that if we all do it, why don’t we call each others bluff? Why don’t we admit it’s just a sham? I guess no one wants to risk admitting it first in case they really are the only one doing it.

It got to a point where I was exhausted of the mask I had created to hide my pain. I was sick of getting notified about how awesome everyone else’s lives were, while I sat at home depressed as hell.  While I battled homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, financial distress and worst of all…Trying to find a reason to stay alive that countered the overwhelming agony of my existence. Was I really the only one posting selfies claiming to be so happy when I wasn't? Click To Tweet Was I really the only one walking outside taking a picture pretending I had actually left my house that day? Was I really the only one getting dolled up for a night out and posting a photo with the caption “so excited to hit the club tonight with my awesome friends!” …when I didn’t actually have the courage to socialize or even leave my house?

I didn’t expect anything from telling it like it is. It was my private stand against fake people. If my own family didn’t want to hear me out, then I was going to make the whole damn world listen. Maybe then my family would finally take me seriously. So far… they haven’t. I’m okay with that now. I have accepted my family for who they are. I have accepted that they will never be who I want them to be or who they should be. I just wish they would offer me the same courtesy.

bipolar art

I didn’t expect anyone to care or even respond. Although I hoped loved ones would, my worst fears were confirmed when their ignorance in real life was just as strong when they could read the truth, the darkest depths of my torment. That hurt. But something incredible happened. I found a community of people that did care. People who could relate and show me support.

Sure, some criticized me for speaking openly and honestly about my mental health:

No one will want to be around you. No one will want to know you. Don’t make that public! You should be ashamed of it! 

But It makes me so incredibly happy when people tell me that they feel a lot less alone. A lot less like I did. Dealing with bipolar disorder stigma is hard, but it is so much harder when you sit on the floor of your shower feeling alone and defective because no one talks about mental health.

Talking Openly About Bipolar Disorder Stigma Helps Others

When people are open about bipolar disorder stigma, it changes my perspective on my illness. Suddenly, I am not ashamed. I can see how everything I have been through has made me into the person I am today. It helps me accept my ailments. I believe in leading by example. Being the change you want to see in the world. I think mental illness should be talked about, so I talk about it. Because the biggest problem is that people don’t know how to talk about it. We don’t have a vocabulary to express what’s really going on. So we avoid it which is a terrible shame. That is why I have dedicated my life to change. I think any conversation about mental health has the potential to be life-changing. So I share my story and create art to help people not only understand but to encourage them to express their own struggles.

I started sharing my story about life with bipolar disorder through art on social media because I wanted people to know that life isn’t a fairy tale. I wanted to fight bipolar disorder stigma. I don’t want anyone else to be sitting on the floor of their shower feeling alone. Feeling like they are the only person on this planet who doesn’t have a perfect life. I want people to know what “real” is and that it’s okay to be imperfect. I want people to know that it’s okay to ask for help. I am grateful that social media has given me a platform to do just that.

Sources: WHO

bipolar artistAbout The Author:

The Bipolar Barbie candidly shares about her life, experiences, and thoughts on living with multiple mental illnesses like Bipolar, Anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, Complex PTSD and overcoming drug and alcohol addictions. She is also a dedicated women’s health advocate raising awareness for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). To keep up with The Bipolar Barbie, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and her website.

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