TO LOVED ONES: Accepting That I Am ‘One’ With Bipolar

Last Updated: 19 Aug 2019

If people can’t love and accept you for who you are–bipolar disorder diagnosis and all–then they are not the kind of people you need in your life.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder my family was at a loss of what to do. No one in our immediate family has lived with any mental health disorder, so trying to figure out the next step to take was very difficult. My parents weren’t sure how to talk about my manic episode.

“Will she want people to know about her disorder? Or will she want to keep it private and only tell very close family and friends?”

Recovery took quite some time, but I finally got to where I was functioning “normally” again (or at least what I considered my new normal). I had a great discussion with my parents about how I wanted to approach my disorder. My mom made a very good point.

She said, “Really, your disorder is similar to Type 1 Diabetes. It is similar in the sense that you didn’t do anything for it to happen. You didn’t take any drugs or make poor choices that led to your disorder. You were born with this disorder, so you should not feel guilty or shy about it.”

I thought that was quite insightful, and it made me decide,

“If people can’t love me for who I am, then those are not the people I need in my life.”

But where do I even begin?

And how will I learn to love myself after all of my actions during my episode?

My family

My family found out immediately about my disorder. They told me later that when they heard they were shocked and scared because they had never experienced any mental health conditions before.

What does this mean?

Will she be okay in everyday life?

What does she have to do to be healthy?

All of these questions poured into their heads. What I found the most interesting was a conversation I had with my uncle. He told me that he and my aunt were similar to a lot of people in the sense that they didn’t believe in mental health.

They thought, “That person just needs to toughen up!” or, “They just need to exercise!” or even, “Why can’t they just snap out of it?”

My uncle then told me that when I was diagnosed, he realized all of the things I had done, and my moods and actions were all related to a mental health condition: bipolar disorder. His ideas about mental health fully shifted, as did the rest of my family’s. As time moved forward, we all learned more and more about bipolar disorder and mental health as a whole, learning to look at it from a more positive light.

Spreading the word

The first person I told outside of my family was my best friend. We had a falling out Sophomore year of high school and had gone different directions since then. Her reaction was immediate relief and she just wanted to go back to being best friends again. This reaction got the ball rolling for me and I continued to tell my other close friends that I had isolated myself from. They were also very relieved. They told me that my weird moods and actions in the previous high school years all made sense now. One of my friends started crying and told me,

“I knew something was wrong the whole time, but I didn’t know what to do, so I just prayed for you every day.”

This positivity towards my disorder made me feel confident that people were going to react well to my situation. I was so blessed to be in a community that truly supported me through that last year of high school. Teachers were a huge help to me, always lifting me up and carrying me along when I needed help. People told me how proud they were that I was willing to share my story and spread the word about mental health. Everything was positive, and that really helped boost my confidence about being an advocate for mental health.

How do you cope with your previous actions?

A lot of the things I had done leading up to my manic episode were extremely strange and embarrassing. At first, hearing these stories embarrassed me to no end, and I would cringe when I heard them from a friend or family member. After a while though, I realized that the stories were quite hilarious.

I decided, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, how can you truly be happy?”

Some people address bipolar disorder in a serious, business-like way. For me, I do find bipolar disorder to be a very serious manner. On the other hand, I also think that you can look at your embarrassing moments and actions and just get a good laugh out of them! I’ll give you an example of one of the many stories that came from what I like to call, “The Rough Times.” One of the things that I liked to do leading to the peak of my manic episode was to take anything that I thought was shiny or pretty. This could be anything that caught my eye and made me feel good. Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t hoard the items. I would simply rearrange and place the items in a different spot. This rearrangement made sense in my mind, and I recall enjoying my “rearranging” quite a bit. One time, I was in my grandparents’ basement. I spotted a super pretty, shiny vase! “Oh, I’ve got to have this!” I thought to myself. So, I took it. A few days later, my grandma was talking to my uncle on the phone.

She said, “Dave! We can’t find Buster!” My uncle replied, “What do you mean, Kay? Buster is dead!” My grandma told him, “I know! But Kea has taken the urn with his ashes in it and has hidden it somewhere! Gosh, I’m really ready for this $*^! to be over!!”

As stories continued to roll in, we got a good laugh at how crazy my actions had been. I look forward to hearing new stories because I get to laugh about something I’ve done, again!

The take-away

I think a big takeaway I’ve had living with this disorder is that the people who truly matter in your life will accept you for who you are. Sometimes, I’ve noticed people get nervous and uncomfortable when I talk about my disorder. That genuinely makes me sad. I think the world needs to approach bipolar disorder with an open mind and with a positive light. People are starting to become confident in their disorders and want to share to inspire others. This inspiration is focused on making sure that other people living with a mental health disorder understand that it’s okay to have Bipolar Disorder! You can live a completely “normal” life if you take the appropriate measures to keep your mind in good health. I hope that in reading this, you have seen a glimpse of what it’s like to live with this disorder, and that it truly is okay to have it!

About the author
I grew up in a small town called Cashmere in Washington State. I will be graduating from Lewis-Clark State College in just a few weeks! I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I am an outdoor enthusiast and love to spend my time hiking, mountain biking, skiing, waterskiing, fishing, and hunting.
  1. I’m really not going to tell my friends about it. Before the end of the day everybody in the whole town will know about it and point fingers at me. I think my whole family knows about it. However we don’t talk about it. I really don’t know what to do

  2. Pam,
    I’m happy to hear that you have close friends who you can trust with your disorder. In my writing this article, I know that not everyone feels the same openness that I do for my disorder. Although it can be scary, I have found comfort in being open about my disorder. At the same time, if you don’t feel this comfort, it is completely understandable to keep it to yourself! It really seems to be a self preference thing. I have found that if I explain bipolar disorder to someone who doesn’t know much about it, they seem to not be as “afraid” of it after I explain it. Our media does such a poor job of displaying mental health, making it seem like ALL people with mental health struggles are “crazies.” I hope that by spreading knowledge of mental health, people like you and me can spread the word of how you can lead a perfectly normal life with a mental health disorder!
    Thank you for your comment and good luck!

  3. JoAnn,
    I completely understand you feeling that you are the only one that should be sharing that you are lesbian and have bipolar disorder. You are completely right! Those are personal things about you. I’m sorry that you had to experience your coworker asking if you took your meds. That is never a good feeling. I’ve had someone ask me the same thing, and I tried to see it as they were trying to help me rather than hurt me. In my experience, a lot of people’s responses that may seem negative are just the mere fact that they don’t have much knowledge of mental health struggles. If you can, educate them more! The more people know about mental health, I think that they will start to understand that you can lead a completely so called “normal” life. I hope these words help out a bit!

  4. Denise,
    I’m sorry to hear that those loved ones are the ones you struggle with the most. A lot of the time, it’s just that they don’t fully understand what you are going through and that you can be completely normal with your disorder! What I have found that works the best for me is just being honest in the fact that sometimes I’m not “normal,” but that’s okay! Easier said than done of course! You’re right, you are far more than your disorder! I see it as PART of who I am, but it doesn’t make me who I am. Maybe trying to teach those loved ones a little bit more about bipolar disorder would help them understand what you go through and maybe help them to see what it’s like to live with a disorder that you have under control. Hopefully these words helped a bit, please feel free to reach out if needed!

  5. I too have learned to laugh at myself. A gift my mom taught us in childhood. That being said I connect with the comments of utter fear of “people” finding out my “secret”. I’m very guarded regarding my diagnosis as it has come back and slapped me in the face more than once. Yes, some are supportive. Some some just pass it off as “crazy”. Others have no clue what any of this really means. But the one thing that plagues me to my core is “being watched. Accessed”. Every action and word is being accessed as a result of either depression or mania. CAN I JUST BE ME! There is so much more to ME than BIPOLAR. But many times ME just doesn’t get a chance to shine. I am currently writing a book journaling my journey from “normal… through crash and diagnosis…to fighting my way back to normal”. I have to be honest…I am scared to death to publicly put it out there. And struggle on how to do so without getting beat up. I’ve even thought of using a pseudonym. It’s not the strangers who will read my book that scare me to death. Unfortunately, it’s those “loved ones” who may likely want to “kill the messenger”.

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