I’m Sick Of Being Treated Like I’m Incompetent Just Because I Have Bipolar

Last Updated: 18 Jul 2019

As soon as people find out I have bipolar, their interactions with me change. It’s like, in their minds, bipolar becomes my singular defining feature.

According to Forbes magazine, we have 7 seconds to make a first impression, good or bad.  Imagine that—being judged based on so little time. 

When I tell someone who doesn’t know me very well that I have bipolar, that often becomes the only thing they see. In many cases, even if they thought highly of me beforehand, their opinion changes almost immediately. Usually they are relying on their imperfect, and often severely biased, knowledge of bipolar—one that often comes from unreliable sources like social media and television programming. What makes these depictions particularly damaging is their reliance on stereotypes and exaggerated behavior. While those may make for engaging TV, they do nothing but hurt the real, live people who live with bipolar everyday. Those of us just grinning and bearing our way through life, not speaking up about how hard we have worked to learn how to manage our mental health condition

I find that some of the most judgmental people have been my health care providers.  When I first started meeting with my psychiatrist, I was either extremely depressed or manic.  He witnessed my roller coaster life for several years.  Then things fell into place.  I was stable for the first time in over 10 years. However, I felt like he still looked at me as a sick person.  Five years later I was still stable but he was still waiting for the ball to drop and for me to get sick again.  He didn’t know me before this illness reared its ugly head and he couldn’t imagine me as a highly functioning, competent person. 

The same thing goes for my former social worker.  I saw her regularly for about four years. Now work part-time for the same organization that she works for. I recently had occasion to speak to her on the telephone.  I told her who she was talking to and how it came about that I was working there. Regardless that I am now her coworker, I felt that she will never consider me her peer. To her I will always be someone with a mental illness. She just can’t wrap her head around the fact that, first and foremost, I am a human being. I am not a diagnosis. I am a person who has overcome some major challenges and has learned to manage bipolar disorder successfully for over a decade. 

It seems like once we are labeled, there’s not way to escape it. People who didn’t know us before we got this illness will never consider us equals.  We have to move on and find new networks of friends and even health care professionals.  It’s really sad that people can’t see me for who I am today; all they can think about is how I struggled with depression, mania and anxiety. 

In 2000, I had two different psychiatrists tell me that I would NEVER work full-time again. To them, I wasn’t a competent adult who would ever be capable of earning a living. Not only am I now working, but I was even able to buy my own house six years ago! I’ve shown them that there is life after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.  It is possible to pick up the pieces and do the hard work one needs to do in order to be a highly functioning adult with responsibilities. 

If you have made great strides in your recovery, it may mean that, like me, you have to change your doctors, social workers and friends in order to be seen as a competent adult.

About the author
When Lynn Rae was 39 years old two psychiatrists told her that she would NEVER work full time again. She had accepted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder but would never accept the prognosis. After working part time at several different jobs between episodes of depression & mania Lynn was finally able to work full time and has been since 2009. She has now enjoyed over 10 years of good health. Lynn Rae can guide you in making those important decisions in your life surrounding Family, Friends, Fun, Fitness, Fulfillment, Finances & Faith through her Keynote “The Seven F’s to Your Fantastic Future.” She has written 3 books and self-published one of them which are available for sale on Amazon. Lynn received the Marilyn Nearing Award from York Support Services Network for the contribution she was making as a volunteer in the mental health field. Lynn Rae has her own business, GTA Office Services , in which administrative tasks are done virtually for her various clients. She makes her own home in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.
  1. Healthcare providers can be the WORST! I hate being talked to like I am stupid. I am fortunate that my psychiatrist is a wonderful guy who never talks to me like I am stupid no matter what state I am in. Other MDs, not so much. I can just be in stable mode and if I say that I have bipolar or if they figure it out from reading my med list, they can totally change their tune. It’s so infuriating!

  2. (Bp1 diagnosis 2004 at 38yrs) It’s completely mind boggling that the medical professionals look down on us and treat us differently.

    I was having upper GI problems. I went to a Gastroenterologist. They conducted a battery of tests and concluded that I had Acid Reflux. But there was something still wrong. I was physically sick and I wasn’t believed. After returning for the third follow up, the Dr. wrote me a prescription for 100 antibiotic tabs with 3 refills. I wish I would have saved that piece of paper because it would have been perfect for a malpractice suit. I didn’t have any infection. He was telling me to shut up and get lost! Something we all know too well.

    God willing, I found an unbiased, non judgmental Doctor that listened. I had a diseased gall bladder. Post removal, I am fine physically.

    I have put off seeking medical help when I know I should. But the only way around not being stigmatized is not being honest about my medication. That could be life threatening.

    I had lifelong friends that loved me “as is”, and when I threw the diagnosis and the words forward, they walked out of my life too. Initially, I was devastated but realized I have enough to handle and I don’t need them. It’s their loss and their burden. If anything, I am better! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Ignorance is rampant among individuals towards any mental disorder let alone bipolar.

  4. ain’t that the truth, or talk down to me, I;m bi-polar not stupid

Leave a Reply

Please do not use your full name, as it will be displayed. Your email address will not be published.