Here goes nothing.
I think all too often we forget that empathy and understanding are not synonymous.
There is nothing more offensive and nothing that minimizes a mental illness more than to tell someone that you understand what it feels like. The fact is that you don’t. I used to have a more gentle and arguably more classy approach but I think brute honesty is needed.
I was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Disorder a.k.a Bipolar Disorder over two years ago. In all technicality, I have been diagnosed Bipolar II which for clarification means I experience hypomania (a less severe form of mania) and more depressive episodes. Bipolar Disorder can worsen over time and even develop into Bipolar Schizophrenia. I’ll go into more depth with all of that another time. The gist of it being this disorder can very easily spiral out of control.
So I hope it is already making sense why I get upset when someone tells me they understand. I have talked at length to some of these people, including my partner and I’ve been told from their side it is a genuine desire to try and offer comfort, to make me feel less alone.In fact, it does the exact opposite. I appreciate their good intentions but if I have to hear one more person tell me that they’ve had very similar experiences then I might instantaneously combust.
Here’s the difference. I do not deny or object to depression in other people. Nor do I deny or object to times when they have more energy than usual. Everyone’s moods fluctuate. Mostly everyone experiences highs and lows and maybe pretty consistently.
The key difference is that my highs always end in lows. Very low, lows. I never know when I am going to feel a certain way or how long any mood will last. The same can be said for ‘normal’ people but they do not experience that sudden shift. The shift between ecstasy to the absolute depths of Hell.
I know I am going to be okay… eventually. The problem is that each time I experience hypomania or a depressive episode I get more tired. Then times strike when I don’t want to have to deal with any of it anymore. The doctor’s appointments, taking my medications, ordering new prescriptions, sleeping and waking up at the same time (circadian rhythm plays a huge role) staying on a routine, doing self-help books, writing about it, practicing mindfulness and the list goes on.
It just amazes me sometimes. I feel almost guilty for writing so passionately about this but I would never tell anyone with an illness I do not have that I can understand what it is like. Not in a million years. I want you to know, whoever you are that it is hurtful to hear that. At times I have convinced myself I am not Bipolar. At other times I have completely embraced and accepted it.
I am not ‘normal’ and I cannot live a ‘normal’ life. I have withdrawn (dropped out) of school twice, quit my job twice and moved back home twice. And if you knew me you would know it was not my decision and I fought it each time. I wanted to move out, go to college and work. I wanted to support myself. Independence has always been my goal. I’ve learned that I can’t do it by myself. It isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just how it needs to be for me to be healthy. I am okay with who I am but please never tell me you know what it is like to be me. I will accept your individuality and I hope in return you will accept mine.
I want to thank those of you who have tried to comfort me. I want you to know that it is okay to not understand me. It is more than okay. Your love and support are all I ask for.
Photo Credit:unsplash-logoTânia Soares