I got kicked out of the dorms during my first try at college for telling my roommate that I’m bipolar. (I’m not exaggerating.) This was 2003; things have changed a little, at least. That would be a hell of a lawsuit now. At the school I finally graduated from, my teachers got fed up with me for missing class, turning it late assignments, for failing tests. It didn’t matter that I had a note from my psychiatrist or psychologist saying why I missed class or didn’t perform well. It didn’t qualify as being validly ill. I had mental health disability accommodations at the insistence of my dean. I didn’t even know I could be afforded these. Disability accommodations, however, didn’t seem to make a dent in how many of my professors perceived me.
In high school I was told I had a “behavior problem.” I wasn’t sick, my parents insisted. I was a bad kid. At one point they even thought I was making the whole up. Why would I make this up? How could I possibly make this up?
Mostly when I couldn’t show up for something, I told people I had stomach issues. That’s my classic explanation: to say I have severe stomach issues. This is understood. Stomach issues are terrible and everyone knows what that feels like and it’s real for all of us.
Bipolar disorder isn’t real to everyone. Most people don’t understand it. What’s worse is they often don’t want to understand. They’ve made up they’re mind. We are dangerous freaks. Unpredictable. Outcasts.
Society had made some progress in accepting the validity of mental illness. Self care for mental health is important, nowadays. Do yoga, get plenty of rest, journal, take a bath. People are beginning to understand depression and anxiety, at least a little bit.
But if I say, “Sorry I was gone, I was in the hospital because I didn’t sleep for three days and thought there were ghosts living in the walls and also that I was the second coming of Christ,” suddenly that’s a reason for a person to think I’m a horrifying monster and they shouldn’t associate with me (Yes, those things really happened to me.). I barely talked about it until 2019. How could I? Talking about it had rarely gone well.
I talk about it all the time now. I laugh about it. I mean, it is a little bit hilarious. I talk about it now because I’m no longer afraid of being judged. I’m not ashamed. I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong by being bipolar.
In 2019 I found a handful of people on Twitter struggling with bipolar disorder. We were all a part of the writing community and stumbled upon one another. One day I got a DM from a guy named Devin. His bipolar diagnosis was relatively new and he wanted my insight. We began talking regularly. Devin had the idea to create a hashtag to connect people: #bipolarclub. He wanted to see if it might catch on. We felt so alone. Lonely, alone, desperate for understanding.
He made a Twitter page for people with bipolar disorder. After he decided to leave Twitter, I took over the page. We never thought it would amount to much; we just wanted some more friends. What a pleasant surprise: the community blossomed. And it’s everything to me. I’ve found my tribe. I’ve found some of my best friends. I’ve found my chosen family.
Now we are on a mission to help other people with bipolar disorder find their tribe. We want the world to understand this illness. We don’t want to be marginalized. We want to talk about bipolar disorder in the open. No more secrets. No more shame, no more stigma.
I’ve waited so long to let my voice be heard. Stand with us.