I’m walking out of Embarcadero Hall, getting ready to unlock my bike, when I overhear a conversation between two sorority girls.
“Yeah, I don’t know what her problem is, but on Saturday she snapped at me for no good reason. I was just like, ‘What the hell? I didn’t even say anything mean to you.'”
“I totally know what you mean. It’s like one second she’s nice and the next second she’s mean and bitchy. She’s so bipolar.”
You would think that after hearing this comment for the millionth time I would have gotten used to it. Yet every time I hear someone accuse a friend of being bipolar, I get pissed, mostly because that comment is completely inaccurate. So please allow me to explain what bipolar disorder really is. This way, you will never be as ignorant and offensive as those sorority girls I was just talking about.
Bipolar disorder is a manic-depressive illness that typically sets in around your early 20s. You can either be on the manic side of the illness, which means you are abnormally happy, or you can be on the depressive side of the illness, which means you are abnormally sad. Additionally, a person who has bipolar disorder feels every emotion — embarrassment, fear, anxiety, joy, excitement — to the extreme. This doesn’t mean that a person who has bipolar disorder snaps from one emotion to the next. We express our emotions just like everyone else does. It’s just that our spectrum of emotions is a lot longer than the average person. You’d be more likely to accuse a person with the disorder as being emotional than being moody, which leads to my next clarification.
People with bipolar disorder DO NOT have mood swings. That’s a stereotype nowhere near being accurate. Stages of depression can last from one week to months on end. And manic episodes can last anywhere from four days to three weeks. There’s no way a person would be happy one moment and then depressed or agitated the next. If anything, being moody is an indication of normalcy. It’s called being human.
Lastly, people with bipolar disorder are not inherently angry. That’s a completely inaccurate association. Of course people with bipolar disorder express their anger. But so do you. It’s natural. It’s part of life. Anger is not a symptom of the disorder.
Coming out as a bipolar student has been a bit difficult for me because of these stereotypes. Every time someone finds out I’m bipolar, they go “Really? I would have never guessed.” A co-worker of mine told me that after he read an article of mine, he was trying to remember instances of when I showed symptoms, which in his mind meant me snapping from one mood to the next or being angry. Yet, just like everyone else who knows me, he couldn’t find any of these symptoms because they don’t exist.
I’m aware that people don’t do this out of stupidity. It’s merely that the way the media has portrayed bipolar disorder makes people believe these myths. I’m here to say that the next time your friend snaps at you or gets angry at something you said, use your intelligence and realize that it’s probably an indication he or she is having a bad day. Everybody deals with their emotions differently and it’s highly insulting to blame their moodiness on a mental illness. Don’t disregard their emotion as a symptom of insanity. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to people like me who have to deal with the repercussions of it.
As another student with bipolar disorder, I identify with and appreciate this article.