There are times when I feel so incredibly different that I swear I’m not even from the same planet as the rest of society. How could I possibly be? They don’t see things the way I do. They don’t feel things the way I do. They don’t understand things the way I do. They don’t get me at all, and I just don’t belong here. I’m different, and that’s all there is to it.
There are also times when I am offended at being depicted as being some kind of social outcast who is so different from society that I can’t possibly blend in, or function properly. I am offended when “my kind” are portrayed as being crazy and unable to make good decisions, or take care of ourselves. The insinuation that we don’t see reality for what it actually is, is insulting.
So which is it? Am I different, or not?
Well, I’m both, I think. At least, my reality tells me I am both. See, I don’t think I look different. I think, unless you know me, and I let you in, you won’t necessarily know that I am different. I don’t think anyone would ever just pinpoint me as bipolar, or some other kind of different. In other words, I don’t think I look like I am crazy.
But sometimes I feel like I am. And that’s mostly how I’m different. I feel different. I think differently. I see things differently. I have emotions most probably never even think of having. I have creative ideas that rush so in fast and furiously that I can’t keep up with them. Sometimes I forget them as quickly as they come to me – which is really frustrating. And then, I have the opposite extreme. I have lows so low that I can’t imagine taking another breath. I have exhaustion so severe that I sometimes weep at the thought of having to sit up, much less actually having to function as a productive human being. I bounce back and forth between these two extremes constantly. And I feel it – I feel every bit of it. But I can guarantee you this – unless I allow you to see it, or I tell you about it – you will not know. You won’t know because I don’t let it stop me. I don’t let it stop me from seeming ‘normal.’ You will not have any reason to think I am different, or crazy. And you will certainly not think I am unable to care for myself.
I love that Hollywood is bringing awareness to mental health issues. I love that we are attempting to get inside the minds of those of us who deal with these issues on a daily basis. I love that the extreme emotional and functional distress is being portrayed on the big screen. I love these things. But can we also show the side of us that is functional? Can we also show that it’s possible for us to lead normal, productive lives? Can we show that we aren’t to be feared? Can we show that many of us are really just normal people who live with an illness – just like someone else lives with diabetes? Because really, that’s more the reality than what we see in movies. I mean, to me, my life is a chaotic mess much of the time, but it would be a boring movie. It would be boring because I mostly lead a normal life, just like you. And though my brain does feel like it’s on fire most of the time, and my head is spinning out of control, that’s just what I feel. That’s not the reality that plays out for the world to see. I’m not actually out of control. The life that I lead for the world to see is hardly out of the ordinary.
But you know what? For me, ordinary is extraordinary, because somedays ordinary doesn’t even feel possible. For me, ordinary sometimes requires extraordinary effort. To portray me, or ‘someone like me,’ as incapable of achieving normalcy, is entirely unfair. It’s unfair to assume I can’t go through life without everyone looking at me as the poor bipolar girl. The crazy girl. The girl who needs all the help. Yes, I am bipolar. Yes, sometimes I feel crazy. Yes, I need more help than the average person. But none of that means that I am crazy, or that I can’t lead a normal life. I’m just living my life with my brain disorder, just like you live yours with heart disease, or arthritis, or cancer. We do the best we can. Some days are good. Some are not.
But isn’t that true for everyone? We don’t just throw in the towel, and deem someone useless because they have a heart attack, do we? So why would we do that with someone who has a brain disorder? Why would we write them off? Why would we, in the name of bringing awareness, further the stigma? I don’t understand. These illnesses are real, and they are serious, and they are dangerous. Yes. But they don’t have to be a death sentence. They don’t have to mean social annihilation. They shouldn’t make you afraid of me. They shouldn’t keep me from living my life.
I am different. I’m different from you. I’m different than I used to be. But I’m still me, and I still have things to do. And I’m still going to do them. And I’m going to be extraordinarily ordinary in the process.