Sometimes people are their own worst enemies and sometimes it's difficult to see how they cope so well with the adversities of life. A great deal of my own working life has been spent with people who view themselves as carrying the burden of being mentally ill. Of course for most it's more than just a perception. They've heard the comments and the jokes, they've missed out on employment, and they've had personal relationships collapse around them. This is often just the tip of the iceberg.
It's not easy to achieve a sense of personal identity when your condition serves to propel you into action some of the time and then later makes you want to hide from the world. Yet, finding who you are, even in the midst of the stigma that may surround you, is a vital part of learning to adapt and live with bipolar. Bipolar is something you have, and whilst it is part of you, it should not of itself define who you are. This is the sort of thing I've said to people. I recognize the line between platitude and helpfulness can be pretty thin at times, but I'm emboldened by the fact that the attitude is shared by people I've worked with who also live with bipolar. Perhaps one of my more useful contributions in this regard is to remind individuals that they have worth and value. In the struggle, and I do think it's a struggle, I've seen people let their strengths and skills slip through their fingers. The symptoms become confused with who they really are.
Few people, if any, can totally disregard or are unaffected by the views of others. Many of the people I've worked with have told me of a life of subterfuge as a shield from stigma. The world is full of uninformed and often fearful individuals. Some are well-meaning but ultimately limited, some stupid, some cruel or insensitive in their assessment and treatment of others. The evaluation of others has its effects. Perhaps we start believing what they say? Perhaps we know they are ill-informed but it still hurts? Maybe we become ‘sick' people, or maybe we toughen our skin, sharpen our tongue, and give it back? Everyone has their way of coping.
Moving beyond the stigma trap is fight against prejudice. Stigma erodes self-worth and self-confidence. It can diminish people to the point where they believe nothing they offer has any currency. Moving beyond stigma can be something of a personal quest. It may involve a determination to put aside everything you know about your faults and limitations and focusing instead on your talents. It's never too late to try and turn things around.
Published On: September 14, 2010
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