By: Madi Chang
The first time I befriended someone with bipolar disorder, her name was Maggie and I didn’t know about her bipolar disorder until a couple days later. Our conversation looked like this:
A year later, I am still sad when I think about that conversation. What were other people’s reactions to her sharing that taught Maggie her bipolar disorder should be something to fear or that she should be someone to fear.
I’ll admit, I am a little wary of new things: a new restaurant or hairstyle or anything in between. For some people, that “new thing” is meeting someone with a mental illness, or witnessing the symptoms of mental illness. It’s natural to feel a little nervous when in an unfamiliar situation. However, it’s sad that a portion of the population let ignorance or misconceptions block growth and new friends.
For my project, I wanted to explore the symptoms of bipolar disorder, both to educate myself and all of you. Something that has helped me understand this disorder is hearing people’s stories instead of simply reading over a list of symptoms. It is easy to throw terms like depression, mania, and anger around without really knowing what they are and how they relate to bipolar disorder, so I wrote a series of poems to try and capture their meaning.
Irritable mood is among the primary diagnostic criteria for mania; the excessive energy combined with racing thoughts can quickly lead to irritability and progress to anger.
“Anger activates our body’s fight or flight response, which is the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol,” says Redford Williams, MD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University School of Medicine, “Over time, elevated levels of stress hormones cause wear on all body systems… and it’s a potential contributor to the development of heart disease and high blood pressure.”
Throughout this project, I put a lot of emphasis on some of the main symptoms or emotions that are a part of bipolar disorder because I wanted to understand them more. However, my takeaway is that bipolar disorder is simply a part of someone, just like depression is a part of me and general anxiety disorder is a part of my brother. The symptoms and emotions that stem from bipolar disorder are similar to those you and I experience, but more intense and cycled. That doesn’t make people with bipolar disorder scary, it makes them human.
- Educate yourself: if you find yourself making assumptions about a person/ disorder, ask them/ research to obtain an accurate answer!
- Avoid: using words like crazy or bipolar or OCD or any other label unless you are referring to the actual disorder so you don’t trivialize people who actually live with them!
- Be open: to sharing about your own struggles with a mental illness and to hearing about other’s challenges!
- Accountability: as well as doing the things above, encourage your family or friends to do the same!
The inspiration for this project was seeing people with bipolar disorder reveal themselves and their struggle through art. Expressing oneself through art is not only cathartic and creative but it inspires others. Please leave any artwork, writing, pictures, or thoughts of any kind in this Padlet, whether it be about mental illness or something else that is a part of you. To share is to bring awareness, acceptance, and community.
This is the video that inspired this project. Also on this website, there are seven other mini-documentaries that show and discuss people with bipolar disorder and their work, family, love lives, and more!