It’s been a little over two weeks since I posted the first half of my “Top 10 Phrases Ready for Retirement.” It was certainly not my intention to wait so long… long enough to potentially lose my train of thought. Ironically, right after I posted a list of 5 hurtful things people can say (possibly without even knowing that it’s hurtful), I noticed a drastic increase in incidents of people saying those phrases to me. Truth be told, I’m still learning what it means to live with Bipolar Disorder. Even if it’s been affecting my life for years, I was always convinced that I had Major Depressive Disorder up until this past February. At the time, I processed the change in diagnoses very inconsistently… it explained so much about the way my brain works but I was worried that it would change who I was at my very core. I had so vigilantly been watching for signs of a depressive episode that the onset of my most recent manic episode completely blindsided and even angered me because I didn’t fully understand it.
Both Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are serious medical conditions that require self-awareness and strength to live with. While I still occasionally struggle with my sense of self and learning how to live my life to the best of my ability, what I’ve recently been struggling the most with is the reactions of those around me. Again, those with MDD and Bipolar disorder both have both internal struggles as well as having to deal with societal stigmas. People who suffer from depression and anxiety have the unfortunate and inaccurate label of being weak while the ones that I’ve met have happened to be the strongest people I’ve had the honor of knowing (hell… they have to deal with their brain chemistry on top of the stresses of everyday life). The reaction that I receive now that I’m labeled as someone with Bipolar Disorder is different. The mentality is that because I have this mood disorder, I’m probably overemotional, unstable, potentially dangerous, and crazy. Someone to be feared. Someone unpredictable and a ticking time bomb. Someone like the Hulk. Over the past two weeks since my last post, Bipolar Disorder has been used as a synonym for crazy or unstable in casual conversation with me on approximately 5 occasions in a work setting (and believe me, I’m not the one bringing it up). The look of fear when some people look at me has been a little heart wrenching and has made me seriously reconsider being so public with my experiences and condition.
Which brings me to today and the unfinished list. It would be so typical of me to start a project and not finish it. I did it so many times when I was manic. Bouncing from hobby to hobby… obsession to obsession. But then it occurred to me that the entire point of what I’m trying to do is make it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health (in fact anxiety has so many physical manifestations that I might even consider it more important). Most importantly, I want to make it clear that people living with mood disorders are real people who deserve compassion and understanding, and quite frankly, kudos instead of criticism. The problem with mental health stigmas is that they make it much more frightening to seek mental health treatment and, since humans inherently fear what they don’t understand, the lack of understanding of what mood disorders actually are, instead of the way they are depicted in some media outlets, just creates more fear, anger, and potentially cruel statements. So I remind myself when someone says something mean to me that they simply don’t understand and are afraid and, rather than being silent, I should continue to speak my truth. If I can comfort one person while being judged by 10… I think that’s a ratio I can live with.
So without further ado… the continuation of “Top 10 Phrases Ready for Retirement”:
5. “I don’t understand why you’re depressed. Other people have it a lot worse than you do.” — Obviously, I’m not egocentric enough to believe that the world revolves around me or that I have the hardest life in the world. I think the rational mind of anyone who suffers from depression is aware of the fact that there is always going to be someone in the world with a worse situation. The problem with attempting to guilt someone into feeling better is that clinical depression is not rational. To a certain extent, I am able to rationalize during a depressive episode. I can tell myself that it’ll pass, I can tell myself that I have positive qualities, and that there are people around me that care. But the key thing is that my baseline state is so much more logical than my depressive state. When I’m stuck on the couch too depressed to get up and go outside, I know the last thing I need is “tough love,” I get enough of that kind of talk from myself.
4. “Get over it.” or “You’re freaking out over nothing.” or “You’re overreacting.” — To be honest, I’m pretty sure these phrases could get under anyone’s skin. Mood disorder or not, no one enjoys having their feelings trivialized. So maybe the person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is extrapolating to an exaggerated degree, constantly thinking the worst case scenario is the most likely scenario. Maybe deep down I know that the odds of my best friend up and saying she doesn’t want to speak to me anymore simply because I can’t go out for drinks with her one night are about a billion to one. Telling anyone with an anxiety disorder that their feelings aren’t valid doesn’t really make their anxiety dissipate. Quite the contrary, now their probably anxious over the original problem and they are anxious about the fact that they’re anxious over something that everyone around them thinks is small time. Similarly, as someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, I can attest that “overreacting” is a symptom of the disorder and simply pointing out that I’m overreacting to a situation doesn’t mellow me out, it is much more likely to exacerbate the problem and elicit an angry response from me. I do; however, fully believe that all three of these phrases could make anyone’s blood boil so I don’t really understand why it would be deemed acceptable to utter them to someone living with a mood disorder.
3. “Anyone who commits (or tries to commit) suicide is selfish and weak.” — In the first half of this list, I did already address suicide but this phrase was recently said to me and I felt the need to stress again the importance of compassion towards those who have attempted to take their own life (successful or not). From volunteering at a crisis hotline, I was definitely taught the horrible repercussions suicide can have on the family and friends left standing. I cannot fully comprehend the feelings that suicide survivors must experience: guilt, anger, resentment, possibly even fear of being judged. My heart truly goes out to anyone who has experienced this tragedy first hand. What I do have experience with is being on the other end of the situation… the person perhaps not exhibiting the most rational thinking in terms of handling their current situation. Looking back do I believe that suicide would have solved my problems? No. Am I well aware that my action had the ability to hurt those around me: my closest friends and family that I care about deeply? Yes. Still, despite knowing that suicide does not solve anything and is devastating to the survivors, I don’t believe any individual who chooses this as their final solution is selfish or weak. Again, the people I’ve met that are living with depression or anxiety are some of the strongest individuals I know and, when you’re not in full control of your own brain chemistry or your own thoughts, it can become increasingly hard to think rationally. The experience I had was that I felt that I was being hit with waves of immense sorrow and every time I had almost caught my breath, I would just get smacked down by an even bigger wave. In my state of depression, I believed I deserved all the pain I was experiencing so the thought of taking my own life was based on the inaccurate assumption that it would be easier on my family not to see me suffer anymore. Now that I’m out of that state, I can fully attest that my family couldn’t disagree with that sentiment more and, had I been thinking rationally, I would have known that. With that being said, depressive or anxious states aren’t necessarily known for being logical so I will call myself in that brief suicidal time period… Anti-Spock.
2. “It’s all in your head.” — I think anyone living with depression or anxiety knows that their thoughts or feelings originate in their brain. I’ve known for about 10 years that I can’t properly regulate serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with mood stabilization, or dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward-motivated behavior. With this knowledge, I’m well aware of exactly how unpredictable my brain can be and how, at the age of 27, I’m still learning what my brain is fully capable of. Much like the “Get over it” sentiment, I know that trivializing my feelings doesn’t help me and will probably just make me worse for feeling a certain way. I find that the best way to speak to myself when I know I’m getting caught up in my own head is to accept whatever thought or feeling I’m having (even if it’s negative) without feeding into it. It’s much more likely that I’ll drop it and move on if I’m not beating myself up for being “crazy,” “selfish,” or “overemotional.” In the past, I haven’t been that accepting of my own thought processes and I started carrying that over to how I judged other people as well. My mission moving forward is to showing myself, and really everyone else, just a little more compassion, understanding, and patience.
1. “I know how you feel.” — I don’t think I can even count how many times I’ve said this. Which is a real shame because it’s practically customer service 101 not to say this phrase. I can’t begin to know exactly how anyone else feels. Even having Bipolar Disorder, and probably similar symptoms/experiences to other people with the same disorder, I can’t even completely fathom how they feel in any situation. I can empathize… I can imagine… I can try to put myself in the shoes of another individual. But if we’re being completely honest, no one can know exactly how I feel in a given situation unless they have my same brain chemistry and have experienced every single life experience I’ve had. I think we can all agree that I don’t have a person who is my exact duplicate mentally somewhere out in the world so… until that person materializes, no one can really get away with saying they know how I feel and, consequently, that mental clone is the only person I would be able to say that phrase to and be correct. I think the most hypocritical part of this one is that it truly gets under my skin when people say it to me… I get frustrated instead of comforted… and yet I STILL say it every now and then.
So that’s it Ladies and Gentleman. The 10 phrases that I’m going to really really try to stop from uttering myself, especially since I know how they make me feel. If I missed anything or you have any feedback for any of these sentiments (positive or negative), I’d really love to hear them… as long as they’re constructive!
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and, at this moment, I plan for my next post to be about Recovery. I hope you stay tuned.