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My Mental Illness is NOT an Adjective

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Two weeks ago I sat across from my psychiatrist, in a cozy, warm office, and I heard him say the words "you’re bipolar" Immediately I felt shame wash over me. It felt like an accusation. Like I had done something wrong. I shook my head. He couldn't be right. I was depressed. I lacked energy. I was tired. Nothing a vacation or a massage or even just the arrival of Spring wouldn't fix. Afterall it was Winter in Canada.

And as I walked out of his office the negative self-talk was in overdrive. Words like crazy and nut-job rattled around inside my brain. It took me a couple of days before I could tell anyone, including my husband. I did research, I listened to podcasts, I read books. Anything to prove this wasn’t true. But that didn’t happen. Everything I read and listened to confirmed that I did have bipolar. I was actually a textbook case.

And so as I prepared to tell my husband I started to rehearse what I would say. And that’s when it hit me. I may HAVE bipolar but I AM NOT bipolar. It is an illness that I will treat every day for the rest of my life but I will never become the illness. Sounds like a play on words I know, but it was actually an incredibly powerful realization. Stigma doesn’t always come from the outside. We can be our own worst enemies. And while I still grapple with my diagnosis from time to time I recognize and consciously remind myself that illness is not an adjective, it is a noun.

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