The judgement I experience living with Bipolar Disorder
by Izabella McKeown, See Change Ambassador
There is still stigma attached to having a mental health condition like Bipolar Disorder. People imagine you as someone dangerous and a person they can’t trust. I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when my daughter was just one years old. That’s 17 years ago.
I remember my neighbours treated me differently when I came back from the hospital. These were just subtle things like my friend whose son was the same age as my daughter didn’t trust me around her son. Or people whispered to each other when you passed them pushing the buggy. I got a job as a teacher in a secondary school when I felt better. It would have been four months after I was released from a mental health hospital. I didn’t tell anybody about my experience.
Unfortunately, this was my reality for ten years. My marriage was up and down for the next ten years, until it ended ten years after my diagnosis.
During those ten years I tried hard. I went to Trinity College and UCD to get qualifications. I went to countless Aware meetings and I tried self-help programs. I was still quite young, in my late twenties and early thirties. For a while I didn’t know what I really wanted from life. I just got on with it. I told people I met that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and for a long time I wasn’t anybody’s best friend because of judgement.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad things that happen when someone has mental illness, especially if they are substance users. Murders, child abuse, elder abuse. The media blows it up and people get scared.
A few years ago, I got a job in a homeless shelter in Dublin as a project worker and my manager asked me specifically not to talk about my mental health journey. No wonder the service users weren’t making any progress. The system was an “enabler” where they just treat the symptom and not the route cause. I left after seven months.
I talk about my mental health in my current job in the civil service. My manager seems understanding and I just got a permanent position. When I sent my declaration for the acceptance for the position there were questions about having a disability. So, I went to my GP and asked for a fitness letter. He has known me six years during which I never had an episode, and his reaction was “I wouldn’t disclose my mental health to the employer”. I figured he just was a bit hesitant to write me another fitness letter. I told him politely that I was better off telling my employer about my condition so that they can accommodate me with an appropriate position. So, this is what I’m up against. People are still afraid. And I can understand that. I get sometimes afraid of some of the thoughts that cross my mind. You know, it isn’t a picnic to have a major mental illness. You have to have your eye on the prize: to live a life where you are making a difference rather than let your compulsions run the show.
For anyone who was the diagnosis, my advice would be give yourself time. You may have to revisit your plans for the future. Don’t take on too much, keep it simple. Try searching high and low. Try out the services that are out there. Surround yourself with friends who have a good understanding of what you are going through. And don’t be too hard on yourself. Praying helps too. I’m not a church goer. But I go to light a candle when I would like to achieve something and ask God for wisdom to guide me. Life is a miracle. And we are living in a forever changing environment. So, things are looking up and you could be the very person who could make that difference when it comes to judgement.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following