Ten things not to say to someone with bipolar
1. Are you bipolar?
‘What is wrong with this?’ I hear you ask. ‘Isn’t that a reasonable question to ask someone?’ Maybe so, but…
I am not bipolar, I suffer from an illness called bipolar affective disorder. To say I am bipolar implies that bipolar is all that I am. It implies that bipolar is the sole definition of my life and I will never be anything other than bipolar. Whereas in reality, I am so much more complicated than that.
So best to ask “Do you suffer from bipolar?”
2. You do realise it’s all your fault, don’t you?
Ummm, no, actually it’s not. I didn’t do anything to deserve suffering from bipolar. It’s not a punishment or the consequence of some hitherto forgotten transgression in my life. It’s a mental illness. And any mental illness that someone is unfortunate enough to suffer from, is not that person’s fault. Far from it.
3. You’re completely psycho!
See also: you’re nuts, you’re bonkers, you’ve got a screw loose, you’re crazy, you’re effing insane you are, you’re [insert synonym of choice here]! Granted, some of my close friends and family may get away with playfully ribbing me by using these terms, but they’re doing so without any malice. If anyone who doesn’t know me says such grotesquely stigmatizing words to me, they’re likely to be the victim of an epic (carefully worded) rebuke.
4. Everyone has mood swings sometimes!
Yes, this is true, but not everyone has their moods alter so dramatically between mania and depression that their very life can hang in the balance. There is an almighty difference between the mood swings you might experience as a result of day-to-day life and the mood swings of bipolar, and trust me, were you ever to experience the epic highs and suicidal lows of bipolar affective disorder, you would understand the difference in a heartbeat.
5. Oh, so you must be a creative genius!
Oh, so because I’m bipolar I’m a creative genius? Wow. Stereotype much? Granted there is a well publicised link between creativity and bipolar, but that doesn’t mean everyone who suffers from bipolar is a creative genius. We’re not born with a paintbrush in one hand and a typewriter in the other.
6. Stephen Fry can control his moods, why can’t you?
Someone said this to me once, it incensed me, for one simple reason: I am NOT Stephen Fry! Stephen Fry suffers from bipolar, and he deals with it as best as he is able to based on what is happening in his life. Just like I deal with my bipolar as best as I can do based on what is happening in my life.
7. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
If you can’t see the problem with this question, you need to undertake some form of empathy course. Sure, if you’re close friends with someone and having a heartfelt conversation over several alcoholic beverages, ask away. But if you don’t know someone, just don’t go there, ever.
8. But you seem so normal…
When this was once said to me, I was rendered speechless for several minutes. How exactly is someone with a mental illness supposed to act? Should they be dancing naked down High Street with a weasel in one hand and a cardboard owl in the other? People with mental illness can be as normal as you and I, and they have every right to be. After all, as I established above, you are not your mental illness; you are so much more than that.
9. Have you taken your medication?
Another perfectly reasonable question, to be sure, but one that has all sorts of negative connotations. It implies you’re forgetful. It implies you can’t handle living your own life. It implies you’re useless. It implies that you need someone to tell you what to do. And it endlessly reminds you that you need medication in order to function as a human being, which isn’t a very nice thing to be reminded of.
10. Are you cured?
Bipolar affective disorder is a lifelong mental illness. There is no cure. Remember that, always, else you risk being seen as ignorant and stupid.