Bipolar Disorder: Be an Advocate for Yourself

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Marcy lives with bipolar disorder. Since being diagnosed, her views of the disorder have changed significantly.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the time, it was still widely known as manic depression. My misconception was that manic depressives were one conversation away from eating the barrel of a gun; I didn't know that, along with the lows, there could be corresponding highs.

Obviously, my opinions have really changed since then, but our society still holds many misconceptions about bipolar disorder. When people think bipolar, they think "volatile." But for the last 13 years, with treatment and support, I've been managing my bipolar, not suffering from it. I don't like to call it an illness, either, because I don't feel sick. I've been an advocate for myself for many years, and now I'm ready to be an advocate for the disorder.

Here are some tips for people with bipolar:

Don't Be Ashamed

We can change so much about who we are in order to conform to what society deems attractive, but you can't change the way your brain is wired. I'm not saying it's easy, but you can't let people make you feel embarrassed because you have bipolar disorder. Bipolar doesn't define who I am, but it is a part of me. If people ask me if I'm bipolar, I'm honest with them.

Take Responsibility for Your Actions

It's easy to hide behind a mental illness; it took me a year after my diagnosis before I was ready to hold myself accountable for my decisions. But mental illness doesn't take action -- people do. Don't blame your mistakes on being bipolar.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 15, 2014

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Think Positively

Bipolar can be a gift or a curse. I've chosen to take it and squeeze everything great out of it. It gives me the competitive edge to do what I set out to do. I think it boosts my creativity as an artist and my ability to think about things differently. Historically, some of the greatest thinkers were bipolar.

Surround Yourself With People Who Love You

Even in your circle of friends and loved ones, you might encounter people who read up on bipolar so they can look at you under a microscope, judging you or trying to diagnose your moods and behaviors. Those people can become toxic.

Instead, surround yourself with loved ones who want to understand bipolar because they care about you and want to help you, not because they want to figure you out. Those are the types of people you want around to tell you when they notice there might be something "off" about you -- that you're acting a bit too happy, talking a bit too fast and sleeping too little, or acting a little down or out of sorts.

Realize That You're Not Alone

Bipolar affects almost 6 million adults in the United States alone – remember that you're not the only one out there who feels the way you do. And the list of successful people with bipolar is long and includes celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vincent Van Gogh, Demi Lovato, Ted Turner and Alice Cooper. You're one member in a group of awesome people.

Here are some tips for engaging in positive dialogue with bipolar people:

Don't Respond to Someone Telling You They Have Bipolar With a Statement

Often, if I tell people I'm bipolar, the response is just, "Oh." Worse yet is when people will make a statement like, "You don't seem bipolar." That ranks up there with when I tell someone I'm Jewish, and they say I don't look Jewish. People say ignorance is bliss, but I just find it aggravating. Statements like this only make everyone feel awkward and grind the conversation to a halt. If I'm telling you I'm bipolar, I'm probably doing so for good reason, because I feel I can confide in you, or I want you to understand this about me.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Instead of making statements about what you think about bipolar or know about bipolar -- instead of guessing about what my experience with bipolar has been like -- ask me about it. Try open-ended questions: "What does that mean?" "How are you doing?" or "Do you want to talk about it?" Questions like these promote conversation that can help correct misconceptions.

Take the Initiative to Learn More

There's so much information on the topic -- and yet there's so much misinformation on the topic, too. I can't censor or control what the important people in my life read and don't read. But I believe that if people take the initiative to understand bipolar -- not from a place of judgment, but from a place of love and kindness -- they can figure out which sources are reputable.

Misconceptions come from ignorance. By educating yourself and then educating others, we can raise awareness about bipolar and change society's perception of the disorder.

Marcy lives, paints and runs a small news media company in Atlanta with her 2-year-old daughter and 65-pound pit bull. This is the first time she's spoken about her bipolar disorder publicly and is happy to serve as an advocate for understanding.

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