Ready. Set. Sail!
In my mind, the worst part of having bipolar disorder is the sense that you can’t accomplish anything. It’s that awful feeling when you make all these wonderful goals and tell yourself that you are going to be productive only to have anxiety and depression swallow you whole. Then you realize the things you set out to do are too overwhelming and scary and you retreat back into Fort Blankie and call yourself a loser and a failure.
And….the cherry on top of the cake is when a friend tells you that you HAVE to do something.
I’m in an argument with a close friend right now. Let’s call her Jan. Jan’s small business is booming and I agreed to take on some responsibilities and help her out. I figured when I got laid off that I needed something to do to keep my mind occupied and help me readjust to the real world. It worked out great when I was stable/manic. Now, unfortunately, I’m having trouble keeping my volunteer commitments. In fact, it’s been about a month since I’ve even seen her and have had to cancel several times.
Now don’t get me wrong, running a business is hard. But I volunteered to help her and I was hoping that she would forgive me for not meeting her expectations. She even knows about my bipolar and the depression and the struggles. However, as a normie, she doesn’t have a clue as to how hard it is to have a mental illness. Her suggestions are the classic, “Cheer up!”, “I know it’s difficult but you can pull through!”, “Smile! You’ll feel better!”, “Sorry you’re feeling sad today but look at the bright side,” and the like. She is a bubbly happy-go-lucky naive giggly person. I met her through a friend of a friend. And I like her. I was hoping being around her I would catch her enthusiasm. But I feel like I’m not good enough anymore.
She asked me to come to our mutual friend’s party in honor of a unique milestone in that person’s life. I said that I would do my very best to be there. Her response cut me like a dagger,
“Jess!!! You MUST be there! You HAVE to be there!!! It won’t be the same without you there!!! Lady, come on…just commit to being there!”
Classic stigma. “Just get over it and show up! It doesn’t matter if you’re too anxious or depressed. I want you to put on a smile and hide your pain because it makes people uncomfortable. We are counting on you…no pressure!”
Now I feel like a bad friend if I can’t get out of bed and show up. Not only show up, she expects me to smile and laugh and be chipper and pretend I’m not dying inside. Bipolar isn’t that simple. There is no way I can guarantee if I’ll be able to function Wednesday. SO the pressure is on me to shake it off and put a smile on and be there for my friend.
And I DO want to be there. Desperately!! But I’ve been having major anxiety doing anything other than basic tasks. It takes all my effort to motivate myself to shower. I worked out today but it took like 3 hours to get myself motivated enough to get my workout clothes on. Heck! I even made dinner yesterday. All in all I felt really accomplished until I talked to her. She made me feel a level lower than her.
This is the reason we fight stigma. This is the reason why the world needs to be educated on mental illness. Because words like these damage us!
They make us feel weak. They make us feel like we aren’t strong enough or brave enough. They make us feel inferior.
You wouldn’t pressure someone with a broken leg to be your partner at a dance competition. So why would you pressure someone with severe agoraphobia to go to a party full of happy smiling people and expect them to be cheerful and outgoing?
It’s not fair. It’s not nice. It’s downright inconsiderate.
Let me tell you something: I’ll go Wednesday if I can. Period. I’m not going to pressure myself into an optional situation to pretend to be happy when all the while I feel like retreating into a corner and crying my eyes out. I’m not going to risk a panic attack to put myself in an uncomfortable position. Sometimes bipolar gets in the way.
This doesn’t mean that I just will give up every time I’m anxious or depressed. It means I’m going to accept my limits and do things to take care of myself first and foremost. I’ll do my best and that will be good enough. If she doesn’t think so, that’s on her.
I’m not going to let mental health stigma dictate my happiness.