Guest Blogger – Becky Bee – I have bipolar, I am bipolar.

I have bipolar.
I am bipolar.

For me, those two sentences say two different things.  I would always say that “I have bipolar” whereas many, with equally valid reasoning, would be fine with saying “I am bipolar”.  Here, I look at both these choices, not to dictate how people should or shouldn’t describe their experience of their own conditions, but to explore what each says about what it means to experience a mental health issue.

A friend of mine, who is autistic, has explained to me that, while he wouldn’t mind being called “a person with depression” (as opposed to “a depressive”) he prefers to refer to himself as “autistic” rather than as “a person who has autism”.  This is because he feels that, while depression is a condition that may fluctuate and change, autism is a constant.  It is essential to how he views and interacts with the world.

Like his depression, my bipolar fluctuates.  Not just between highs and lows, but through periods of stability.  The reason I say I “have” rather than “am” bipolar is largely due to not wanting to be defined by an illness.  You can’t be Chrons’ disease, or IBS or even flu, so why should you be bipolar? Why should you be anything at all?  It boils down to which things affect my world view, and which don’t.  Does an illness affect who you are?  In some ways no. But in some ways yes, as I’ll describe below.

In part it’s a problem of language.  I am mixed race, am a lesbian, am a woman, am a writer.  Are those things essential to my experience of the world?  Sure, each of these things has affected my experience of the world, but is any of them essential?  You could argue either way.  Yet it’s much harder to say “I have a mixed heritage”, “I have a sole attraction to women”, “I have a female gender identification” or simply “I write”.  Maybe claiming that I have, rather than am, bipolar is more a matter of semantics.

I don’t think so.

I like to think of myself as having certain qualities, rather than as being defined by them, and bipolar is one.  Bipolar is something that has caused me hurt, and loss, and distress and I would rather, in an ideal world, that it not be integral to who I am as a person (note, that doesn’t mean I would rather not have/ be bipolar).  I would prefer not to be defined by some of the worst moments of my life and for me, saying that I “am” bipolar suggests that I must be defined by the illness and, therefore, of the many ways in which it has affected my life.

If I am bipolar, to me that suggests that bipolar is something essential to me, that it has a constant and long-lasting effect on my world-view and on my way of being in the world.  Does it?

I have to say that in some ways it does.  I have experienced mental health difficulties from a very young age.  Whether inside or outside of an episode, I am ever-vigilant of my own mood.  Aside from the introspective element, does bipolar- when under control- affect my way of seeing/ being in the world?

I think that, like my ethnicity and gender and sexuality, bipolar has informed my way of understanding the world.  It has also shaped the way in which the world has affected me.  There are forms of discrimination and misunderstanding that I would not have experienced has I not been (or had) gay, mixed race, female, bipolar.  Experiences shape perception.  At some point the two become intertwined and your experience in the world becomes your experience of the world.  For my autistic friend, autism has always shaped both his perception of the world and his interactions and experiences within it, as my bipolar has for me.

Although I don’t think I am limited to the confines of an illness, I do need to recognize that it is in some ways integral to my experiences, behaviors and traits.  As such, I am learning to feel more comfortable with people saying that I am rather than have bipolar because I can’t always tell where I end and it begins… and that isn’t always a bad thing.

What do you think?

By and © 2015, Becky Bee, All Rights Reserved

Bio:

Becky Bee is a coffee-loving, running-inspired writer living in London.  She keeps a blog at www.balfourthrb.wordpress.com, covering all manner of issues around mental health, sexuality and other issues. She is also writing a novel, a sort of lesbian Bridget Jones.  When not writing or running, she spends her time trying unsuccessfully to beat her girlfriend at Scrabble.

You can find her blog at: www.balfourthrb.wordpress.com

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About bipolarwhisper

Mental health blogger. Bipolar, PTSD, OCD, Anxiety. Lover of butterflies. Risen out of the ashes like a phoenix. Survivor. Contact me at: Email: bipolarwhispers@gmail.com Twitter: @bipolarwhisper
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17 Responses to Guest Blogger – Becky Bee – I have bipolar, I am bipolar.

  1. Zoe says:

    Excellent post b

    Liked by 1 person

  2. joelsax47 says:

    I have often asked people for a clinical study that shows that calling oneself “bipolar” is harmful compared to saying “I live with bipolar” or “I have bipolar”. Despite all the rhetorical legerdemain, I remain unconvinced that the phrase “I am bipolar” says anything beyond making a self identification. When a study showing the harm comes out, I will reevaluate my position.

    What is harmful, I believe, is the shaming of people who identify as such.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bipolarwhisper says:

      There was no shaming intended in this post, it was her opinion on the matter as she sees things within herself and through her own eyes with regards to how she deals with her bipolar disorder. At least that is my opinion on what I understood and read when I read the article she wrote before posting it.

      Like

  3. Mark Barkley says:

    I want to say that this article leads me to believe that I want to say I have and am bipolar and ocd. Both and and am because both are true. They are pieces of my life that ebb and flow but they are always present in me as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. pinkbrainconfetti says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this opinion. I have bipolar, I am not bipolar. I don’t want to be defined by my disability. I *am* me, that’s all that matters to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tracy Leone says:

    I’m with pinkbrainconfetti on this one. I have, not am, bipolar disorder. When people refer to me or someone else as being bipolar, it stings because there’s such a stigmatism, and they are usually saying so with a negative connotation. If someone with any other ailment, like heart disease, says or does something that others may consider strange, it certainly isn’t blamed on their medical condition.

    In my opinion, I think it all comes down to the stigmatism. If ‘disorder’ was removed from the diagnosis, then perhaps it wouldn’t hurt so bad and we wouldn’t take so much issue with being referred to as bipolar, just as it’s no big deal to call someone with diabetes a diabetic. And unfortunately, the media plays a huge part in how people view us, and that in itself is a shame.

    I know I am not my bipolar disorder, and as long as I see it that way, that’s all that really counts.
    Tracy

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Guest Blogger – Becky Bee – I have bipolar, I am bipolar. | Only See Your Good Side

  7. Becky Bee says:

    Thanks for all the comments everybody- great food for thought. It definitely wasn’t intended to shame anyone, nor to dictate how any one else should refer to, define or talk about themselves- rather, it explores my personal perspective. My little sister has Type 1 diabetes and, while she has no problem with calling herself diabetic (and nor should she!) I would absolutely hate for her to feel that that was the one defining factor in her self-identification. Again, thanks for all the comments, they have given me a lot to consider and I’m so glad people liked/ identified with/ had opinions on the post. That’s what it’s all about 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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