I have bipolar disorder, and if you are like me and suffer with a mental or physical condition that wreaks havoc on the inside without showing on the outside, then you know that its invisibility can cause issues; because people can’t see what we’re talking about.
As much as we try to explain, they will forget, misunderstand, and doubt. Sometimes, they will even judge.
What they seldom do . . . is ask.
So why do we want to talk about it all the time?
Imagine that we’re walking in the woods and you step on a stick that cuts through the bottom of your shoe and impales your foot.
“Omg! This stick just impaled my foot! This is so painful!” you scream.
“Oh, come on, you big baby, keep up.” I casually reply and keep walking.
“NO! STOP AND LOOK AT THIS!” you shriek.
And when I stop and see your mangled, blood-gushing foot with its protruding stick, I realize the gravity of your situation and the level of your pain. My expectations change. And so does my judgment.
Therein lays the problem. We can’t point to anything and show you our pain.
We have only our words.
So we talk.
We need you to know that we can function on some days, but not others, and we’re not hypochondriacs or whiney, and we’re not exaggerating, attention-seeking, or lazy and making excuses; no, we have a big sharp-ass stick in our foot that no one else can see.
The symptoms come and go, but the stick doesn’t. It is permanently lodged. We never know which days will hurt, so our entire lives we “play it by ear”.
“But you seem so normal”.
“What do you think, I’m going to meet you for coffee when I haven’t showered for a week and I can’t stop sobbing?”
Those of us suffering “invisibly” seem normal because you only sporadically and briefly see us at our best. At our worst, we stay home and isolate. You don’t know our endless struggles. And you can’t see when we lose hope.
How could you?
We’ve learned to hide it, fake it, and adjust to it in ways you’d never imagine.
When you see us looking confident and physically fit, it’s hard to reconcile what we say, with what you see.
With me, you’ll likely see the confident, positive, jokester with a passion for life, but rarely my depressed and troubled mind. When my symptoms are unmanageable, I stay home and ride it out for however long it takes.
It’s a double life.
We have the good life that people see; where we’re attending events and looking healthy and self-assured; and we have the other one, where we suffer secluded and controlled by symptoms that leave us helpless and homebound.
I never know which life I’m going to awaken to, so when it’s the good one, I will grab hold of it like a wet dishrag and wring it dry.
It’s no wonder folks get confused.
I say that I live a tormented and isolated life, but then you see me out in the world meeting people, blogging about shows, and posting photographs of parks and sunrises.
You don’t know that my attendance anywhere is rare and that I’m usually at home on my sofa; or that photography provides the only semblance of focus or peace, and is often my only saving grace from my own mind.
I say that I have issues with large groups of people, but then you see me at a class reunion, baby shower, or art show. You don’t know that being with a group of 12 causes more anxiety than the anonymity of being with 100; or that my ever-present camera acts as a protective shield against exposure to others and helps navigate my environment so that I’m challenged with fewer inquiries and intimate interactions.
This new realization came when a friend gently and bravely inquired about the contradiction . . . and inspired this blog. That’s when I realized that understanding invisibility isn’t always so easy and that conversation enlightens everyone.
Remember the last time you smacked your head and got a big nasty lump on it, and how you made your friends feel the lump even though they didn’t want to? You needed them to fully comprehend the measure of your pain; that lump was your proof of pain.
I have only my words.
I have bipolar disorder and this is how it feels.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry, ‘The Little Prince’.