Have you ever been told by health-care professionals, family members, friends or society in general that you can’t or shouldn’t do something because you have a mental illness? Of course you have, it just goes with the territory…but it shouldn’t always.
Yes, there are sensible things that we shouldn’t do when we are in certain phases of the illness. And ironically it is in those times that we tend to do them. I am talking about shopping sprees at the height of a manic phase, withdrawl in the middle of a dark depression – you get the idea.
But what my title is referring to are the limitations that are placed on us by the stigma attached to bipolar.
I started taking lithium when I was first diagnosed with bipolar in 1992. It worked for me for about 6 years. I was married to my first husband at the time and I started to act very strange – having delusions, etc. I had a bit of the flu so wasn’t eating or drinking much and he gave me some aspirin for my fever. He ended up taking me to the ER and I remember talking to the doctor and insisting that I wasn’t suicidal (which I wasn’t). But according to my ex I finally gave in and said I was because my mind was just not functioning properly. They found out that my lithium level was way beyond the toxic limit and I should not have survived it. They put it down as a suicide attempt even though my ex brought in my pill bottle to prove I had not taken more than the regular dose. What it turned out to be was a combination of dehydration, lithium and aspirin.
We were at the local hospital where neither my GP or psychiatrist worked so I was assigned doctors in the hospital. They also told me that because my “condition” necessitated trips to the hospital I should get a doctor within the city of Surrey, BC where we lived. The doctor I had offered and seeing as I didn’t know any others I went with him. My long-time doctor told me she understood and I could come back at any time.
As I went to see the new GP for chest colds, etc. he was continually asking me about my mental challenges. He told me I should get a job so I could get out more and be part of society. Having a love for children and a lot of experience looking after them, I got a job as a live-out nanny. When I proudly told him, he looked at me with cold eyes and said that “people with bipolar should NEVER be allowed to work with children”. Oh yes, he also insisted that we use birth control because “people with bipolar should not have children as it can be hereditary”. We did not stay with this doctor very long. My other two doctors looked at me as a person and not a condition, and both encouraged me to continue working at whatever made me happy.
I also was told by family members that I shouldn’t make certain purchases because I must have been manic at the time. One such purchase, which was well thought out and researched on my part, was my first computer. If it hadn’t been for that computer, I never would have met my current husband, the absolute love of my life. And I probably wouldn’t be blogging today!
A former friend could also be very critical of choices I made simply because she read a book on bipolar and OCD and decided she was an expert. This is what abruptly ended the friendship around the time of my first marriage. Ironically everyone around me was for that marriage and it WAS a huge bad choice!
I could go on for hours but I think you get the point.
Yes, there are many things that people with mental illness should be mindful of. But there are also many things where others should examine both the choice AND the person before making a judgement call. I have learned how to determine this on my own, but have given permission to those closest to me to give me a nudge when needed.
I would be really interested to hear with others have to say on this – Mental-health-care workers, people with challenges and those who love them! Thanks.