One of the hardest things about being bipolar is your every emotion being blamed on it. People tiptoe around you like you’re in a mine field and you might be an explosive device. You show a hint of irritation and suddenly people think you’re sliding down a slippery slope and they start mentally taking notes. How much as she been sleeping? Too little? Too much? Did she eat lunch yesterday? Was she wearing a little too much blush? It’s nothing short of infuriating. Sometimes I get angry. Not because of my bipolar but because I’m angry about a situation, or I’m grumpy from my period, or I have a headache and my daughter is acting up or a million and one other reasons that are NOT related to my bipolar. But it’s so hard for those closest to me not to immediately jump to thinking it’s a manic episode and I can tell they’re evaluating me as opposed to actually just listening and it drives me nuts and makes me even angrier.
[‘ve learned to swallow my words. Not all of them, because they still get me in trouble but a good amount of what I want to say never makes it out of my mouth. I have to be careful you see. I have to be mindful that everything I say holds more weight than it did before the diagnosis. Everything I say is a potential land mine.
It must be nice to have people. To have a group you belong to. I always wanted that. Rather than this hodgepodge mixture of racial identities that belongs to no category and has no name other than multiracial. I suppose in some ways it makes me superior, it takes me out of the battle between the races and I view it from afar like a concerned spectator. In other ways it makes my life hell because people call me names like “mulatto” and “high-yellow” both ancient slave terms for children born of the master-slave relationship if you can even call it that. I’ve also been called a “house nigger” a term I hope my daughter is never ever called in her life, it’s so ugly. People see my face and it’s as if every insecurity the’ve ever had comes boiling to the surface, and racism comes tumbling out of their mouths in a mighty gush. I’m so used to it I hardly bat an eyelash. It’s as if I’ve forgiven them before they’ve even said anything. I know how stupid the human condition is when it comes to anything outside the box. What I find so strange is these derogatory terms have to do with looking part black. The less black I look the less negativity I get. When my hair is straight people think I’m Asian or Polynesian. Or Spanish. I have to wonder why that is. Why there is so much hatred of the African American.
I remember an incident that happened to my father who was the new principal of an elementary school and was rightfully very proud of his accomplishment. He had some shopping to do, and rather than dress up as he usually did he opted for sweats and a t-shirt as he was in the middle of a home project. After he had gotten what he needed and was heading to his car he ran into a colleague- someone who also worked in the school district. They chatted for a few minutes and then the man asked my father what school he was working at. My father told him he had just changed schools. The man then said “Oh, that’s great! Are you the new janitor?” My father was quiet for a moment. He felt a thousand things at once, most of all the sad truth that nothing had really changed. “No, I’m the principal” my father said. The other man was of course speechless for a time then offered a jumbled pathetic apology. My father just shook his head and headed for his car.
My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner. The gangster with a gun in his pants. The predator on the news. The lazy drunk living off the government. Really, they can’t help it. They’ve been conditioned to fear what is different and to hate what they fear.
Then there are the white people like my mother. The ones who truly don’t see color. Or my dearest and most beloved friend Amy and her mother Bea. My wonderful husband. The select few who are truly lovers of humanity and don’t care a whit what your racial make up is. I only wish there were more of them.
Just like race, bipolar doesn’t play favorites. You’re born with it. Bipolar doesn’t say Oh, she’s got a lot on her plate already so I won’t manifest in her, I’ll choose someone with a fairly easy life. Oh no, bipolar doesn’t care about your circumstances. It doesn’t care if you have kids, money, no money, if you’re the head of a company, if you’re newly married trying to be the perfect housewife. If you’re mixed race and dealing with being bullied and misunderstood and just trying to survive. Bipolar stretches across race, sex, financial status, age…it plays no favorites and has no mercy.
People will laugh at bipolar jokes as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. People who don’t have bipolar. Who don’t know how deadly it is. How soul-crushing it can be. Bipolar is cruel but fair. It is an equal opportunity disorder. In order for people to take this disorder seriously, it helps to understand something about what causes bipolar and why it isn’t something to laugh at. How it’s not just “somebody else’s kid who has it.” Scientists are actively researching this condition in the hopes that new medicines can be found, new treatments can be discovered, or even permanent actions could be taken resulting in what could be considered a cure. According to WebMD Experts believe bipolar disorder is potentially caused by an underlying issue with specific brain circuits and the functions of the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three brain chemicals are involved in both brain and bodily functions: noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.
Noradrenaline and serotonin have been linked over and over to psychiatric mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and other forms of depressive disorders. Nerve pathways that regulate pleasure and emotional reward are regulated by dopamine. When circuits are disrupted that communicate using dopamine in other areas of the brain there is a connection to psychosis (a symptom of Bipolar 1) and schizophrenia.
Serotonin is connected to sleep, wakefulness, eating, sexual activity, impulsivity, learning and memory. Researchers believe abnormal functioning of brain circuits that involve serotonin as a chemical messenger contribute to mood disorders: both depression and bipolar disorder
In a nutshell, bipolar has nothing to do with someone just being “moody” or “difficult” or “flaky.” Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain with serious and sometimes deadly symptoms. I’d be lying if I said people’s ignorance of this disorder doesn’t make me crazy but it fuels me to keep talking about it, keep educating others so eventually the stigma is eradicated for good.
In the same way I talk about bipolar and consider myself an activist in my own right, for bipolar disorder and mental health awareness, I also talk about being multiracial. Being more than one race is as misunderstood as bipolar disorder. We are our own culture, a culture of people who don’t identify with any specific racial group. Instead we exist on the outskirts of a polarized society, craving acceptance, looking for understanding- even within ourselves.
There are so many reasons for me to be angry that have nothing to do with my bipolar. I’m tired of being made fun of. I’m tired of being misunderstood. I’m tired of being called black when I’m multiracial which is so very different. I’m tired of having to fight to be seen. I’m tired of my friends ignoring me when I’m in the hospital because they don’t want to go to the mental health wing. I’m sick of the bipolar jokes, the stupidity of others, I could go on. But I can’t surrender to that anger. Because there is no bottom. I would rather take that energy and educate those around me. I would rather write about my life honestly. I want to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think. I want to share the real parts of my life. Not just the few and far between breakdowns. Here’s one example:
My daughter pooped in the bathtub yesterday. My husband cleaned it up. I saw a text on my phone: Don’t go in the bathroom until I clean it! My daughter poops like a man. The other day she pooped and it was the biggest poop I have ever seen come out of someone so tiny. I went and found my husband and told him “You have to see this”
“No way.” He had no interest in looking at poop.
“No seriously you HAVE to see this.” I wasn’t giving up. He relented and came in the bathroom.
“OH MY GOD!” He was definitely shocked and somewhat impressed.
“See? I told you! I don’t know how she does that! It’s like a superpower.” We both almost collapsed in laughter.
“I made a BIG poop!” Alice was pleased with herself.
“Alice, life with you is never boring.” I told her as I was helping her get cleaned up. She just smiled.
So that’s what you get. A multiracial family, getting through the days, mom has bipolar disorder so I have to take care to manage it. We have a wild, wonderful daughter and two sons who spend the school year in Oregon. We live with Grandma who at sixty-eight has more energy than all of us put together. We have a crazy but loving dog and the world’s best cat. We fight, we make up, we work hard to make our lives work. We love each other with a ferocity unmatched. As much as I hate it, I’d rather have people who care about me enough to pay attention to my behavior and make sure I’m not heading toward a manic episode, rather than a family who couldn’t care less. When I think about my daughter and her box of crayons matching them to people’s skin tone, I realize what color I am. I’m the color of love.