Sarah sits in the white cozy chair, staring at the intricate designs of her therapist’s oriental carpet. “Sarah, what would you like to have happen today?” asks Dr. Chamberlain. A thousand thoughts rush past her mind. She wants to spit them all out because they shriek like witches haunting her every second. But she doesn’t utter a single letter. Dr. Chamberlain speaks again, “Sarah, during our last appointment, you were feeling amazing. What happened during this past week?” “I’m supposed to go up and down, aren’t I? I’m sick remember. You know that. I am Bipolar!” she yells.
“I am Bipolar.” Three words. Just three simple words. And if you ask me, they’re not just any three words. I can deal with the “I”. I can deal with the “Bipolar” too. But every time I see that “am” sticking it’s stubby a and m, questions burst in my head like hot bubbles in a boiling bot of water. And then I wonder, is it really true that someone can be bipolar?
To answer this question, I turn to the experts. And no I’m not referring to the psychiatrists or psychologists. I am talking about the people with bipolar. So when I ask them, “Do you have bipolar?” “Yes, I am bipolar” is the answer I get. And some of our readers, who have bipolar, may wonder, “Yeah, so? I use that phrase too. I’m Bipolar. What’s the big deal? But let’s imagine a slightly different question like, “Do you have diabetes?” Would we use the same “am” and reply “Yes, I am diabetes”? Of course not! We would never say I am diabetes. It sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense. The right answer would be “I have diabetes. “We don’t say “I am diabetes” because diabetes involves our pancreas and we do not identify with our pancreas. Diabetes is a medical condition the pancreas has and doesn’t define who we are. When we think about bipolar, we picture our mind because it’s a disorder that affects the brain. And a vast majority of us do identify with our mind. Many of us think that our mind characterizes us and that’s the reason we say “I am bipolar.” But our mind is another organ. It’s a three-pound lump of grey matter. Hence, if I can have diabetes that affects my pancreas, I can have bipolar which involves my brain.
Bipolar is not something I am or we are. We are magnificent human beings, splendid servants of our Creator. We are kind sisters, dear friends, eager students, inspiring teachers, sweet mothers and much more! But one thing I am certain that we are not is bipolar. Sarah is not bipolar either This little distinction between “I am Bipolar” and “I have Bipolar“ is crucial because the words we say play an important role in how we perceive ourselves. The moment we say “I am bipolar”, we allow bipolar to define who we are. And that can distort our perception. Yet, when we detach ourselves from that thought, we bask in freedom and realize that bipolar is just something we have. It is an illness that we can manage and recover from. It is not our mark because we are not an illness. We can have bipolar. But it cannot be us.
But, and this is a big but, overtime as I have come to accept the bipolar side of me, I actually like being bipolar. Yes it’s not like that all the time but now I am comfortable saying, “I am bipolar.” I think it takes a certain amount of time and growth to be able to identify with a mental illness and consider it your own. I know many people who would be appalled to call themselves bipolar. I was once like that too. But ever since I started to have so many positive experiences with bipolar, I started to consider it a part of me. Mental illnesses can be tricky because it can be hard to draw the line between illness and personality. But I realized when I removed the line, there was less tension between who I was and what bipolar was.
Now I accept bipolar as a part of me and I’m not fighting the monster that I once felt inside. I am playing with the bipolar beast. Alhumdulillah. What about you? Are you bipolar or do you have bipolar?