"Why is that?" my husband asked, after I told him I thought I might be frightened of developing relationships with other people who are bipolar.
"I'm not really sure," I said. "Part of it might be that I'm just not a group person. I don't define myself by my vocation, religion, or political party. I certainly don't see myself as "mentally ill." Years ago, when I first started visiting chat rooms, I felt worse, rather than better.
"I was desperately seeking advice to real-world problems and I couldn't find anyone with insight. To me the Internet felt like the World Wide Wound. At the time I couldn't identify one BIP (bipolar) who had a good job (that wasn't in the field of mental health or illness); was married, had children, and responsibilities; felt good about him or herself (despite the illness); was a problem-solver by nature; had a positive attitude; was self-disciplined; had a sense of humor, and thought about the bigger picture.
"Later, when I read bipolar blogs, I couldn't relate to anyone. I even discussed it with my psychiatrist."
"What did he say?"
"He said that I'm 'unusual' and it would be difficult if not impossible to find other people who are like me."
"Did that make you feel better?" my husband asked.
"No. At the time, I really needed to identify some other BIPS to discuss this illness with. I was feeling isolated from my friends. Even those people who are sympathetic couldn't provide insight. I was hoping to compare notes with other like-minded people and try to figure out some solutions."
"I was sure that somewhere in the universe there must be people who are bipolar thinkers and problem-solvers--if only I could find them. The problem with all the bipolar books I've read, mostly by doctors, is that they view this illness as a form of pathology. What if it's not? What if BIPS are just different? What if we share certain personality traits that are not as common among others--that make it more difficult to survive?
"What if every BIP was given a Myers-Briggs Personality Test (that's the only one I've taken), and it turns out that we're mostly one particular personality type (which is quite rare), and that this is the cause of our problems? What if we deal less well with stress than others? What if we're more idealistic? What if we tend to be dreamers or thinkers rather than doers? What if we're more likely to idealize situations and also more likely to feel disappointed when things don't work out? What if we see the world more in terms of "black and white" instead of gray and are less adaptable?
"While none of this may be true for others, as far as I know, no one is doing this kind of research. What if the solution to this illness--at least for some of us--is simply that we need to understand our differences, and learn different coping skills?"
"Those are interesting questions," my husband said.
"But I can't seem to find other people who are asking them," I said. "Either people are waving the NAMI banner and declaring how proud they are to be mentally ill, or they're not discussing these issues at all. Maybe, the BIPS who have figured all this out--don't feel the need to talk about it."
(to be continued)