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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Bipolar and the mask

A few days ago I was invited to go to a dinner for six with my friends. They are good friends and they all know to some degree that I have bipolar. Of course, they never talk about it as I think they feel awkward around the subject. I have only spoken with complete (well  almost) frankness to the person that was organising it and I consider him to be my best friend. The problem was that I went quite manic before going out to this meal and had to warn him that I may not be able to come. He said fine and that he understood and it all worked out in the end as I managed to go.

However, when I got there I behaved completely normally. I somehow managed to completely suppress down all my feelings and my urges to act in strange ways. I put on my everyday game face I have for dealing with the outside world. I talked with people, drank beer, played games and didn’t get overly excitable. Nine times out of ten, when I feel ill I can fake being well and normal in front of people outside of my immediate family. This sounds like a good thing. I didn’t embarrass myself or make people feel uncomfortable. Yay!

The problem is that this comes at a cost. People don’t believe that there is anything wrong with you. The other guests that were there would have no clue that I was going through an unwell period. Because I put on a mask, many people I know struggle to believe that I am ill. When I describe some of my symptoms they look confused; they never see this behaviour and so find it hard to imagine. I can see the disbelief on their faces. Even my best friend doesn’t realise the full extent of my illness as I modify my behaviour with him too. People tend to have to see to believe.

It is only when I am very severely ill that I can’t hide it anymore. In these cases I just withdraw completely and don’t go out. My friends then never get to see me when I am very sick. I think they wonder why I can’t do certain things like work etc. It is hard to feel judged in this way but I guess by hiding it so well I am causing part of the problem. How can I expect them to understand when they never see it?

It still hurts though. And I feel lonelier than ever. I am living a sort of double life and people outside of my immediate family only know half of it. I have to keep doing it though. I have to keep hiding it. I can’t bear the thought of the rejection I might have to cope with if they saw the ill me. I want so badly to be liked by people. I don’t want to see fear or judgement in their faces. 

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