It’s hard working as a college professor with bipolar disorder. I suppose it’s hard working anywhere with bipolar disorder, but my particular vocation is teaching 18-year-olds how to write at a local university. I’ve had bipolar illness for almost 30 years now; I was diagnosed in 1991. I’m 56. I’ve been at my university for about as long as I’ve been bipolar.
Why is it so hard to be a bipolar teacher in the higher education system?
The main reason is the stigma of the disease. As you probably know, even in 2019, there is horrible stigma about bipolar illness. There is sympathy for anxiety/depression and now for PTSD, but for bipolar, there is still relentless stigma.
If I tell someone I’m bipolar, they look at me as if I have a hidden tail tucked into my pants. This is why I don’t talk about my illness as a rule. Academics are often not as accepting as they make themselves out to be. The university is a place to freely exchange ideas about things, but not about your bipolar illness. In the age of disability awareness, no one is talking about this issue.
Then, there is the basic stress that comes with living with the illness. This is one disease where medication is absolutely necessary. If I forget to take my meds, I have a bad day. Sometimes, the meds don’t do their job. I may find myself sinking into depression or rising into hypomania. Because of my illness, I live with more unpredictability than the average person. This is stress-inducing, and we all know extra stress makes things harder.
Loneliness. This is a lonely illness. I literally know no one who lives with this issue at my university. At school, I walk around with the knowledge of my mental health problem and I never talk about it. The LGBTQ folks have each other. Many of them are out of the closet. I would love to be completely out so that I could be myself. Bipolar illness doesn’t define me, but it’s a big part of who I am.
What can I do about this difficulty I face every day?
Come out of the closet with my teaching peers. Begin talking about my disability openly. (I should tell you that I am “out” as a bipolar person in my writing, but since I use my maiden name as my pen name, no one recognizes me. This is illustrative of my ambivalent nature about this issue.)
Come out of the closet with the students and start a club for people with mental health issues. (Would I want to be part of a club that would accept me as a member?) I’ve thought about doing this for years, but I’ve doubted my ability to lead this type of organization because I don’t have any psychological credentials; I think I’d be better at running a club if I were some sort of counselor or psychologist. This is what has held me back from taking on this enterprise.
Nothing. Go on living the way I’ve been living for 30 years.
So at the university, where you can be whatever you want to be, it’s hard to be bipolar.
My brain is different; it’s what manifests this illness, but it’s also what makes me creative and drives my writing.
You might be thinking it’s here she’s going to say that if given the choice, she’d remain bipolar if a cure for it were developed.
Well, surprise, if there were a cure for bipolar, I’d take it. This is not a picnic, and I’d get myself out of my life situation if I could.
Not surprisingly, there is no national mental health coming out day. There is a day to observe mental health; this occurs on October 10 of every year, but this day is simply to “raise awareness” of mental health issues. This is very different than a day of coming out. (It should be noted that LGBTQ coming out day is October 11.)
I propose (as a few might have done before me) that we create a day for coming out with a mental health issue, a day when all the bipolar folks and schizophrenic people and depressives and the anxiety-ridden and individuals with OCD and all the people with personality disorders and PTSD can simply say “I am the way I am.”
If this happened, things might get better for everybody.
No one knows when and if they will develop a mental illness.
It could happen to anybody.