We’re all chasing after affirmation in one way or another. Social media doesn’t help when we’re overthinking the perfect picture or caption on Instagram or Facebook. The need for affirmation brews in our minds just a little more with chronic illnesses like bipolar disorder. Simply put, we want answers and sometimes those answers don’t exist.
The truth is… I just want to know that these psychotic symptoms are real. I just want to know that they’re not figments of my imagination or some dramatic exaggeration of the truth that I’m buying into. I want to know that my experience is real and not something I’m making up to have people feel sorry for me.
I recognize that everything I just wrote was the notorious mental health stigma that I’m forcing on myself . But I’ve dumbed it down to this when I live without affirmation or solid answers.
I thought I had been living a lie, and even telling a lie on this blog, until my husband told me that my experience was very real. He told me that none of this was happening until something changed last year. Specifically, my mind changed and no one has any idea. The fluffy answer that I’ve been constantly fed is, “You’re in your twenties and that’s when all these prevalent changes happen in mental illnesses.” And just like that. It is so incredibly difficult to believe that this is my reality now when every answer is so ambiguous.
I can’t help it – I don’t understand it – and yet I feel penalized for not knowing because I can’t explain it to my family/friends/colleagues.
That’s why it feels more like a lie even though. Sometimes I feel like I’m not trying hard enough to feel better. Sometimes I feel like I’m feeding into the despair and loneliness by hiding away at home. Because if I “just kept busy”, I wouldn’t feel shitty.
It’s super easy to help – just give affirmation and validate our experiences. If someone asks you if their mental illness is real, or they’re at a point of suicide, maybe all they need to hear is, “It’s not your fault that this is happening.”, “I know you’re trying your best.”, or “Look at all that you’re doing [enter examples].” Even if we know that we’re trying our best, the verbal affirmation from someone else confirms that it’s real.
For example, I know that I should congratulate myself for surviving through 4 separate appointments in one week. I should pat myself on the back for rehashing the details of my illness in each appointment so that they can collectively “fix” me.
But it’s not so easy. Life was never meant to be easy. Being bipolar just brings all the challenges up to your eyeballs. Like an eyelash stuck in your eyeball and you can’t get it out. And you can help to take that eyelash out that’s poking your eyeballs by simply saying, “Yes your experience is real and really sucks.”