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Am I Bipolar or Do I have Bipolar?

Good question right?

If I say I have bipolar disorder, I am telling you I have that diagnosis and mental illness. I don’t think twice when I tell people “I’m an anxious person” or “I have anxiety disorders” (yes plural…lucky me). But I don’t tell people “I’m a bipolar person”, it sounds strange, right?

Think about this. When someone says “I’m a diabetic” or “I have diabetes”, we don’t stop to think about which phrasing sounds better because diabetes is a chronic illness that doesn’t carry the same stigma a mental illness like bipolar disorder does. And like any chronic illness, bipolar disorder does not have a cure, and daily medications are required and you need to watch what you eat and truly take care of yourself or complications arise.

So am I bipolar or do I have bipolar? Which phrasing is more appropriate? Does it depend on who says it? When a doctor gives you a diagnosis do they say “you have (insert condition here)” or “you are (insert condition here)”?

In my experience, when I received the diagnosis I remember being informed that I have bipolar disorder. I do remember telling people I am bipolar, but as I began to accept my diagnosis more and more,  I wonder if saying I have bipolar disorder would be better for me.

I profess on social media and to people that I am not my illness. I am more than a diagnosis. I am not my diagnosis. So if that is true, I am not bipolar, I have bipolar (type 2 with rapid cycling…good times). I have it, it is part of me, but not all of me. The same way I have red hair but it doesn’t define me.

The slight change in phrasing may seem like a trivial thing to some people but it’s not just a matter of semantics to me. It matters to me. I don’t want to be known as “that bipolar person” and have bipolar be an adjective to describe me, because bipolar should never be used as an adjective. Mental illnesses should never be used as an adjective, though this happens too frequently.

It’s easy to call the weather depressing and refer to your desire for things to be organized as being “so OCD”. Too easy in fact, because it has been done so many times. But, the weather doesn’t have emotions (that I know of, though when I was younger I thought when it rained the sky was crying) and OCD is much more than “perfectionism”.

I am too familiar with what depression is and the toll obsessive compulsive disorder takes. I’ve discussed depression before, but I haven’t really discussed OCD.

Obsessions and compulsions are exhausting. While I do not have a formal diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder, I have many tendencies which make cooking, cleaning and other tasks very time consuming and as a result, exhausting. It’s not just about mess. It’s the rituals and “superstitions” (for lack of a better description) and the contamination fears. You can imagine how COVID-19 has impacted this.

Okay, enough of that tangent. I think I worked it out. I have a chronic mental illness. Her name is bipolar disorder.

She is a part of me the same way my hair or nails are a part of me. You can’t see her but she’s there. She requires maintenance the way hair or nails do. She has her bad days and her really bad days. She also has her good days and her really good days. Just like hair.


Categories: Bipolar Disorder

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Melanie L.

Mental health advocate. Blogger. Writer. Creative being. Sensitive soul.

(Also law clerk, social media writer/marketer and book worm).

2 replies

  1. This is similar to the debate on person-first language related to autism. For a few year, there was a big push to say people with autism. Then people with autism pushed back preferring to be called autistic. I have tourette syndrome. For whatever reason there doesn’t seem to be an illness-first version of this one. But when I think about it, I’d say I’m “tourettic”. Tourette isn’t all I am, but all I am is definitely influenced by tourette. But yes, semantics. Does it matter at all. We each see ourselves and others as we perceive them. Do labels change that perception? I don’t know.


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