By Shreeya Tuladhar
In a previous article, I had written about stigma against Bipolar Disorder and how it can affect not only the patient, but also their family members. To find out first hand, I sought out to interview someone with experience. The following is an interview with a fellow student who has a family member dealing with the disorder. He has requested to stay anonymous.
(Disclaimer: The subject switches between pronouns, and refers to the past as when he was female vs. the present when he has switched their gender identity to male.)
I’d like to start the interview by thanking you for joining me.
“Of course! I’d like to start by thanking you for having me.”
My pleasure! To start off with our first question, what would you like to tell me about your personal experience with the disorder?
“Well, I was in the sixth grade when I found out my mother had the disorder, and it was pretty heartbreaking. She was different after…she almost felt like someone else. Life was different after…even though I think it was all in my mind.”
I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to tell me what was different?
“It was different...you know? She wasn’t happy anymore, I guess. Or at least I felt like she wasn’t after I found out she had it. But I feel like it was my fault cause I started noticing it more…like her mood swings…And it wasn’t like those mood swings girls have on their periods. It was like someone else entered her body. She started throwing things at my older sister…and she never used to hit us. She drank… a lot. Also, she got fired…and that really took a toll on us.”
Sorry to interrupt, did her being fired have to do with her disorder?
“Oh, don’t be sorry. She worked at a jewelry store and she snapped at her customers. She went to work drunk, too – and that was the final straw for her boss, who was a long time friend of hers. To sum it up, my experience has been very intense because it was my single mother who was diagnosed with it and she made it worse so it really broke our family. Next question, please.”
All right, so she was diagnosed when she was…?
Thank you, and how did she react? Was there a specific reason she went to the doctor – such as any symptoms?
“She knew way before I did..I found out years later when she was 30 and I was 11..so I’m not sure how she reacted…or why she went…or her symptoms…That’s why I said she FELT different after – because she’d had it all along but I never thought it was a mental illness. I always thought she was a moody person. I feel like a lot of us have that idea of it.”
How did you find out and how did you feel?
“She hit my sister, and then claimed it wasn’t her that did it in front of our grandmother. She said “it takes over me” and we asked what is “it” and she told us – well our grandmother made her. And you know, it really broke me. I felt like ‘no, not me.’ I started blaming God for doing this to me – I had forgotten at the time that it wasn’t even about me, it was about her. I was a child and I was scared of being known to have a ‘crazy mother’ you know?”
Why do you think people would say that?
“Because that’s how society is. They don’t understand the logistics. They see mental health and they think crazy people. It sucks. I lived in the fear of being known as ‘the girl with the crazy mother’ for so long .. and honestly, I still do…but she’s gotten better.”
I’m sorry to hear that. Is she seeking treatment?
“She goes to therapy biweekly, but she stays off her medicine because she thinks alcohol is her medicine. It pisses me off.”
If you don’t mind me asking, how is your relationship with her now – did it impact family?
“It impacted her the most because she lost her job and she can’t keep a relationship but I feel that it was kind of good, because it makes her stronger.”
So mental illness, in your opinion, can be strength?
“Definitely. If you work at it, you can conquer it and conquer the world.”
Do you think our society would agree to that?
“No, because society thinks if you’re bipolar then you must be crazy and violent – but that’s not always true. My mother has never hit us except that one time she hit my sister, and she definitely learned from it. She’s not the same anymore, but she’s still my mother and she’s a good mother at the end.”
Glad to hear that. If you could change the mental health system in one way, what would you implement to do so?
“I think I would have it so that mental illnesses are more known. You see advertisements on TV about all sorts of drugs for physical health – but none for mental. I think a lot of people are not diagnosed until way later because it’s not the practical “oh you have a cold” thing, you know? That’s why we’re so ashamed of it too I feel – cause no one really knows what it is.”
So you’d like it to be known more?
“Definitely. It really feels like being handicapped when you or your family member has bipolar disorder cause now people look down on you, for absolutely no reason.”
Has the mental disorder ever come in between you and success?
“I don’t think success but in middle school, it came between my happiness and me. I thought ‘my mom is sick, my mom has a crazy sickness’ and I thought that was it for us, for my family…and as a child that’s a sh*t feeling. But I got older and I learned about it, and educated myself, and I stand before you – talking about the disorder proudly. Because it’s really nothing to be ashamed of, it is an illness just like cancer and if we talk about cancer so delicately and if we represent cough medicine in media with no hesitation, we shouldn’t be extra sensitive about getting word out on mental disorders…we should only be extra sensitive when saying mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses cause no one can see them. Sorry, I’m preaching now.”
No, no, go ahead – this wraps up my last question: Any advice for people with or people dealing with someone having the illness and any last words in general?
“Advice is to really work at it. Conquer it til you conquer the world is what I say. Also, people really need to stop being scared of mental disorders and start being advocates of it instead. It’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of.”
Thank you so much again for joining me and for standing up against the stigma of mental illness with me.
“Of course! Keep doing what you do.”
I definitely will, you too!
“Let’s hope everyone joins us.”
Bipolar Disorder affects various people in various ways, but the stigma seems to impact all the same. Previous studies have shown that “43% to 92% of caregivers of people with mental illness report feeling stigmatized,”(Perlick, 2007) and that “being confronted with a family member's’ mental illness and stigma may stimulate fear and uncertainty, which, in turn, may contribute to psychological distress.” (Sanden, 2013) Thus, stigma is created by people. and only people can stop it.
Perlick, D., Miklowitz, D., Link, B., Struening, E., Kaczynski, R., Gonzalez, J., . . . Rosenheck, R. (2007). Perceived stigma and depression among caregivers of patients with bipolar disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 535-536. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/190/6/535.full-text.pdf html
Sanden , R., Bos A., Stutterheim, S., Pryor, J.B., and Kok, G. Stigma by Association Among Family Members of People with a Mental Illness. Rehabilitation Psychology, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from http://www.academia.edu/2400355/Experiences_of_stigma_by_association_among_family_members_of_people_with_mental_illness