I was diagnosed at the age of 20-years-old as bipolar, and I’ve come out the other end saner than sane.
It all started in 1986, when I left Goucher College in Towson, Maryland to go home for Christmas break. I knew something was awry. My father saw me for only a split second when he declared in a totally freaked out tone that I was possessed by the devil. I thought to myself that’s odd. It’s Christmas and shouldn’t I be Santa’s elf helper instead of a misbehaving crazed devil in flaming hot hell? But nope—my behavior warranted a visit to the hospital. The next thing I knew, I was locked up in Johns Hopkins Hospital with no way to escape. Shortly after my arrival, I punched a nurse and was thrown into the seclusion room. Then came the first doses of my most memorable moment: down the hatch with my indigestible, disgusting tasting medicine. The adventure continued to unfold as the nurses, with the help of the hospital guards, pinned me down—due to my abundant zeal and combativeness to escape. They stuck me in my butt with a needle. The possibility of breaking out of jail no longer existed. Those same nurses told my father that the amount of medicine given to me would put a normal person into a coma. To say that I was “high” on insanity is an understatement. My mind was blown out by horrific visions.
After some days, I was let out of the seclusion room and lead to an austere, nondescript office. My first taste of discrimination was about to occur. Veiled in a misty foggy state, a nurse blurted out to me, “You’re bipolar and it’s not like winning Miss America, is it?” I replied, “no, it’s not, but you must think I am beautiful enough to be in Miss America and why can’t I be in Miss America? Being bipolar isn’t going to stop me.” She silently looked at me in shock. I won! That moment started my reframing the ignorance of what people think of me because I am bipolar.
Another negative fallout from my bipolar label and—in many ways the most challenging that I’ve encountered—is the stigma, prejudice and discrimination. The warped and twisted ugliness that existed in my former office and my family shocks me.
At the Office. I took on a sales job at a prestigious jewelry store. A couple hours after mentioning my illness to my boss: a fellow salesperson wrote the word “crazy” in big bold green letters on a yellow legal-sized piece of paper and flashed it at me. A few months later—she eagerly asked me, “why don’t you quit?” I piped up: “I quit on my own terms not yours.” Shortly, thereafter, I left on my own terms, never looking back.
With the Family. A psychic bond of energy always intertwines you with your family long after you cease communicating with them. For instance, my sister. She taunted me by repeatedly saying, “her friend was crazy, crazy—crazy.” I confronted her about her friend being bipolar. She sheepishly responded “I wasn’t referring to you. Anyway, bipolar people are world creative geniuses.” I retorted back that I was bipolar, crazy—and wow—a world creative genius! Who knew? I no longer talk to her. I wonder about her though.
Discrimination goes hand-in-hand with bipolar disorder, but what is bipolar? It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain causing mood swings from mania to depression. Bipolar individuals experience the same highs and lows as other people not affected by the illness, but with larger oscillations and greater intensity. As Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Dr. Todd Cox said to me, “Statistics from NIMH suggests that 2.8% of adults suffer from a bipolar disorder episode each year, and that an estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults experience a bipolar disorder sometime in their lives. A large study of patients with Bipolar I Disorder revealed that 74% experienced psychotic symptoms.“ (T. Cox MD, personal communication, February 1, 2021).
The watershed moment: I became Doctor Raymond DePaulo’s patient, the former Chairman of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He enlightened me about my illness, insanity and the discrimination. He espoused that there is a connection between genius and bipolar disorder, but scientists don’t currently understand the genetic link between them. Furthermore, he informed me that the best way to be successful is to work hard, be disciplined and strive for excellence. I marshaled my resources—that made all the difference. Years later, Doctor DePaulo told me that he originally thought there was great possibility that my mind would not gel and that I would live in a half-way house. Meaningful advice and elbow grease can be revolutionary. After all, I just started my company and nothing is holding me back.
In many ways, I think that bipolarity is a gift. Though it has taken many years of grit to meld the positive and the negative sides together like overlapping circles—the middle being the best parts of each side—it enables me to think quickly; to be more creative; to be more driven; to possess more energy, to be more productive and to be successful on all levels of my life.
What have I learned from my bipolar journey? My choices about my illness, and all other choice for that matter, forge my character. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said your character is your destiny; your personality equals your fate, reflecting the type of life you have.
I am the only one who can marginalize myself with regards to my bipolarity. If my journey with bipolar disorder and how discrimination affected me and my response to it, inspires and helps others who suffer from bipolar discrimination, or any type of discrimination for that matter, my pilgrimage will be worth it.
In conclusion, open your mind and “let the crazy” in—you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what we bipolar people have to offer.
Pichi Bellingrath McClure is a resilience expert. She helps people strengthen their personal leadership and overcome the impossible through her content, tools, and strategies. Subscribe to her biweekly Resilience Tips and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. of Form
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