I spent years lying because of bipolar disorder. Not in a malicious way or in a way to deceive and hurt people but because of the way that these illnesses had deceived me.
The truth is, chronic pain warps your perception of how people see you and how situations really are. It convinces you that everyone sees you in the worst light.
I know… Everyone deserves to be honest about how they’re doing, but unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. Whether because your family members don’t “get it,” your boss would never let you have a mental health day, or you’re too nervous to tell your friends how you’re really doing, if you live with bipolar disorder, you might find yourself telling a lie every once in a while to get through it all.
From lying about whether or not you’re manic, to pretending your medication helps you with a different condition, these are the lies that relate to life with bipolar disorder.
1. “I’m just tired.”
Most of the time I want to tell them it’s a depressive episode. Most of the time I want to tell them it’s a bad one. But this is always what I revert to. Sometimes for the simple fact that I’m too mentally exhausted to explain what I’m enduring, and other times I say this because I don’t want to get ‘the look.’ That cynical one where I know they think I’m lying or exaggerating or ‘bipolar blaming.’
2. “I want to be alone.”
I don’t really want to be alone, but I’m afraid of saying or doing something to hurt my friends. I want them to pursue me and reach out and not let me be alone in my dark moments.
3. “It’s no big deal.”
I thrive off routine, so when someone cancels, it really throws me off. But ‘it’s no big deal.’ When I’m in a depressive episode, I cry over everything. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Oh, it’s no big deal.’ ‘What’s it like being manic?’ ‘Oh, it’s no big deal, really.’ I lie by omitting just how hard my bipolar diagnosis affects my life.
4. “I’ll manage on my own.”
‘Thanks for offering to let me talk, I think I’ll manage though.’ I’ve had a lot of people cut contact with me because they find my depressive episodes overbearing. I was even threatened once because a person felt I relied too much on them, even though they never told me anything but, ‘You never bother me.’ So even when I have a deep need to talk, I rather just isolate myself for a week or two until I can fake feeling better than I do. I don’t want to be threatened again and I don’t want people to resent me.
5. “Yeah, I took my medication.”
Sometimes self-care is hard and everyone always mentions showering and getting dressed, but honestly, sometimes I think I sabotage myself into ruts by skipping my meds.
6. “I’m not feeling well.”
This is what I say when I have to miss work because I just can’t function. When I say I’m sick or not feeling well, people just assume it’s something physical. No one at work ever knows that I’m battling an invisible demon. Not a soul at work will know this because all though I ‘don’t feel good,’ I still walk in wearing a smile.
‘I’m just tired,’ or, ‘I don’t feel good’ is usually what I say. I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle life even though deep inside that is exactly what I’m battling. When I’m on edge or having an episode, I often try to distract or stay busy, but the minute my routine breaks, I become agitated and it heightens the awareness of my disorder.
7. “I’m medicated now, so it’s not a problem anymore.”
The truth: I am medicated. The lie: it’s not over. When my disorder comes up, especially at work, I have to make others believe I’m a functioning person and that my disorder doesn’t define me. I don’t want them to assume what my personal life might be like, whether it’s functional or tumultuous like it was before medication. My bipolar disorder still affects me every day and will always be a factor in my life, but that shouldn’t shine a negative light on me as a person.
‘I’m a lot better on my meds.’ The truth is I still have terrible days.
8. “I’m not manic.”
I tell others I’m not in a manic episode to avoid the assumption that I’m incompetent to make my own decisions and choices. It’s a matter of thinking, ‘I’m an adult, I can make my own choices.’
No, I am not in a manic phase, this is how I am supposed to be. Knowing full well I am hiding the really manic parts and it is really getting out of hand if my boyfriend for example is calling me out on it.
9. “Yes, I’m manic.”
’Oh yeah, I’m still manic.’ I find myself lying to my family and friends about whether I’m manic or depressed. It’s more acceptable to them to be manic because I’m functional then.
10. “I’ll be OK, don’t worry.”
‘I’ll be OK, don’t worry’ when people notice that I’m no longer elated and happy and that I fall into a deep depression. People can see on my face that I’m not OK. I always tell them this to put on a facade that I’m strong, but I’m always on the verge of tears and don’t want to bring other people down.
‘It’s not that bad, I’ll be OK!’ I try to downplay how horrible my impulsiveness and my mood swings can be so people won’t worry about why I’m suddenly spending all my money, or how I can have suicidal or self-deprecating thoughts when I was happy only moments before; I already feel like I’m enough of a burden to them without scaring them more.
11. “My hands are shaking because of all the coffee I drank!”
No, it’s side effects tremors from my meds.
12. “My medication is for [fill in the blank].”
Sometimes I lie about the medication I take. ‘It’s for my heart. I have an increased heart rate, so this keeps it at a stable rate.’ Having an increased heart rate isn’t a lie. I don’t like the judgment of someone telling me that I shouldn’t take meds or that I’m ‘poisoning’ myself. I also hate the story of, ‘Yeah, I took meds once and it turned me into a zombie. So I stopped taking them.’ Medication is sometimes trial and error. It took a while before my doctor got it right.
I tell people I take sleeping medication. Because it’s easier to say I just can’t sleep rather than explaining that I’m bipolar and then later answering questions like, ‘Oh so you just jump around moods a lot.’
13. “It’s just a bad day. I’ll be OK tomorrow.”
Reality: people can see me struggling and I don’t like that, so I try a force myself to cover it up better. Or, when someone asks if I’ve been crying, I lie and say my eyes are really bad today because of my meds so that’s why they look all teary, swollen, red. (I never/don’t/can’t show emotion and if I do I feel extreme weakness if I do.)
14. Lying about your diagnosis in general…
Lie by omission. It seems more acceptable to have depression. It’s common to have anxiety… But bipolar makes me sound unstable and in some people’s minds, dangerous. Bipolar disorder is too often associated with being aggressive and out of control, which is exceptionally upsetting when I’m doing everything in my power to manage it day by day. So I tell people I have depression and anxiety instead… people seem to understand those more.
If you’ve said any of these lies, you’re not alone. As a society, we need to do a better job empowering people with bipolar disorder so they can be more honest about how they’re doing. Manic, depressed, “stable” and everything in between — there’s no shame in however you’re feeling today, and I hope you have at least one person you can be honest with.