Mental Illness is no “gift!”

I have heard people say having bipolar disorder was a blessing as if the positive things about me had to be related to the illness. Mental illness is no gift. I don’t think I ever sat around after having a terrible cold and said, “What a wonderful gift that I was so sick.”

I recently read a blog by Natasha Tracy, which was titled Do the mentally ill have to be extraordinary to be accepted? She makes several points about how most people with mental illness are simply average, everyday folks trying to get along in this world. Not all of us are off the chart creative artists, famous world changing researchers or Nobel Peace Prize winners. We are simply “normal” people who happen to have a mental illness.

If you think about it, it’s kind of a shame that we have to put people on a pedestal to find some kind of acceptance. I think it falls right in there under the good ole’ stigma category. If we aren’t exceptional than what is our value in society, after all we have a mental illness. Oh my, so taboo.

It makes me sad to think about how common mental illness is and how we as a culture still fail to realize this fact. Consider that according to the National Institute of Mental Health over 57 million people suffer with a diagnosable mental illness each year. I’m sure you’ve seen the statistics–about 1 in 4 Americans have a mental illness.

Mental illness is common—yes. Mental illness is a gift—far from it.

I remember a day when I went to see a new family physician. She had known me from my days as a local “famous” athlete (from a very small town). When she found out I had bipolar disorder she said, “I knew there was a reason you could make the Olympic team. It must have been all that manic energy!”

I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. How could someone who was a doctor actually think having bipolar disorder helped me to become an Olympian? Ridiculous. If anything I had to overcome the depressive episodes in order to get myself out of bed. The last thing I would have ever thought was “how lucky am I to have depression. It’s just so great! I can’t wait for more weight gain, so I can be slower on the court.”

I’m always amazed at how people find ways to accept they have a mental illness. It is not my place to judge others, but if I am voicing my own opinion I would be hard pressed to ever find any illness as a gift. I think of things like, suffering, symptoms, a lifetime of medication, doctor visits, therapy, significant losses, and I just shake my head knowing there is no way I could ever be grateful for having bipolar disorder.

I believe accepting yourself exactly how you are is far more important than getting on the band wagon to appreciate mental illness as a gift. I accept myself for who I am and I accept that I live with a mental illness and believe that I am no lesser of a person because of it.   It took me a long time to get to this point. But nowhere along the way did I ever pay some kind of tribute to living with a disease. It’s just not logical.




13 thoughts on “Mental Illness is no “gift!”

  1. I’ve blogged at length about this topic. THANK YOU first of all, Amy, for speaking your truth and for writing about it so eloquently. Your post is music to my ears!

    For me, bipolar disorder isn’t a “blessing” or a “gift” and it never has been, starting with my first day on this planet. You see, my father had bipolar one, and it ravaged him throughout his life as well as our family.

    Then, when I was 37 and told my Dad via a mental hospital pay phone that I had been diagnosed with bipolar, he cried. I was six weeks postpartum – my baby, toddler and husband dropped me off at the unit – my husband immediately became a single father who wasn’t sure what the hell was going on with his frantic wife.

    To each her own, but I stand firm in my beliefs about this issue.

    Ask my two little girls if they think bipolar has been a gift in my life. Ask them if it was such a blessing to have their mother hospitalized not once, not twice, but a whopping seven times since they were born. They would tell you “No!”

    I also feel that parents who wax poetically about how much bipolar has been a gift to them tend to be in some denial and strike me as being overly selfish, because NO child wants to see her mother or father manic or suicidally depressed. I cannot imagine ANY child saying, “Oh yes, bipolar is a gift for Mommy or Daddy!”

    Ask my husband if he felt that all the stress from my illness has been a “gift” or a “blessing” – especially during my hospitalizations. He had little help from people he thought were our “friends”, as well as no help from his immediate family. He’ll tell you firmly, “No.”

    I like the person I was before I was diagnosed. I like the person I am now. But I’m not a better, more noble person since getting diagnosed with mental illness – I am different. I know that bipolar disorder gives many people purpose to their lives; therefore they consider it a blessing. Calling bipolar a blessing can make sense for them out of something that often seems senseless. But that’s not me. Most importantly, I would never want my children or husband to think that I felt an illness that almost killed me in numerous horrific ways has been such a lovely gift in my life.

    1. Dyane,
      Thank you for sharing your experience and opinion. I truly understand what you are talking about and I completely agree. My mother and one of my sisters have bipolar illness too and I have witnessed the illness causing lots of suffering. Of course I have also lived with my own experience and this is why I feel very strongly about the topic. I’m glad you are doing well and have learned to live with yourself too. Thanks again for sharing. Amy

  2. Great post. I have often argued that any positive “boost” hypomania has afforded me is a small fraction of the overall picture. If I’m constantly trying to run through a tar pit (depression) the boulder (hypomania) that allows me to climb up and jump over part of it might FEEL like a godsend, but would that boulder even be necessary if the tar pit wasn’t there in the first place?

    I can understand how people might want to look at this with a “glass half-full” attitude, and there was a time in my life where I was experiencing periods of blissful hypomania spanning years. There are probably many people out there who haven’t hit that wall where everything falls apart, and for them… who knows? Maybe it feels divine.

    To me it doesn’t. I know enough about myself to know I can accomplish more (creatively, through hard work, & studying) without the bipolar mess.

    Thanks for sharing that!

  3. I am one of these people who considers their “mental illness”, bipolar disorder, to be a gift. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to experience life in a way that normals can’t even imagine, let alone with which they can empathize. I have experienced the depths of suicidal depression and the highs of thinking I was the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I have lost everything that was important to me and discovered that every situation is a transitory one to be appreciated for the time that it lasts. I understand that living with someone with a “mental illness” can be a burden for those who do, but I believe that almost anyone who has “suffered” the psychotic experience, and come out of it, has been left with a feeling of having experienced “god”.

  4. There really ought to be a campaign to stop Bipolarity especially being labelled as a super power. The fact that it is only chips away further at the self-esteem of those of us who aren’t particularly brilliant at anything.

    Great post.

    All the best,

  5. Do you know how this “gift” business got started? I would really like to know. My close friend, who has BPD, was originally diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar, peer support specialist in her own right, and is no stranger to stigma or mental illness, shocked the living daylights out of me one day when she told me that she considered that my schizoaffective disorder, depressive type, was a gift that had granted me a different perspective from other people. She seemed to be laying my insights, personality, uniqueness all down at the door of schizophrenia, and I was too dumbfounded to tell her that I felt all schizophrenia had taught me was to be trapped in a horror movie of sorts 24/7 (without the right meds at first) and that it engulfed and took parts of me away from myself and those around me until the meds could kick in and give me back.

    She was so certain.. I don’t even know how to talk to her about this..

    Do you know who started this line of thinking?

    1. I am not sure who started this thinking but I am sure they had good intentions. For me, I look at my illness as an illness and don’t consider any part of it as a gift.

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