People want a lot of things for Christmas. If there were a Santa Claus, I would be asking for a fireplace for my new condo and a gigantic gift certificate to Design Within Reach. However, as there isn't a Santa Claus, I'm going to appeal to my readers as a person with bipolar disorder: Please, consider getting me, and everyone with a mental illness, these things for the holidays.
- Treat me like everyone else. People with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses suffer from prejudice and discrimination just because of their mental illnesses. People look at us and think, "Don't get into a relationship with that dangerous guy/gal," or, "Don't live next door to that crazy person," or, "Don't hire someone so unstable." These are the thoughts that people used to think (at least I sure hope people don't think them any more) about people of color. They didn't deserve that prejudice and discrimination and neither do we.
- Show me empathy and understanding. When a person gets sick in this society, we tend to show them empathy and understanding. We empathize with people who can't walk. We try to understand what it must be like to have a seizure disorder. We show compassion for those for whom an illness has altered their lives. That's all people with a mental illness like bipolar are asking for. We just want the same empathy and understanding that you show others with an illness; because, ours is a real illness too. It's a disorder of the brain; you can't see it, but it's real and it deserves your compassion.
- Know that my life is not a movie, television show, or a news report. Don't buy into societal messages that perpetuate a negative view of bipolar and mental illness. When you see a movie where the villain or the killer is supposedly that way because of a mental illness, remember that you're watching a movie and it is not real. In reality, we are just like you. People with mental illnesses have families, have friends, go to school, and have jobs, just like you do. We have the same parents you do; we have the same baby pictures; we have the same awkward teenage years. And there's a reason for that: It's because we are you.
This holiday season, try to remember not only to give others something wrapped up beautifully under a Christmas tree, but also to give others who are not as fortunate as you are, with a healthy brain, a bit of your compassion. Because mental illness can strike anyone -- even you, your son or daughter, or your best friend. You wouldn't want any of them to suffer discrimination and prejudice for a condition that is not their fault and that they didn't ask for.
If you're looking for a way of expressing your understanding, look for a national mental illness charity or one if your neighborhood and make a donation. Or just start a stigma-free conversation about mental illness with the people you love.
Because we increase understanding and decrease prejudice and discrimination one conversation at a time.