Being a mental illness advocate, blogger, and speaker is a fascinating career. For the most part, I enjoy it and I am quite good at it. I like challenging people’s perceptions of what it means to live with bipolar and anxiety disorders, I like providing education and insight, and I like the change I see in people when they have a better understanding.
I believe that openly discussing mental illness, including my own lived experience with bipolar and anxiety, has a great benefit to society. More often than not, the public sees people with mental illness at their worst. The media leads with examples of the mentally ill acting bizarre, being arrested, being violent. In short, they show us in crisis. The common stereotype portrays us while we are at our sickest points, when everything that could go wrong has.
My message is, and presumably always will be, a message of realistic optimism. I don’t deny that the worst case scenarios occur. I embrace them. I own them. I talk about my own worst case scenarios and all of the many times I failed to be the person I wanted to be.
And then I leave people with the impression that I will never go back. And it gets worse. In my writing, speeches, interviews, and so forth, I leave the impression that I beat this terrible illness and I am home free, free of symptoms, setbacks, and mistakes. One time, I came right out and said, “I don’t think about bipolar and anxiety every day. I just lead a perfectly normal life.” This is, almost entirely, an outright lie.