mental health

Am I An Inspiration For Dealing With Bipolar Disorder?

Lately, I have often pondered about how I feel when I am called an inspiration for fighting my mental illness (bipolar disorder), especially in such a public way. I have also thought a lot about how people see my work in mental health advocacy as inspiring.  I agree that it might feel kind of strange when someone tells you that you, just being you, is inspirational. I have read a lot of articles from people with disabilities of all kinds who talk about this concept.

In my research into mental illness and disability over the years, I have observed some contention around this notion of being an inspiration.  I have seen some interesting videos and posts from people with disabilities of all kinds who talk about this concept. Comedian and journalist Stella Young did a really great TED Talk on this called “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”. She discusses “inspiration porn” which is the objectification of a group of people for the benefit of another. While she is most likely referring to physical disabilities, which are easier to spot and easier to objectify, I feel like people objectify those with mental illness all the time and that this idea applies to us as well. In this article by Morwenna Jones, she talks about how it upsets her to be called brave or courageous for talking about her eating disorder because it implies that those who don’t should be ashamed or are seen as weak. Interestingly, in a google search about this topic, I could only find this article. The rest of the search results were literally about the opposite, with headlines about inspirational people who talk about their mental illness.

I agree that people with mental illness and mental disabilities, if they choose, should be able to live their lives openly without being seen as extraordinary or special because of their illness. Perhaps they want to focus on other aspects of their identities. It can certainly be condescending and belittling for some people to be seen as inspiring simply for taking care of their health, as any other human might.

However, I’ve decided that personally, I love that people feel inspired by my life. Especially if they have their own mental illness. It makes me feel happy that I can empower others to end the stigma around mental illness. I feel energized and motivated myself to know that I am having an impact. I don’t want to speak for everyone with bipolar disorder or another mental illness, but being a mental health advocate is really difficult. It takes a lot of energy to put yourself out there and express your vulnerable feelings and emotions. So I feel validated when my words resonate with an audience and when they recognize my hard work. I like when people send messages of appreciation for the efforts that I am making to educate and motivate. I don’t think my mental illness in itself is inspiring, but I do think that sharing such a story is brave in this world that still judges people for having a mental illness. It is brave to challenge misconceptions and to speak up when most people just want you to stay silent. It is brave to publicize something that is messy and complicated and defies stereotypes. It doesn’t mean that people who don’t aren’t brave. Not everyone is meant to be in the spotlight. They are making their own contributions in their own unique ways.

The point I want to make is that I am glad that people feel inspired when they read about the experiences of those who are different than them. We need people to read about our stories of mental illness and disability so that together, we can collaborate to make change. I speak often about my bipolar disorder to ensure others feel less alone, but I also do it to perhaps kick people in the butt and push them to get involved in advocacy. Because simple erasing stigma just won’t be enough. Perhaps if someone is inspired by my story, they might make changes in their own workplace policies so that life can be better for people with mental illness. Perhaps if someone is inspired by my story, they might recognize that we need more spending on mental health resources. Perhaps if someone is inspired by my story, they might choose to dedicate their career to supporting people with mental illness.

I certainly think that we, as a society, can change the way that we react and deal with inspirational stories and people. We can also change which stories are seen as inspiring. We typically only share stories of people who are in a good place, who are in a recovery stage of their mental illness, who are thriving despite their mental health issues. However, people with mental illness often struggle for years without improvement. Or they might be feeling better for a little bit, but then their health deteriorates again. These people should be also seen as inspirational for fighting each day. The faces of mental illness that we often see in the media aren’t very diverse, in either race, ethnicity, sexuality or ability.  As well, people who can present as almost “normal” are prioritized because they are more articulate and easier to interact with for people who have no experience with mental illness. I can definitely understand my privilege in this sense. On my good days, I am more palatable to people because I can be seen as “just like them” with a slight quirk.

When we think someone is inspirational, we need to be careful not to put them on a pedestal or patronize them.  I know this is really not easy and is pretty complicated. For example, many people would argue that you shouldn’t tell someone with a disability they are inspiring for just getting by like all humans do or for accomplishing simple tasks. However, I know that sometimes I really enjoy celebrating accomplishing the mundane tasks that are so difficult when you have a mental illness. Sometimes even getting out of bed is an achievement and I wouldn’t mind if someone pointed out my efforts. So what can we do? How can we engage with someone we admire and who inspires us without offending them? The answer is not necessarily simple. My personal advice would be to try to be as specific as possible in why someone admires you and how they made you feel. Write a detailed message or say something that has meaning and impact instead of reducing your feelings to one word “inspirational”. The recipient of your compliment will better understand how you feel and how they influenced your life. It will be more personal and individualized and they will appreciate it so much more.

What do you think? Do you like when people tell you that you inspire them? Why or why not?

 

 

7 comments on “Am I An Inspiration For Dealing With Bipolar Disorder?

  1. Beverly, I always enjoy reading your posts. They are so well written and make important points and educate people so well.

    You wrote:

    “We typically only share stories of people who are in a good place, who are in a recovery stage of their mental illness, who are thriving despite their mental health issues. However, people with mental illness often struggle for years without improvement. Or they might be feeling better for a little bit, but then their health deteriorates again. These people should be also seen as inspirational for fighting each day.”

    I was so happy to read what you wrote above. It’s so true. I know that magazines like bp Magazine only share what they deem as “success stories”. It is so unfair to the many people who struggle, and keep plugging along despite set backs. I’ve been on disability now for years. I certainly feel I’ve made good progress, but am still not yet ready to take the plunge into working again. But does that mean I’m not a success story? To bp Magazine I’m probably not. But I know that when I post on my bipolar support group that I’ve made progress and keep fighting others appreciate that I’m there and helping others and that I keep on keeping on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve had people say this to me, and whilst I don’t feel that way myself I don’t argue with it and find it flattering. I kind of figure you can’t tell other people what they do/don’t find inspiring. I may not think I am an inspiring person because I am just being me but if someone else finds what I say inspiring then it is for them to feel that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Sunshine Blogger Award 🌞🌝 – Life of a stay at home mom

  4. Interesting read! Thank you 🙂 I think being specific about why you find a person inspirational is good even though I actually don’t mind if people are referring to my achievements given my battles with bipolar. I get a bit embarrassed sometimes as I’m not good at taking praise like many other ‘normals’ do too. Many people I know who don’t know I have bipolar call me inspirational and have actually gone on to pursue degrees too, which I find amazing. People that do know I have bipolar and ADHD such as all my various Psychiatrists, nurses, lecturers, friends with mental health issues see it as such a positive and have always been behind me 100%. They all say that because I have first hand knowledge (a carer too), I am ideal. I don’t always feel it but that’s self esteem…

    To be told I’m an inspiration means a hell of a lot (I don’t always believe it when unwell, in fact I’m useless in my eyes), as the amount of effort I’ve expended in just being on this earth alone has been exhausting at times. That is a disability and I don’t reject that because it’s true and it’s bloody awful.

    I really do wish I could be more open with my service users but maybe that wouldn’t be the best thing, I don’t know.

    Nice to read your blog 🙂

    Like

  5. @BEVERLY BLAINE

    Hi there! In case you did not see, I just wanted to let you know that I nominated your for the Dawn Dagger award! I hope you can participate 🙂 http://diaryofthemadkatter.com/2017/07/06/dawn-dagger-tag/

    Like

  6. Thank you for such a well written intriguing article 🙂

    I’ve always found it difficult to accept praise, so I can feel a bit embarrassed when people tell me I inspire them.

    There have been times I haven’t liked it because the person implies they feel guilty that they can’t achieve the same things I do even without bipolar disorder. I don’t like making others feel guilty. I believe we all have our own trials and obstacles that get in the way of our unique goals so I don’t like people putting me on a pedestal for my academic achievements.

    Rather, if people are inspired to pursue any goals in spite of their own impairments then that makes me happy.

    I hope that makes sense! 🙂

    Like

  7. theobserver112

    I personally hate it. Not just about my bipolar but when people learn that I lost a baby, they tell me that I’m an inspiration for my (meagre) accomplishments since and having another child. I’m not an inspiration for forcing myself through life, the only other option was suicide… I don’t feel brave or inspiring for not taking that path – quite the opposite.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: