In the TV series Modern Love, Anne Hathaway plays the role of a woman reflecting on how her bipolar disorder has interfered with her love life.
In the episode Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am, she randomly meets Jeff, a nice guy at the supermarket, when she feels “crazily energized” during a euphoric state. By the time they go out on a date, she falls into a depressive state, and the change in her personality is so drastic that Jeff ironically asks if she doesn’t “have a twin by any chance?”
Bipolar disorder is marked by “dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that affect a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Imagine riding a rollercoaster where the peak makes you feel euphoric, known as a hypomanic or manic episodes, and the sudden drop to the bottom plunges you into depression. No wonder Jeff could barely recognise his date when they went out.
“Sharing your experience and your mental health is not the most easy thing when you’re dating,” explains Ann-Marie Kallberg. The 31-year-old special educational needs teacher, diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago, created a mental health awareness Instagram account, @babewithbipolar, in which she opens up about her experience of the condition.
“I was dating this guy and didn’t tell him [about bipolar disorder]. I wanted him to see me for who I am and see that I’m stable and healthy and live a normal life.”
But as they continued dating, she realised that she didn’t know when or how to bring up this fact about her. Around one-in-eight people in the world live with a mental disorder, and yet, let’s face it, how do you tell someone about your mental illness? And why are so many people afraid to do so?
The Stigma Around Mental Illness
Ann-Marie says that the difference between sharing about your mental illness and other physical disorders lies in misconceptions. “If you have a knee injury, you tell everyone. You tell Facebook, you tell your doctor, you tell your dog, and you go to the doctor, and you get it fixed”, she told the Rocket Motivation with Rod Cate podcast.
However, when it comes to mental anomalies, the conversation often turns into hesitation, shame, and taboo. “It’s because it messes with our behaviour. And so, especially with bipolar, it’s a really sad cycle because people are scared to get help and talk about it.”
Anne-Marie adds that when you don’t know someone, you’re not as likely to tell them about your condition right off the bat. “They may not know what that is,” she adds.
In the article “The Stigma of Mental Illness”, Dr Stacy Overton, who has worked in a community mental center for 15 years, and her co-author Sondra L. Medina, discuss that mentally ill people have difficulty building “empathetic” and “supportive” relationships. This happens because the “negative connotation and false assumptions connected with mental illness may be as harmful as the disease itself.”
Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation show that nine-out-of-ten people with mental health problems say stigma and discrimination negatively impact their lives.
They are often viewed as dangerous to strangers when, in fact, they are more likely to be attacked by or hurt themselves than others. This prejudice is connected to the misconception that they refuse treatment.
Mainstream entertainment often portrays people with mental illnesses as “criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives,” shows an analysis on bipolar disorder stereotypes in television programmes.
Take the film Joker for example. The character of the Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) represents a case of severe mental illness associated with extreme violence. In a Guardian opinion piece released shortly after the film, two doctors said that: “Portrayals of mental illness in film can perpetuate unfounded stereotypes and spread misinformation.”
More Unashamed Conversations
Since Ann-Marie became public about her bipolar condition four years ago, she believes it has connected her “more with people.” Opening up about it on Instagram has made her life easier when it comes to dating.
“I don’t have to tell people anymore, because when they follow me on Instagram, which usually happens before you date these days, they know, and it’s like a topic of conversation”, she tells me.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all psychological illness, but the best thing is to research and inform your partner about your condition. “When you are having that conversation, tell them it’s not that scary,” Ann-Marie advises. Clarifying triggers and how moods fluctuate in bipolar disorder are helpful ways to deal with the topic.
Ann-Marie’s favorite quote from Glenn Close, an Oscar-nominated actress who recently took on a mental health advocate role, says: “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.”
Featured image by Joshua Fuller via Unsplash CC.