Something I feel that has become a “given” to society is if someone has a mental illness, they’re automatically a pessimist or have “a negative vibe that’s toxic to be around.” Not only is that stereotype adding to the stigma of what having a mental illness means, but it’s also false.
While I’ll admit it’s rare to be both an optimist and mentally ill, people like me do exist. In fact, the view that I’m automatically pessimistic can be really damaging because I’ve worked hard to reach the mindset I have. And the skepticism around my ability to have that mindset and be mentally ill can be invalidating — especially when it comes from both sides. Being an optimist with a mental illness means oftentimes feeling isolated from both neurotypical people and my own mental health community.
I remember the whispered, “Why is she even here? She doesn’t need this place,” in the psych ward and the profound, “I don’t know… I’ve met bipolar people, and you don’t seem bipolar at all,” from someone I’d finally grown the guts to reveal my diagnosis to. I’ve learned to laugh it off by now because it’s become a frequent thing, but I wish I could tell them the only reason I am as optimistic as I am is because of my mental illness.
However, my optimism might look a little different than the classically defined person’s optimism because mine was formed despite a sometimes debilitating illness. Pessimism became too exhausting to live through and the classic version of optimism seemed slightly too happy-go-lucky for me, so I came up with my own. I call it, the “realistic type of optimism.”
For example, the classic view of optimism consists of seeing the glass half-full. My optimism might mean I see the glass as half-empty, but also knowing I’m perfectly capable of just refilling my cup in the sink.
The classic view says, “Today will be a good day!” My view says, “Today might suck. It might be one of the worst days of my life. But I’m going to try my best and that will be enough.”
All of the classic optimists might tell someone, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright!” I’d argue, “Things might not be alright again for a while, but no matter what, you’ll find a way to get through what you’re going through. You have before and you will again.”
Because through battling with my mental health, I’ve seen that it’s impossible to always think positive — not to mention it’s a little toxic to have the expectation to. The most helpful thing for me to realize was that I’m allowed to acknowledge that what I’m going through sucks and realize how I’ll be OK again when it’s over.
I wish I had enough time and energy in my life to tell everyone I know that being mentally ill doesn’t mean I have to hate my life. I know that’s a confusing concept for some people — sometimes it’s even confusing to me. But I don’t need to be a “negative Nancy” to justify my need for psychiatric care. It’s OK to be stable and optimistic, and it doesn’t make me any less mentally ill than those who haven’t gotten to the point of optimism yet. It’s just another example of how someone’s diagnosis doesn’t define them, and how diverse the entire mental health community is.
So, before you judge me or pass me off as just another person who hates life with bipolar disorder, listen to my views. Listen to what I have to say. Listen to how I think of the world. Because I think it’s pretty beautiful most days. I think life has a lot to offer. I think even when I’m at rock bottom, I’ll be OK in the end and have a bright future. And most importantly, I think that thinking those things doesn’t make me any less bipolar. So, please stop invalidating my illness by saying it does.