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A Psychology Professor on Treatment for Bipolar Depression

I have Bipolar II Disorder. I take my medication daily and get on with my life. My wife knows of my struggles but treats me as though I have no disorder, which is what I need. Other than a diagnosis and medication treatment plus my own efforts to keep healthy by practicing mindfulness, therapeutic thoughts and behaviours, my life resembles anyone without a disorder. I go about my day just as though I have no disorder.

I'm not confined by my diagnosis. Life goes on, although I hope that I'd be able to go off medication one day. I know that for now, I need them. It's taken me some time to get to where I am now. I feel I'm on the road to recovery but somehow still need to be stabilised with medication.

My symptoms have significantly reduced in the last two years, and I can safely say my life is pretty normal. I don't think anyone can tell if I've got a diagnosis. I don't think they'd believe me if I told them - they won't expect a psychiatric patient to be as functional as I am. I still keep my diagnosis a secret because of the stigma attached to it. I may be ok with my diagnosis, but others may not be. I know because I'm a professor of psychology. We're not at a stage where our mental health literacy is at a level where I'd feel safe to share my diagnosis.

Anyway, I'd like you to know that many people with psychiatric diagnoses can live life as usual under treatment and with adequate support. We also don't always display symptoms of our disorders. In fact, even if we do, it's not something that we want to show to the rest of the world.

What do we do? Well, just like any one of you, we try to seem as 'normal' as possible. But what you don't see is the pain we feel, the confusion, angst, and a whole rainbow of emotions we go through while at the same time managing a friendly smile when we interact with you. We struggle. We try to cope. Most of the time, we can. Sometimes we fail, even with the dosage we're on. That's just how our body works.

Why don't we just give in to the symptoms and be "disordered"? Well, because doing so, it's not a productive step towards recovery. Do we need more help? Perhaps. But where do we get support to be sure of no prejudice, condescension, and stigma? There is an expectation that psychiatric patients have to be dysfunctional.

I wish you know many top leaders, managers, directors, parents, teachers, and even mental health professionals live with some kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Really, it's not as bad as the media portrays it to be. We don't look like models for a poster on mental illness. This is because people with mental illness have a face - and that face looks just like you and me.

There's no need to stigmatise, pity, to treat people with mental illness any differently. We all have our struggles. Some just need continued treatment and added efforts towards recovery. Sometimes we relapse. It sucks, but it doesn't have to be a big deal. We learn to cope, we adapt, we continue to recover.

We live life, work, raise families, socialize, lead, falter, have bad days, and achieve significant milestones - just like anyone else. So why is there a prejudice that psychiatric patients need to be treated differently? Why do we have to fit in a 'sick role' to be excluded from community development activities such as research surveys or jobs?

We don't want to be sick. We want to recover. Recovery is in the community, not in the clinic. So please allow us to recover by treating us as equals in society.

I sought help from a mental health professional because they're trained to provide the service I need. I trust their training. From my experience as an academician, I know that plenty of scientific literature supports psychological treatments' effectiveness. Medication, cognitive therapy, behavioural activation, and social support; all work.

Yes, some of us are more severe than others, but symptoms are not always there.

Please don't expect me to always show symptoms or to keep checking if I'm ok. Trust me, I want to be ok. I take the effort to be so. I don't need people to remind me that I have a sickness or that I'm crazy and cannot be depended on.

"Isn't a disorder meant to show dysfunction?" Dysfunction is a symptom. Symptoms are not personality characteristics - they come and go. Yes, there're times I can be dysfunctional, but let's focus on my aim of recovery. My trajectory is to function. So please help me perform for as long as I can at a time. I'm your neighbour, the person on the street who can contribute to problem-solving. I am able, competent, can hold a job (probably better than many people without a diagnosis). You don't have to fear me. I am ok with not being ok, and I can do something about it. So can you.

Psychiatric treatment, similar to medical or surgical treatments, is evidence-based. It's not mumbo-jumbo. As a mental health professional myself, I willingly see another mental health professional.

In this case, a psychiatrist for assessment of my condition that affects my productivity. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Looking through the diagnostic criteria, it made sense. With diagnoses, there're clinical guidelines for treatment. I follow the treatment plan because I know they lead to recovery. It's been a couple of years now, and I do see the improvements.

My moods are definitely more stable, and I'm coping much better with the crazy workload. Treatment contributes to wellness. There's no shame in treatment.

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