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Bipolar Disorder: Why Does It Feel Like No One Understands?

I've often found living with mental illness to be a lonely thing. Much of that loneliness stems from the isolation of being in one's own mind. The average person can have a skewed perception of mental illness when it's mild and quiet, which it is most of the time.

Even when it's not, it still may not be open and present in a way that other people can see and understand. For example, if you have someone self-harming, that can be very obvious if you can see the results of the self-harm, which most people will hide so they don't get 5150'd (5150 being slang for being forced in-patient).

As a result, understanding can be hard to find, creating loneliness as we try to manage life. But, sometimes we create our loneliness by getting trapped in the cycle of, "Why doesn't anyone understand?"

The context of words

Words are fascinating in how the right word must be deployed to convey the right meaning – not just literally. The meaning of a word changes depending on the context of the material, the writer's style, and the reader's knowledge and emotions.

You can turn to a dictionary for a literal definition, but a lot of people don't know the literal definitions of certain words. And even if they do, they don't necessarily use them that way, rendering it a moot point to begin with. Understanding is one of those words.

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Understanding and human connection

"No one understands me. Why doesn't anyone understand me?"

It's because they can't. They can't in the context of something as a personal as the loneliness of mental illness. I compare it to asking a man what it feels like to give birth to a child. A male obstetrician can get his degree, build all of the technical knowledge on the mechanics of child birth, and deliver thousands of children; but does he understand what it feels like?

No, because he's never actually done that. And even if he thinks he does, I don't imagine a whole lot of women are going to take that seriously. "What does a man know about that?" In that context, the phrase "I understand" becomes a turn off because they obviously can't. And the same applies to mental illness and trauma.

But I feel so alone...

It's not that no one understands you, it's that you're looking in the wrong place for understanding or you're looking for the wrong kind of understanding. Furthermore, if you're a person trying to understand a mentally ill person when their symptoms start showing, you're not going to understand.

And that's OK! You just have to keep the context in mind.

It's OK to not fully understand bipolar disorder

If you're mentally ill and you want to be understood on a deeper emotional level, you need to be around other mentally ill people who've shared your struggles. If you're the loved one of a person with mental illness, sometimes they're going to do things you don't understand. That's just part of mental illness.

There are plenty of times we don't understand it either! "Why the fuck did I think it was a good idea to sell all of my belongings to move to Vegas to become a professional poker player!? Oh, right. Mania."

The important thing is - don't beat yourself up for not understanding. Don't take it personally when other people don't understand you. Sometimes the best you can hope for is another person trying to have empathy for the struggle.

What we expect from mental health professionals

We often expect too much from our mental health professionals. The type of understanding that mental health professionals practice is from a technical level. They are more aware of the big picture, a variety of treatments, and how to apply them to wellness and recovery.

How well can a person really get to know and understand you for maybe an hour a week? They may be very aware of your struggles, but again, they aren't going to understand like another mentally ill person would.

Avoiding the trap

Avoiding the trap isn't all that hard once you're aware of it.

Instead of, "No one understands me," replace that narrative with, "I just need to find the people that do understand me." The most accessible options tend to be physical or online support groups and communities.

Instead of, "I don't understand why my loved one did this!", replace that narrative with, "I won't understand because I don't experience it." But then you can supplement your knowledge and empathy through support groups or counseling.

I get it – and others do, too

There are people out there that do understand though they may not be clearly apparent.

Be well. And remember - take your meds as directed. If you're having a hard time on them, want to quit or change them, talk to your doctor before you do anything.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.