We Are in This Together

CC image courtesy Pexels

“The freaks’ll stay together, they’re a tight old crew. You look at them and they look at you. I love the ballyhoo girl but she don’t care. It’s hard to find love anywhere.” – Mark Knopfler

I have had tinnitus in my right ear since a recent med adjustment. The mostly likely cause of the tinnitus is the meds but my doctors wanted to be sure so they did some tests and also referred me to Audiology to have my hearing checked.

The hearing test was an interesting experience. The room I was in was about the size of a walk-in closet. The door was low enough that I had to duck to enter the room. I’m not short, by any means, but at 6’1” I’m not that tall. The room was incredibly claustrophobic. There was equipment everywhere, packed in tight enough that I could reach any object in there without having to get up off of my seat.

I am prone to panic in situations like this. Small room. Uncomfortable setting. Doing something that is way outside of my usual routine. These things can all add up to a panic attack pretty quickly.

But the audiologist was friendly which put me more at ease. We talked about my tinnitus and why I was there. Then I joked with her that I hoped that I had hearing damage because the alternative was that the meds that were treating my bipolar were to blame.

What followed next is something that I am learning to predict. The audiologist said, “My sister has bipolar.” We discussed how difficult it can be to get your meds dialed in and how often they end up changing. She didn’t overshare about her sister’s experience, it wasn’t her story to tell, but she did commiserate with me for a bit.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. When I am open about being bipolar, I find that the person I am talking to often has someone in their life who has bipolar, too. It could be a sister. It could be an aunt. It could be their dad, brother, lover, ex, or whoever. But there is always someone.

This is normalization. Being open allows others to share their stories. It helps make them comfortable. It helps let them know that they are not alone. And it helps me know that I am not alone. We are all in this together.

Roughly 2% of the population is on the bipolar spectrum. That seems like a small number. When you are a part of that small number it is easy to feel alone. The world is a big place. My city, which is small by city standards, is a big place. There are roughly 300,000 people in the Lexington area. About 6,000 of us must have bipolar. That is no small number. That’s an awful lot of people whose lives are touched in some way by bipolar.

Roughly one in five people in the US experience mental illness in a given year. In Lexington that would be roughly 60,000 people. That’s enough to fill up Commonwealth Stadium.

Everyone knows someone, loves someone, whose life is impacted by mental illness. Most of us feel like we are alone, that we are facing mental illness alone.

But we are not alone.

Nowhere near it.

We are in this together.