I remember the moments leading up to what I’ll refer to as “the incident”.
I was at my favorite grocery store, with my sons sitting elbow to elbow in the firetruck shopping cart. It was a Friday afternoon and the weather was gross. And by gross, I mean that hot, thick humidity that has you question why you bothered doing your hair and makeup in the first place gross.
I had just picked up my oldest from school and needed a few things from the store before the weekend. I promised it would be a “quick stop” to grab a few staples. And I promised a stop in the bakery department. Because, well, it takes a village and the occasional sugary bribe.
I made my loop around the aisles in record time just as my kiddos bit into the last of their complementary sprinkle cookies. Ahh, perfect timing. And there I stood, with around a dozen other hot, sweaty, ready to be home shoppers, divided between two ques. That’s right. A dozen shoppers, with full carts and baskets. And two check-out lines. Fanfreakingtastic.
With every inch I made toward the cashier, my minis became louder, more tired, and downright done with this shopping experience. The sugar didn’t exactly help, either. They became impatient and loud. My oldest had to go to the bathroom and was “seriously at a 10” on the how-bad-do-you-have-to-go scale. My youngest was just over a year old at the time and more mobile than ever. He wanted out of that cart. He needed a distraction. I quickly became the mom that opened up the package of Goldfish crackers before paying for them. Then the Chee rios. And eventually, the milk. Yup. Did I mention the line was long?
Finally, my baby began to settle as we pulled up to the cashier. The cashier looked over at me and said “Bipolar baby, huh?”.
I couldn’t believe the words that came out of her mouth. Even more so, I couldn’t believe the way she said it. It took every ounce of self-control to redirect my attention. I so badly wanted to school this youngster on what it actually means to experience bipolar. Or why society has such a strong stigma against mental disabilities such as bipolar because of uneducated smart mouths like hers. I also really, really wanted to stuff my kid’s pacifier down her throat. But that felt harsh. And unsanitary. So I stood there, staring at my groceries, waiting to get out and get home.
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. And so casual. What gave her the audacity to say such a thing?
And then it hit me…
She simply doesn’t know anyone with bipolar, so why on earth would she understand it?
I, on the other hand, have a great amount of understanding of bipolar. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced what a bipolar episode can do to a loved one, and what that in turn does to a family. I’ve witnessed extreme highs and lows coupled with denial and anger. I’ve written the long list of previously prescribed medications, recent hospitalizations, and triggers that resulted from a manic episode. I’ve watched someone I love become someone I didn’t know. I’ve had to mourn the person I knew my whole life and accept new normals of the person he is today. I’ve had to explain absences to employers, behaviors to acquaintances, and hard truths to close family. And as painful as all of this has been, the most devastating part is knowing that the person experiencing all of this is being robbed of a life they once had.
The grocery store incident gave me insight into how much the average person really understands mental disorders. If we truly took the time to learn the meaning and causes of someone’s struggle, we’d likely be far more understanding and supportive. And in turn, the person struggling with the disorder would be more likely to receive the help they need on a consistent basis and likely have more long -term stability and success. Why? Because support is the cornerstone of success when attempting t o function with any illness. Again, there’s that village. When we know we have a team rooting for us, we tend to play our best.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year. Look around you. Chances are someone you know and love has experienced mental struggle. But did they share it with you? We live in a world that loves the highlight reel. We see filtered photos and funny memes, beautiful family photo shoots, and the perfect angled selfie. But how often do you read about someone’s experience in the psychiatric ward? Likely, never.
If I could redo that day at the grocery store, it would go a little like this: Instacart.
But if that wasn’t an option, I’d turn to the cashier that made the comment and simply say, “No, my child does not have bipolar. But my brother does. And his life is not easy. Not a day goes by without me praying that he finds peace and stability, and not a moment goes by when I’m not worried about my DNA. So for the sake of my brother, and my family, I’d really appreciate it if you took the time to understand what bipolar actually means and how you could support them if you ever encounter someone with it.”
And then I’d drop my bills as if I’d drop my mic, and strut out of there with my loud, sweaty, babies…and trail of Goldfish crackers.
By Gracemarie Boland
Mama, yogi, health enthusiast, and lover of all things family and the perfect glass of red