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I’m thoroughly displeased with the double standard of mass media messages telling people to “be all you can be” until they are diagnosed with mental illness. At which point, the message turns into, “accept your limitations.” That, dear readers, is what I consider First-Class Stigma. It’s not just saying “be realistic, yo.” The way that statement comes across to me is, “you can’t do what everyone else can, so quit trying already.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe my gut reaction of utter disgust to the “accept your limitations” message is just an artifact of my American upbringing, what with the pervasive delusion that if you just try hard enough, you can achieve your dreams. Yes we can! To me, that “you are limited” message just reeks of stigmatizing and The Man keeping me down. Worse yet, I see it perpetuated almost solely by anti-stigma organizations, mental health professionals, and mentally ill people.

Regardless of the source of my self-righteous (irrational?) irritation, I see no reason not to try to do whatever flips my lid. Sure, it could go all wrong. Disappointment is inherent in life, but shying away from it doesn’t help us grow or master mental illness. It’s a universal: everyone experiences it.

Limitations? What limitations?

And that’s just it. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, like precious little snowflakes. My limitations are no different now than they always have been. For example, my work productivity has always been inconsistent and bursty. You know what? Many other “normal” people work that way too. It’s completely OK.

I think part of the issue is that in general, people just don’t talk about what they don’t do well. They don’t compare notes. They forget that others experience challenges too. Perhaps not in the exact same fashion, but everyone, and I mean everyone, has limitations. What is so different about theirs and mine?

I’ll accept that mental illness can strike suddenly and lead to major changes in cognitive function and lifestyle. Those are realistic considerations. Emphasis on realistic. I think that’s what the whole “limitations” thing is really about – being realistic, no matter how unpleasant that may be. But quite frankly, that’s a lesson for practically everyone. People with physical conditions have these constraints as well, but are they being told to just accept their limitations? I doubt it.

No one in my life had ever told me that I should accept any limitations. Quite the contrary, in fact, I’d always been given the exact opposite message. That is, until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. All of the sudden, now they expect me to accept limitations? Yeah, right. So I’ll do what I darn well please, and I’ll be realistic about it because I’m smart enough to have learned from experience. How’s that for acceptance?

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