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Out of the Closet

September 3, 2013

During my morning perusal of Facebook today, I managed to get involved in an animated discussion about how open one should be with a bipolar diagnosis. While most posters freely admitted they were open about their illness, a significant minority were either fearful to disclose it or proudly defiant about NOT disclosing it, as in “It’s nobody’s business!”

That is undoubtedly true. It really is nobody’s business but our own, and it’s up to us as individuals to decide whether sharing information about our diagnosis is right for us. But as someone who’s openly bipolar, I found myself making a case for disclosure, even though it’s cost me dearly both at work and in my personal life.

I’m open about my diagnosis because I can’t hide it. I’ve had manic episodes that got me sent home from work until I could “get that shit under control”, as one boss told me. Sometimes I’m loud and disruptive and profane, while at others I’m deeply depressed and withdrawn. These behaviors cannot escape notice by others; why not let them know that I’m not being this way on purpose?

I’m open about my diagnosis because there is still a stigma attached to it. I figure that if someone who usually appears to be “normal” is out of the closet with the disorder, it might make people aware that we’re not all scary folks who are apt to go off at the slightest provocation. We’re not psycho killers; in fact, we are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of criminal acts. I only wish the mass media were more interested in reporting the FACTS than ginning up fear.

I’m open about my diagnosis because I like to educate people on mental illness, and to prove that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders are pretty much like everyone else. After all, we have dreams and we have morals, we work hard, we try to play by the rules, and we love our children the best way we can. We want the best for our families and friends, and we try very, very hard to fit in so that they don’t suffer embarrassment on our behalf.

But mostly, I’m open about my diagnosis because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t cause it, and I wish I didn’t have it. But it’s part of me and it’s not going away, so I may as well learn how to deal with it. That means allowing my creativity to flow and embracing the vivid colors and sounds and flavors of the world, even if it hurts sometimes. It means living and loving with all my heart and soul, and risking both to experience and appreciate life in all its dimensions. This is the only way I know how to do things; of what should I be ashamed?

Now, I know there are very good arguments against sharing a mental health diagnosis with the world at large, and I support those who choose not to do so because of our society’s persisting discomfort with members who are “different”. Sometimes it’s not in one’s best interests to disclose, and even under the best of circumstances it is ALWAYS risky.

But for me, being “out” with bipolar is vital to my well-being…..helping others helps me, for one thing, and this blog itself is my small way of contributing toward advancing the cause of better mental health care in this country. I’ve been very fortunate in having a great doctor and an even better support system, and I want the world to know that it’s possible to achieve a normal and healthy existence, even with a lifelong and poorly understood disorder.

Climbing down off my soapbox now. You’re welcome. 🙂

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