I didn’t always live the glamorous life of an over-educated, under-employed, sometimes stay-at-home mom. For a while, a long, long time ago, I worked in public relations. At lunch with a client one day, I realized that the small stuff we’d been talking had taken a decidedly different tone. My lunch companion pulled himself up, puffed out his chest a little and said, “I’ve been living with Gary, my partner, for the past ten years.” I was stunned into blathering, not because I had any kind of issues with his sexual orientation, but because I had no idea what one says to someone who’s just come out to you. “Oh!” I stammered. “How nice for you!” “No, it hasn’t been nice,” he replied. “It’s been years of hell.” Apologies ensued.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2007, after living my own years of hell. Coming out about it, living openly with a disorder that is largely misunderstood even by many who have it, has been a gradual process.
I told my family and closest friends pretty quickly and met with acceptance from everyone. The diagnosis explained a lot about the dynamics in all of my intimate relationships. Talking about it at home is so common it’s just part of our family fabric. That’s been a great help in my children’s ability to understand mom’s mind. At dinner once, early on in being open about bipolar disorder, my daughter asked, “What’s bipolar?” “Mom,” said my son. “Oh,” was her response, then she went back to eating her dinner, or as I like to say, pushing food around a plate.
Understanding has come more slowly for some who love me. Things that seem dead simple to some family members can be tremendous sources of anxiety for me. And it’s difficult to explain that there are days when I’m too down to even text with anyone. I know the immediate instinct is to try to pull me out. That my family members are trying to respect my ability to deal with the depressions shows me how much I’m loved.
So, I didn’t encounter a lot of the “Oh, my god, does that mean you have two heads?” ignorance I expected until I started trying the waters outside of my circle of love. In the teacher’s lounge (which was actually more of a closet) at one school where I worked, the conversation turned to bipolar disorder. Maybe there had been a shooting that week. My mouth popped open before my brain engaged and I said, “I’m bipolar.” “Wow!” said a co-worker. “You’d never know to look at you!”
I started blogging about my bipolar disorder in 2011 on my personal blog, Snide Reply. In it, I noted that I would not be writing about my bipolar disorder. A year later, I seemed to have a change of heart and started blogging about my mental state on a regular basis. At the time, my father was living in a dementia care ward. It was a wonderful place, filled with skilled and loving caregivers, and residents whose behavior made it seem more like a Hollywood insane asylum than an old folks home. I realized that outside of the securely locked and alarmed doors protecting my dad from himself, millions of people thought people like me behaved like people like him.
I started blogging about my mental health on a regular basis and, eventually, came to the conclusion that what I was doing was good for me—I felt passionate about what I was writing—and it was good for other people. I started connecting to other people like me, people who live with a mental disorder but don’t feel sick and are pretty sick of the way we’re portrayed in our society.
Opening up about having a mental disorder is a one-way street. My genie is out of the bottle and while I don’t regret the entire world knowing (or at least capable of knowing) that I have bipolar disorder, opening this door has closed others. I will never work in a public school. Too many parents wouldn’t want their children alone in a room with someone like me. And a regular day job? Given a choice between another candidate and me? I’m pretty sure I’ll lose out every time.
I did, in fact, apply for a pretty good job recently. An insider checked out my blog and suggested I take off the posts that were political and mental. I felt betrayal every time I clicked “hide” next to a potentially offensive post. I didn’t get the job.
In my notes for this post, I wrote:
There comes a time when you can’t shut up, when to stay quiet is more comfortable, but because of that, is all the more necessary, when to stay quiet gives a place that may be safe, but is far too small to keep you alive for long.
Are you open about your mental state? What have your experiences been? Share with us in the comments.