This post is for Nancy Love, and the people like her struggling whether or not to open up about living with mental illness to the people around them.
I want to preface this post by saying that this decision is about no one other than the Bipolar contemplating it. No matter what you do in life, you will never make everyone happy with your decisions. The best you can hope for is to do what is right for you and the people closest to you. Deciding to step forward and say “Yes, I live with Bipolar Disorder” will have ramifications. Some people will be curious, others may avoid you, still more will say “Yeah, we already knew that.” because they understood what they were looking at a long time ago. Be prepared for the worst case scenario.
The government body known as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 1 in 4 people live with a mental illness, diagnosed or not. We are not rare, we are simply not talked about. That is not a new thing. Through the course of humanity, the mentally ill have been tortured, experimented on, exorcised, and eradicated all because we function differently. We are not bound by race, religion, creed, or belief. How many crusades for equal rights and acknowledgment has their been for race, sex, religion, and any other number of things? Still we are invisible.
How many people know that as late as the 1970’s, the mentally ill were shoveled into institutions and forced to exist with less funding per person than was allotted for circus animals? An exposed institution by name of Pennhurst featured a program where if a patient bit once, an attempted correction was made. Any more times after that and the facility would pull all of their teeth. The insane were housed with the mentally retarded with all the glorifying ramifications that come with putting a predator with prey. This happened because we, the mentally ill, the 1 in 4, were ultimately invisible to society.
I am not happy that I am Bipolar and a High-Functioning Autistic. It’s exhausting, tiring, and disconcerting to never know how I may feel 15 minutes from now. All it takes is one trigger to ramp me off into a completely unrelated direction. However, I am happy with myself. I am proud that I have been able to make it as far as I have without succeeding at killing myself. I am proud that I can use this knowledge for other peoples’ benefit.
I choose not to suffer in silence or be invisible to the world. Being open about who I am is part of the way I pursue my wellness. Yes, I cross paths with a number of people that do not want to understand or care. However there is always someone who is going through the same kinds of things I did that needs to hear they can make it through. It may be a complete stranger, coworker, friend, or family member. That makes putting up with the strange looks and ignorance completely worth it to me.
In the course of this post I have discussed heavily about why I decided on the approach that I did. That is what you need to do. Look inside and see what is right for -you-. Not for the feelings of other people, not for the road that will be easy; but for whatever route will allow you to be happy with who you are and at peace with what you live with. A lot of people suffered and died to give us the freedom to express ourselves yet we constantly spend time trying to unnecessarily tap dance around feelings.
We cannot shoulder the burden of everyone else and expect to find any peace of mind in a world that does not want to acknowledge our existence.
Take some time to look inside. How do you feel about it? Will this help you reach a more comfortable place with yourself? Do you actually owe anything to the people you are worried about alienating? Are you at a stable enough place that you can handle some rough waters if there is fall out? Can you handle if some of the people you thought were your friends suddenly disappear?
The only other peoples’ feelings I would take into account is a spouse and immediate family. My personal feelings is that everyone else can either deal with it or walk. There are plenty of other worthwhile people in the world.
On the plus side, you’ll find out pretty quick which people in your life actually care about you.
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