Living with bipolar disorder type 1, I have to deal with severe mood swings, chronic anxiety and occasional psychotic symptoms. Every few years I’m hospitalized due to my illness. I wish I could be more honest, both at these times and every day, about what’s happening to me. Despite the chronic and serious nature of my disorder, I do spend a lot of time and energy hiding aspects of it from those around me.
Here’s why I wish I could be more open:
1. So people could help me recognize the warning signs.
I’m slowly getting better at recognizing when I need help. When I start getting depressed I become less sociable – I ignore phone calls, I stop going out, I don’t want to see anyone. I can often see these things starting to happen, but I feel like I can’t share them with others until it’s too late.
2. So I would feel less ashamed.
Some of the people I love don’t know anything about my illness, but most of those who do choose to ignore it. It’s the “unmentionable.” The hospital is “that place you went.” It makes me feel ashamed — like my illness is something I shouldn’t talk about. People feel awkward because they don’t know how to approach the subject, but being more open would help so much.
3. So people could learn more about me.
This is me! Bipolar disorder is part of my life. It’s like a friend who’s with me always, but who no one bothers to talk to or get to know. They’d rather ignore her. Being more open would help me heal – I could relax and just be myself without having to hide such a big part of myself all the time.
Not all disability is obvious and visible. It doesn’t need to be a scary or intimidating thing to talk about. No one is a better advocate than someone who’s going through it. The more positive exposure there is to mental illness and disability, the better for everyone.
5. So I could explain why I act strangely sometimes.
Sometimes my illness gets the better of me and I don’t act in a way I like. All those times I’ve withdrawn and been a bad friend isn’t because I don’t care, but because I’ve felt too depressed to even get out of bed. I’ve done some silly things that have made people angry with me, but I’ve never had the opportunity to explain why it happened. I never meant to do those things; I just get so unwell sometimes.
6. So I could be honest about why I don’t work.
“So what do you do?” is the question I fear the most in social situations. Despite trying many times to work and to join in society, I’ve always become extremely unwell and often ended up in hospital. It’s hard for me to accept this is my future and I will continue trying as time goes by. I’m not lazy or afraid of hard work — I just find it so stressful I often relapse. It’s just as frustrating for me.
7. So I would have more to talk about.
Sometimes it feels like my whole life is the bipolar. If people ask me what I’ve been doing and how I am, it’s hard to answer without mentioning my mental illness. “I’ve been sitting at home a lot feeling depressed and anxious…my psychiatrist is working on a new cocktail for me…I’ve been trying to go for walks to combat the weight gain but the anxiety is stopping me from going too far from the house.” If only I could really say what was going on.
8. So I don’t have to pretend it’s “just” depression.
Sometimes I provide an explanation by using a “lesser” mental health condition as an excuse. Not lesser as in seriousness, but in the reaction I get. Depression and anxiety are more common in the people I come across, and they seem to be more accepting if I say I’ve been feeling depressed. I do feel like I’m cheating sometimes.
9. So I don’t have to lie on my resume.
Every job I’ve had has ended because I was seriously unwell, so I have a lot of gaps in my work history. I’m not currently looking for paid work, but they often ask for a resume even with volunteer work. I never know how to explain all those gaps. I feel like I can’t tell the truth.
10. Because it shouldn’t be my doctor who knows me best.
We talk about my relationships, my activities, things that have gone well or wrong, my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we talk about very personal stuff like sex or suicidal thoughts. She gives me medication. Twenty minutes once a month on average we talk, and she knows me better than anyone else. If only I could be this open with the ones I love.
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