Is “coming out” as a person with mental illness ever a good idea? Is there ever a good time to admit you’ve got a mental disorder? And where? Should you do it in person? On Facebook? On a blog?
I’m open about being bipolar everywhere. I may as well wear a scarlet “B” for the world to see. The people in my real life know it, everyone on Facebook is aware, I blog and write about it, using my own name even.
I’ve seen this question asked many different times over the years and even though I chose to open up about it, I don’t think there’s a clear-cut “right” or “wrong” answer.
I do have some questions I’ve cobbled together that might help a person deciding whether or not to go public about their mental health. These are things I wish I’d known before I started blogging about bipolar disorder years ago.
1. Are you in a stable place of recovery?
I cannot emphasize this enough. Being manic or thoroughly depressed when you decide to go public will almost definitely be detrimental to your health. You will get stable and be mortified you decided to share such a private part of your life with the world, especially when you weren’t in the best state to do damage control on what people saw. I am eternally grateful I was in a stable place when I first decided to start blogging about mental illness, but looking back, I cringe at how not “put together” I really was. There were times I wish I’d had someone veto my writing privileges because I’d decompensated. That being said, I am a big believer of the mantra “time heals all wounds” because yes, I put some random, poorly put together stuff on my blog. Luckily the world was rather forgiving of those errors.
2. Can you handle the trolls?
Going public, especially going public online, can open the door to all sorts of trolls, who want nothing more than to tear you down. Oh, they may think they’re helping, by making you question your medication choices or question your treatment plan, but all they’re really doing is dragging you down to their level.
3. Are you ready for the (possible) notoriety?
Going public on Facebook can be a gamble. You don’t know what the person reading your status really thinks of mental illness or what their preconceived notions are and you may receive backlash. You’ll almost always receive positive statements and love, but like I said earlier, there are trolls out there and I’m sure you know some irl. If you don’t receive anything uplifting or fear you won’t, then going public right now is definitely not the best thing for you. Personally, I’d recommend finding a new social circle if the one you have is full of people who might tear you down.
4. Does your employer know you have a mental illness?
This is a big one. Some employers search your name periodically and most new employers almost definitely do. Are you ready to have the risk of losing your job or the possibility of being discriminated against when it comes to a new job due to stigma and fear? I know this is a very valid concern and one of the reasons to think about outing yourself very carefully. I’ve had several jobs since I started writing online and have not yet been discriminated against for being bipolar. However, I have had several job interviews with no job offers and I will never know why I didn’t get those jobs. My last job knew I was bipolar and supported me fully. My current job doesn’t know, but since I’ve only been there a week, I’m sure it’ll come up at some point.
5. Are you OK with your name forever being linked to your disorder?
If you google my name, my author page with The Mighty is the first thing you see. My blog is further down, but it’s there, too. It’s blatantly obvious I write about living with bipolar disorder. To be honest, there have been times when I’ve struggled with this degree of disclosure to the world. I’ve always overcome those feelings because deep down I believe in what I’m doing, and am 100 percent committed to fighting stigma no matter what. It’s also been years since I’ve struggled with being “out of the closet” in regards to my mental health.
So where does this leave you? Ultimately, I think it’s no one’s business how open or not open you are about your illness and you should never feel pressured into telling your story when you’re not ready. I think you’ll know when you’re ready, too. I think if there’s even an ounce of doubt, a feeling of hesitancy or a pinch of paranoia, then now isn’t the time to come out. But each person is different. Maybe you have these doubts and still want to open up and figure you’ll deal with the pieces where they fall. More power to you.
I know for me, “coming out” has helped on a therapeutic level and being able to see my progress over the years has been astounding. I’m grateful I have this platform to speak on, but I recognize it’s not for everyone. If you don’t feel like you’ll ever be ready to come out to people, that’s OK too. Like I said earlier, it’s no one’s business but your own and you’re in control of how you share this info. I am sure if you’re on the fence with this decision, you and your treatment team can come up with a palatable answer. I just wanted to provide a little extra food for thought.
What other considerations did I miss? Why else should a person not open up or why else should they? Is one avenue of sharing potentially better than the others? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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