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What Happened When I Opened Up to My Sister About My Bipolar Disorder

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I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a sharer. I have never been. I love to hear all about other people and their experiences but when it comes to talking about myself, especially my emotions, I keep the sharing to a minimum. I use humor as a defense mechanism to avoid any conversation I deem as being too deep. Hell, I still feel weird talking about my personal experiences on the internet. You can imagine, then, how conflicted I am when it comes to talking about my mental illness. I was just recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I’m really struggling with how much I feel like I should reveal about it. My biggest problem is, I care too much about the image I portray to others. This, in turn, leads me to pretend to be OK when, in reality, I’m anything but. I worry my problems will be an inconvenience to those around me or they’ll think less of me for not being stronger.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

After my most recent hospitalization for a depressive episode, I’ve decided to be more open and honest about the state of my mental health. I’ve been working through talk therapy but I still find myself holding back sometimes when people, especially my family, ask me how I’m doing.

One night, a few weeks after I got home from the hospital, my younger sister and I were standing in the kitchen. I can’t even remember what exactly we were talking about but she turned to me and said, “I’m just going to be blunt with you. What’s going on?”

I got so uncomfortable. I could feel myself starting to say things like, “Nothing, I’m OK” or “I’m just tired, that’s all.” You know, all the usual excuses we give when we want to avoid the bigger issue. I knew my family had been tip-toeing around me recently, so I’d been retreating back to that state of denial in order to make their lives easier. My sister didn’t wait for a response from me. She went on and said, “I want you to know I’m here for you, but you have to talk to me.” And so I did. I immediately broke down and told her everything, and I mean everything, I’d been going through the past few months. It was like word vomit. I won’t go in depth about it but all the traumatic details had us both in tears. The best part about the whole conversation was that after I finished, she didn’t judge me for any of it. She hugged me and told me she was so sorry I had to go through it alone and she wished she would’ve known so she could’ve been there to support me.

After that conversation, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Someone finally knew why I am the way I am and she didn’t run away screaming. She’s actually interested in learning more about it. I gave her a book on bipolar disorder and even invited her to one of the support groups I attend that allows family and friends. I’ve always been really close with my baby sister, but I feel like this has brought us even closer. So often I feel like I’m alone in all of this, but after talking with my sister I realize that isn’t the case. There are people in my life who love and support me, and now I know I don’t have to constantly hide my feelings to avoid being vulnerable.

If you’re thinking of opening up to someone close to you about your mental illness, I urge you to do it. Chances are they will want to do everything they can to help you and it might even make your relationship stronger.

Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Originally published: May 18, 2017
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