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Dealing With Other People's Reactions When Sharing Your Diagnosis

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I’ve sometimes felt the sting of invalidation, from family, “friends” and people from work and/or school when I tell them about my bipolar disorder. I cautiously walk the tightrope of confiding in others, afraid to slip into the “asking for pity” territory — which I’ve been told doesn’t exist (but the change of tone in some situations tells otherwise). This fear is especially heightened as a college student, when I have to tell professors that I cannot do certain things due to my condition. I’m not a shout-from-the-rooftops type of person about my bipolar disorder, but when I’m facing severe side effects from a medication change, I reluctantly pull out my laptop and send a few disability notices to my instructors. I always feel terrible about having to miss night classes or ask for extensions, but here’s why I’m working to fight that feeling:

• What is Bipolar disorder?

In an age where the stigma of mental illness is slowly being chipped away, I’ve found that most people don’t have excessive reactions. Sure, people a few decades ago might have reacted like it was a murder confession, but bipolar disorder is stepping out into the light, especially with celebrities like David Harbour or Demi Lovato coming out with their diagnoses. When I had to tell a professor about my struggle coming to an optional night class, he responded kindly and related a story of his own. Higher-ups can often be empathetic, and having expectations of human decency isn’t unreasonable. If this isn’t the case, attempt to shake it off and move on. Your health is 10 times more valuable than someone’s opinion of you.

Shame doesn’t have to dictate your decision to stay silentLike psychologist Brené Brown says, “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Besides dealing with the awkward nature of communicating your diagnosis to higher-ups, ensuring friends and family’s awareness of your mental illness is a must for an open and honest relationship. However, if you choose to confide and receive a bad reaction, it is not your fault. You chose to be brave and speak from your heart — never apologize for that. In life, we are given the freedom to seek out people who care.

However, if you feel more comfortable concealing your condition from certain people, that is valid in its own right. Like I said earlier, I do not tell everyone, or even most people, about my bipolar disorder. This does not mean that I am ashamed of it, but rather use wise judgment in my circle of awareness. Live with intention, safeguard and share to your best ability. Most of all, don’t be afraid. You’re not alone in any stage of recovery.

Getty image by Brainsil

Originally published: March 1, 2021
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