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When Should You Disclose Your Bipolar Disorder?

The stigma against mental illness remains high despite extensive progress in recent years. So when should you tell people you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder? This is indeed one slippery pickle.

There are simple statements you can make to dodge the question at first. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to every person or situation, I’ve come up with the following rules for myself. It makes sense to let the new person know about your status after getting to know them pretty well. 

If you’re comfortable enough to let out a huge burp in front of someone, then you’re probably ready to reveal. 

Dating 

I’ve been dating — with mixed results — since I got sober in 2012. As a rule of thumb, I do not disclose my bipolar or my last name until the third date at the earliest. This way, the person in question has already experienced my personality, and we may have even been intimate, both of which can make the other person less likely to judge. And if you leave your last name secret at first, you can avoid being Googled.

If I get to the third date, I figure we at least have some degree of chemistry and have both invested a good chunk of time. I wouldn’t want us to waste any more time if either of us isn’t comfortable after I’ve made the Big Reveal. I’ve never had someone walk out on me after I’ve revealed my bipolar. It could be that I swim in liberal and artistic circles, but I think any reasonable person would not see the disorder as a dealbreaker. And if it is a dealbreaker, you probably wouldn’t want to be with them anyway. If pressed, you’ll want to ease them into it by saying something like, “I have a medical issue that I’m kind of shy about. It’s no big deal, but I’ll tell you know about it later,” and leave it at that.

Friends and Family

When it comes to people you’ve known for years, such as friends or family, you may still may need to tailor your responses when you disclose. It’s likely that your immediate family knows because they may have helped you along the way. Extended family, depending on how close you are with them, may or may not need to know.

When it comes to kids — I have a 12-year-old nephew — I haven’t gone there yet. I’ve decided to wait until he’s at least a teenager, which is quite soon. Your best friends should know, especially if you may need to break plans due to a bad mental health day or anxiety attack. Acquaintances or friends of friends don’t need to know if you’re not comfortable.

Professional Colleagues

At work, it’s a bit of a dicey situation. When I was severely manic in 2008, it was obvious that something was wrong with me, especially when I went on medical leave. “Why were you gone?” is a question I fielded several times. I would just say, “I was out for personal reasons,” and leave it at that. It worked. Overall, I would keep a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to coworkers and bosses. If you have coworkers you are especially close with, you might want to reveal your status to them and them only. And make it clear that you are telling them in confidence.

Or you could spill your guts in a memoir and air all your dirty laundry out in the open. I wrote a whole book about my bipolar and my addiction. As a journalist, that’s what I did. But, be aware, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Revealing your bipolar disorder can feel embarrassing or difficult, but once you’ve told the important people in your life, the clouds will lift and you will hopefully feel much better for it.

What are your criteria for coming out as bipolar?

Getty image via francescoch

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