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Why I'm Not Hiding My Mental Illness Anymore

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Elaina J. Martin's eyes

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me. You wouldn’t hear it in my laugh or smell it on my skin. It wouldn’t announce itself like a suitor at the door a century ago. When I tell you about the time I styled the “Real World: Austin” cast or if you heard me on the radio, you wouldn’t have a clue. I chain words together to form sentences. I lasso sentences around the moon. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I am sick.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I am mentally ill.

It has something to do with chemicals and my brain. Too little. Too much. It has to do with stress and life. It is no one’s fault, not yours.

Not mine.

I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. And Anxiety Disorder. And once upon a time, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But most importantly, I have Bipolar Disorder.

I didn’t catch it like a bad cold. It must have always been there, waiting. Breathing on my neck. Sitting in the dark. It waited until I was flying high to make me crash. And unlike a cold, it won’t go away. Ever.

I have Bipolar Disorder, and it has changed my life. It has taken my career and some of my friends. It has broken relationships. It has broken my heart. It has led me to the Intensive Care Unit, the psych ward, free clinics, Duke University and more doctors than I can name.

Up to a third of all people who have Bipolar Disorder die by their own hand. Suicide. Death. I have nearly died. A few times. When my mind is right it is not there, that dark shadow. But sometimes I lose my mind. I climb trees in sequin dresses. I go 110 mph. I climb on third-story roofs at two in the morning. There is more. So much more. But those are secrets for me and those that love me.

By telling you this, dear reader, I risk turning you away. But I am stable now. I take my medication. I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist. I manage.

I am telling you because I need to be honest. I want to talk about the mentally ill. I want to be okay with myself. I don’t want to hide anymore. My mental illness is a part of me, as much a part as my curly hair and green eyes.

There is a stigma attached to the mentally ill. If I had heart disease or diabetes people would sympathize, make exceptions. But because my illness affects my mind, it is seen in a different light. I cannot be trusted. Words from my mouth are shaken with salt.

I am writing my experience in words and pages and chapters. I want to share it with you. Bring you inside the hospital walls, take you up on the roof. I want you to understand how it feels to not trust yourself, to check in every day and make sure that your mind is indeed still there. It’s scary. I am scared most of the time.

I have grown dependent – on my family, on my boyfriend, on my best friends. They hold me down, keep me from flying into the sky. They watch me through trained eyes. Am I well? Am I sane?

I want to make it okay. I want to write my way into your heart so that when you hear the phrase “mentally ill” you open your arms, you say, “I don’t understand, but I will listen to you,” you say, “I know ElainaJ, and she is sick but she is beautiful.”

I wouldn’t be who I am without my illness. It has shaped me; created a curve in the “J.”

And I am so blessed. I have people who care about me, who take care of me when I can’t, I have my words and sentences and essays. I have a way to speak when my mouth is closed. I have you, dear reader.

I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed. I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay when it isn’t. I don’t want to lie, white or otherwise. I don’t want to stretch the truth to fit me. I want to be me. Bipolar disordered me. Mentally ill me. Me.

I could say I would understand if you stopped reading or stopped calling, but I wouldn’t. I am still me, just a little more quirky than most. I am still me, just with an excuse for what you can’t understand.

I have made mistakes. Haven’t you? Fueled by mania I have lost my mind. A lot. But I always come back, sometimes quicker than others. I forget what I’ve said and what I’ve done, and I ask you to remind me. Psychotic breaks. Mental amnesia. Just another day as ElainaJ.

I’ve been holding off on posting this blog for a while now. I am afraid – of what you will say, of what you will do. But I need to be okay with who I am, whether you like me or not… And I am okay. A little bit crazy. A lot of bit kind.

I hope you’ll stay.

This post originally appeared on ElainaJ’s personal blog. You can also read her blog, “Being Beautifully Bipolar.”

Originally published: May 7, 2014
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