I was diagnosed bipolar at 19. I have kept it secret due to the negative stigma and stereotypes that exist because so few people understand it. A former friend has probably told people that I am bipolar, so I am wondering if I should reveal my secret. I don’t want to jeopardize my career, and I don’t want the fact that I am bipolar to interfere with the way people treat me or think of me. Should I tell something so personal that has negative repercussions? I have considered advocating for the mentally ill, but I haven’t because I am not ready to let anyone know that I am bipolar.
Oh, honey! You are not bipolar. Let me explain: I was having coffee about a month ago with a lovely woman who works in the mental-health field. When she speaks of her personal experience with bipolar disease, she always says, “I am managing a bipolar condition.” Comprende? When you say, “I am bipolar,” you place your mind on notice that bipolar disease defines all of who you are. Hey, that’s not fair to you. Yes, the bipolar condition does influence you. Yes, it must be acknowledged and tended to with proper prescription medication, talk therapy, sobriety, etc. But bipolar is only one facet of the self that you offer this beautiful, broken planet. My friend thinks of bipolar as a condition like cancer: Sometimes it is in remission, other times it’s not. Either way, she is considerate of herself and takes great care to manage its influence on her. Would you be willing to try this approach? I see such freedom in her and want that for you, too.
I agree that stereotypes and stigmas surround mental-health issues. Last year, Sen. Darrell Steinberg and I chatted about this over coffee. I proposed that, in addition to the current slate of college prerequisites, Intro to Psychology and Abnormal Psychology should be mandatory for all university students. It’s an idea that was born in me while observing the media coverage of Britney Spears during her head-shaving, panty-free days. It was obvious to me she was suffering. She was a young woman who needed help managing the onset of a mental illness. But the media preyed on public ignorance of psychology, just as they do when professional athletes, actors, politicians and others in the spotlight show symptoms. After all, peep culture promotes crass coverage, not a compassionate or objective approach to entertainment or news. So media gossiped about why Britney was “acting out.” Sad!
With all this on the table, should you share your condition with others? That’s a question you must explore with your psychiatrist. Together, you will arrive at the answer that is best for you. But keep in mind that you cannot control people’s responses to the information. Some people will be afraid, others will be unkind, one or two people will avoid you. Someone will tell you stories about how an acquaintance became free of bipolar disease through diet, herbs and exercise or an intensive mind-control program. In other words, it’s similar to revealing that you have cancer. It will elicit fear, love and indifference from folks around you. Just remember that other people’s responses to you tell you more about them than about yourself. The good news is that you are already advocating for people living with mental illness. After all, if you are wondering whether to tell people, it means they don’t suspect it. How wonderful for you to realize that just by being yourself, you contradict people’s perceptions of bipolar condition.