I went public with my mental health diagnosis. Here’s why.
I recently wrote about an attempt at inpatient hospitalization, but the hospital turned me away. We briefly thought about asking his mom to come watch the kids while he works during the day. But my fear of telling them the truth stamped out that idea. I’ve thought a lot about how my husband will manage the household if/when I need to be hospitalized. He has the ability to work from home, but doing so while caring for our 4 and 6 year old would be difficult.
I spent a few days recently fantasizing about telling his parents. Then, telling everyone. I even wrote about telling his parents here. I mulled over the logistics. How would I tell them? When would I tell them? How much information would I disclose? How would I handle stigma? Blessedly, they responded very positively. My mother-in-law told me that she’s proud of me, she’s glad I’m getting treatment, and that she will support me any way she can. My father-in-law sent me an article about a new method they’re using to treat depression. The patient featured lives with bipolar disorder.
Spurred on my their positive reaction, I decided to go semi-public. Call it residual manic symptoms (to be fair, I’m still taking Trazadone and melatonin for sleep). Call it passion. Call it whatever you want. I ended up posting several stories on Instagram, for the eyes of my closest friends. I included some of my favorite pictures of our family over the last year, and short tidbits about my story. I mentioned that I was diagnosed in 2010, but ignored my symptoms for 8 years. That 2021 was possibly the hardest year of my life. How I’m getting treatment and things are looking up.
Twenty-three people saw my posts. Only about six responded, two of whom have Bipolar family members. Those messages were so loving and comforting that I felt confident about my decision for the first time. Here’s why I did it.
It felt like my mom got sick overnight. We were living in Indiana, when she showed up with our car packed after I’d stayed the night with a friend. She said we were going to West Virginia to visit my aunt. She drove two nights with no sleep before we stopped at a house in the woods of Louisiana.
She released a handful of dogs from their kennels, put a few cats in the car to “calm me down”, and carved the hood of a truck with a rock before the police showed up. I was taken to a foster home for the night, until my dad could drive down from West Virginia and file for custody of the both of us.
We drove back to Indiana, where my mom was hospitalized for a month. She left against doctor’s orders and came back to us as she continued to suffer with psychosis. Her behavior was erratic at times, but dangerous at others. I watched her suffer in ways that I couldn’t comprehend at the age of seven.
For years, she went on and off her medications. She and my dad drank heavily and fought until things grew physical. She once mocked me with a smirk on her face as I begged her to stop hitting my dad. The disgusted way that she often looked at me is burnt in my brain.
And you know what? No one ever talks about it.
Everything is swept under the rug, and I’m treated as if their feelings of guilt should erase the years of pain and trauma they’ve caused. But the feeling of shame is possibly my heaviest burden.
Watching my entire family tiptoe around the topic of my mom’s illness taught me that we can’t talk about severe mental health struggles. I couldn’t ask questions. There were rumors I’d hear through the grapevine. One in particular was that she’d done drugs. I clung to that rumor in hopes that it meant I wouldn’t suffer the same fate. All I had to do in order to keep my feet on the ground, was to avoid drugs.
Shortly after I began medication in March 2021, I came clean with my mom. Despite those horrible years, she loves me dearly. We talk every day. So hiding my medication and therapy from her felt nearly impossible. This was my first step towards removing the layers of shame and guilt I’d built up over the years. I cried as I removed the heavy layer that draped across my shoulders like a weighted blanked.
I asked her questions and she willingly answered. It wasn’t drugs. It was sleep deprivation. Which, unfortunately, it not something I can so easily avoid.
Every therapist, nurse, and psychiatrist I’ve talked to this year has helped me release some of that shame. Yes, I know how I’d kill myself. Yes, I drink too much. Yes, I worry that you’re intentionally making me sick as part of a massive effort to control the superpower of mania. It’s still hard to admit those things. But I’m getting better. Because I’m slowly recognizing that those things are a part of me, but they don’t require a judgement. And they don’t reflect negatively on me.
Telling my in-laws and my closest friends is shedding off the burdens of self-stigma. I’m not hiding something that takes up a lot of my mental energy. I’m telling those important to me that I struggle. And not with the socially acceptable depression and anxiety. Not that those diagnosis’ don’t come with their own stigma, but they’ve received far more public attention as of late.
I’m using my experiences to teach my friends and family about bipolar disorder. We’re not evil people. We aren’t heartless people who thoughtlessly hurt our families without a concern for repercussions. We aren’t lazy or manipulative.
We’re living, breathing, hurting humans who deserve to live openly with our illness, if that’s what we choose to do.