I had coffee today with a somewhat new friend and an older one. This new friend and I have met a handful of times since the summer. We are Facebook friends so she asked if I was writing a book and I told her I had completed it – a while ago actually, just searching for an agent or publisher now. I didn’t feel awkward talking about the fact that it is a memoir of my mental illness. I didn’t feel I needed to.
I believe I told her the day we met that I had bipolar disorder and that I blog for Psych Central. Maybe not, maybe I was more vague. But I am sure I at least told her I had a mental illness.
The “older” friend found out through a blog on my personal site, ElainaJ.com, when I “came out” as mentally ill. In the post I mentioned climbing trees in sequin dresses and rooftops at 2 in the morning. This friend, though new at the time, offered to climb up with me next time.
There is this horrible thing called “STIGMA” that exists. I’ve encountered it. It doesn’t feel good to know that someone thinks less of you because you have an illness of the mind. But please remember, 1 in 4 of us is mentally ill. Think of all the people you know, then do the math.
ADD, ADHD, PTSD, PPD, OCD, anxiety/panic disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and the many other illnesses of the mind are not to be ignored.
But who do you tell and when do you tell them of your illness?
I know you were hoping I had some magic answer – the number of dates or email exchanges. Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t. BUT I can tell you what has worked for me.
Before I “came out” to the world, long before I blogged openly about my illnesses for Psych Central, I was afraid to let anyone besides my family and very close friends know that I was mentally ill. I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that they wouldn’t like me. When I started talking to my boyfriend I hinted about being sick – and he also knew I was 28 and living with my parents – but I never came out and said I was mentally ill for months. Finally, when I felt like I could trust him I whispered the words “bipolar disorder” into the phone late one night. You know what happened? He asked how he could help. (It’s things like that that have probably kept us together for over 5 & 1/2 years).
Writing my memoir also helped. When you are writing a book everyone asks the same question – “What is it about?” I started off by brushing that question away with, “Oh, it’s about mental illness.” Then at my best friend’s wedding reception people asked me that same question and because these people lived half a country away and I knew I would not be seeing them regularly, I peeled off the Band-aid. “I have bipolar disorder and OCD and anxiety disorder and it is about my life living with these illnesses.” And you know what happened? People were interested! They had questions. They knew people with one of my illnesses. They asked to let them know when the book came out. No, no one went running and screaming away. No one even excused themselves to the bathroom.
Today it is pretty easy to be open, after all I blog about this – my life – for you twice a week and publicize my posts on social media. If you Google me, you’ll find interviews and blog posts about my mental health.
So that is kind of the long answer. The short one? You tell whoever you want when you are ready. You may never tell some people. You may have to tell others. But it is your life and your mind and you are in control.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net