Everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is a little different. Because of this, it’s important to hear about a variety of experiences. Today’s guest post is about anonymity, something I no longer identify with as I “out” myself twice a week as having bipolar disorder. Most people are not like me, though. So here is one person’s story:
“As an individual who has been recently diagnosed with Bipolar II, I find myself often testing out how those words feel in my mouth. I find myself experimenting with the sounds coming from my lips and how they feel in my ears. Looking at myself in the mirror, I’ll try saying it a few ways. “Hey, I’m bipolar.” I’ll say it fast like a sprinter at the crack of the race gun, slower and more deliberately like a yogi transitioning poses, I’ll say it with pauses and without pauses akin to a musician trying to find the best pace for a song. I find myself teasing it out in all the different ways that I can imagine it coming out. Watching my lips form those words is still foreign to me – but it’s something that gets easier each time I say it and hear it in my own voice.
It can be empowering to own my diagnosis, to be able to disclose it at my leisure to people I feel comfortable enough to tell. But, I’ve hit an interesting empass: now that I’ve told most people that I feel comfortable telling, I find myself wondering how to cope when that opportunity is stripped from me? How do I cope with situations where disclosure isn’t welcomed? How can I weather the storm when my ability to disclose is preceded by somebody else doing it on my behalf accidentally?
When it comes to my work life (and even some areas of my social life) mum’s the word when it comes to mental illness. We don’t disclose – we don’t do feelings. I work with data and report on that data to my bosses – sometimes this data and what I report is sent to news outlets. If my ability to reason is considered compromised (think manic state!) then I think my ability to have a job where people trust in me might be as well. That seems like a clear cut issue for me – my diagnosis will never escape my lips at work. Although not ideal, knowing that I am choosing not to disclose my illness at work is something I can live with. There is a boundary at work – and until something changes, that boundary will remain untouched by me. There is, however, something far more worrisome to me – being outed by accident or on purpose.
I have already experienced having my diagnosis disclosed by somebody else before I was ready to share it and there is something very upsetting about the entire situation. It made me irrationally upset. It was akin to somebody walking in on me in a changing room. It’s just not something you were supposed to see! I’ve had well-intentioned friends mention to folks that they know with bipolar offhandedly in mixed company and then, suddenly, somebody who didn’t know about my diagnosis now does.
Being outed sometimes feels as if it diminishes me and diminishes my power to own my diagnosis. My rational brain knows this is not the case. I know on some level that somebody else disclosing on my behalf doesn’t mean that I have less control over myself than I did a minute prior to it happening. After all, being bipolar is just one facet of who I am. I console myself with the following thought: someday in the future, perhaps when the words: “Hey, I’m bipolar” no longer sound foreign to me it won’t seem as important that they come from my own lips – and that day can’t come soon enough.”
Image credit: Giuseppe Milo