Tag Archives: coming out

Journalist Comes Out About Having Mental Illness

I want to share an article that I found interesting, it is a post written by Mark Joyella, a journalist and former television reporter who has just recently come out about having a mental illness to help fight the stigma that surrounds it.

His article, Screw Stigma. I’m Coming Out takes us on a journey through his fear of being identified as a mental health consumer to a place where he feels comfortable sharing his OCD diagnosis.

For someone in the public eye, I found this article to be extremely thoughtful and well written, as well as reflective. I think his journey can be related to anyone who has questioned their own diagnosis or felt self conscious about the idea of having a mental illness, not just for folks who have an OCD diagnosis.

In any case, I suggest checking it out… and for Mark Joyella, a big high five – thank you for being brave enough to come forward about your experiences!

Bipolar Curious Two Year Anniversary

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

It is Friday, October 11th which is National Coming Out Day, which also means today is the two year anniversary of the bipolar curious blog!

When I started this blog two years ago, I was fed up with beating around the bush and living in fear of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Now that I’ve “come out” as a bisexual woman living with bipolar disorder, there have been a lot of changes in my life, and most have been for the better.

I’ve encountered an amazing amount of acceptance from family, friends, and strangers, made connections with people I never expected to have anything in common with, and learned a lot about myself.

In the last year in particular I’ve been certified in the ASIST suicide prevention training model and received a certificate from the NAMI peer to peer class. Though I haven’t been working, I’ve tried several new medications (none of which have worked out) and am ten months through applying for SSDI.

Most importantly, I’ve been grateful, impressed, and motivated by the people who have come to this blog to explore topics about mental illness by leaving comments or simply by reading. I know I have had a rather difficult time being able to respond to the number of comments I get on the blog, but I do read every one. I also try very hard to respond to every email I get, but I want to thank your patience and understanding around this issue.

I am someone who has trouble focusing my attention on one project for very long, so I am taking a lot of personal pride in the fact that I’ve kept this blog alive for two years. Blogging has been challenging, but definitely rewarding as well, so here are some high hopes to year three.

Celebrities; Coming Out or Outed?

Lately, the influx of news on celebrities with bipolar disorder has been exploding. 

Doing a google news search of the word “bipolar” leads to sloughs of articles like this one claiming to have news on handfuls of everyone from hollywood celebrities to athletes, and even folks working in politics who have bipolar disorder.

Now, I have some real mixed feelings about all of this, because I’ve often considered these articles a place for little more than gossip. The word gossip, to me, suggests sharing information that might not be true, and information that isn’t consented by those who are being talked about.

Knowing that a successful celebrity is experiencing similar symptoms as us can really run home that mental illness can affect anyone, and in a sense I believe these articles are beginning to help people become more familiar with illnesses like bipolar disorder -which helps lessen the stigma for all of us.

But, I can’t help but wonder how detrimental it can be to those who are in the public eye and facing bipolar disorder. Can you imagine if one of these newspapers or websites printed an article about you having bipolar disorder before you were ready to talk about it with anyone outside of your family or friends? What if someone told your co-workers, the people at your gym, and essentially the entire nation about the state of your mental health without asking you about it first?

These folks are essentially being outed, and once everyone knows (or even believes) that you have something like bipolar disorder, there isn’t really any way to go backwards and let it remain a private matter.

Can you think of any other situations where people have been weeded out, and then thrust into the public eye? How about the McCarthy era? Or even homosexuality, as it became more prominent and accepted in our society? Personally, I just see this as extreme bullying.

I realize that I am someone who is out, I tell people both privately and publicly about my experiences with bipolar disorder, but my real point here is that I made the decision on my own. It is one thing to feel strong enough and ready to take on what people might throw back at you for being open about mental illness, and another matter completely to have someone pull the rug out from under you and do it without your consent or before you are ready.

As I said, I think being able to look up to celebrities or our own personal heros (mine being Carrie Fisher who has been out about having bipolar disorder for quite some time) is important, and a wonderful growing addition to help America understand that mental illness may not mean we are unsuccessful, or hard to work with, or… well, evil or anything. But, it is important that people are ready to deal with the waves of questions, and the uncertainty that may come with being open about mental illness, and being pushed into that arena too soon can be extremely detrimental to what might be an already unstable situation.

The next time you see an article or a news segment on someone like a previous teen star who has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I hope you will consider the notion that the information may not have been something they expected to share. In that sense, celebrities are just like everyone else.

Though it is my own personal dream that people can talk openly about mental illness in any situation, with anyone, and feel comfortable doing it, I think it is important to realize that some people aren’t comfortable yet. And if celebrities are the ones paving the way for this dream to be realized, I think it is important to understand that it may not have been entirely willingly.

I would say that what most would consider the “sacrifice” of losing my-life-where-I-was-hiding-having-bipolar-disorder in exchange for one where my mental health is an open topic for conversation doesn’t feel like a sacrifice anymore.

In fact, I’ve found that the water is much warmer, the fish are much friendlier, and the ocean current isn’t as strong as it was when I was trying to swim it alone.

In conclusion, I do not plan to pass on any celebrity gossip, only accounts on mental health that are being put forward by the person in question themselves. I want to encourage people to be open about what they think and feel and believe, but I believe that can happen without bullying anyone into doing it or talking behind anyone’s back. I believe being open can inspire others, and that inspiration wont need any pushing or gossip because it’ll do the work for us. 

I do hope the other bloggers here on wordpress will consider making a similar pledge.

Mental Illness Awareness Month

Did anyone know that May is Mental Illness Awareness Month?

No? Me either. And I have a mental illness. So that’s just sad.

When I discovered this fact this morning I was even more baffled to read that this  was started in 1949.

So why doesn’t anyone seem to know about it?

Are non-profits in your area reaching out to the public? Have you seen anything on the local (or national) news about this? Have you seen anyone sporting a green (as that’s the designated color) ribbon?

I was recently completely thrown off when I tried contacting a local mental health organization, only to get a response a few weeks later that the organization was run by volunteers who couldn’t get along, and therefore couldn’t answer my questions.

From what I’ve seen, the goal of most mental health organizations is to help people get mental health care, which (don’t get me wrong) is a very admirable goal. There is a lot of concern that there isn’t enough mental health care to go around for everyone who needs it, but it seems like if there was more public outreach there would be more knowledge about what is going on and more opportunity for funding for these programs.

But, as I usually assure people, I’m no business man.

To put this into perspective a little bit, statistics suggest 1 in 8 American women (and a non-specific number of men) are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Consider the sheer amount of fundraising you see (marathons, etc.) that go toward breast cancer research. The sea of pink ribbons and t-shirts you can find at any given time during breast cancer awareness month. People are proud to support someone who has/has had breast cancer.

Now, just to compare a little bit, 1 in 5 Americans (both men and women combined) are said to have a mental illness. Obviously I am a little biased here, but why doesn’t this have an army of green-shirted, marathon running athletes raising funds?

I know there are people that will be appalled by that comparison, but what is the difference between one major illness and another? I can’t think of an answer that isn’t entirely based on stigma except that breast cancer treatment can potentially eradicate breast cancer, whereas there is no treatment that eradicates mental illness.

The death toll around mental illness has been rising, but it hasn’t been called that in the media. Bullying (which has been linked to be potentially caused by depression) has been called the cause of the widespread number of teen suicides across the country. Bullying, a potential symptom of depression, causing the victims to develop depression, then suicide occurs. The media does not address the mental illness aspect of this situation, and if the media doesn’t address mental illness, how are people supposed to know about it? If they don’t know about it, how could they have a chance at understanding it?

All I’m saying is that I don’t think we are giving people a chance to understand. When even many of the non-profit organizations are as guarded as those that are living with mental illness, I can’t imagine seeing change any time soon.

That said, I am making it a personal goal to make (at least) 100 green ribbon pins to give away to people on the street over the rest of May.

I’d like to challenge you to think of just one way you can be involved in Mental Illness Awareness Month. It could be as simple as being open about your experiences related to mental illness to someone who hasn’t heard about them before, making a donation to a non-profit organization that is centered around mental health, or even just making a green ribbon pin and wearing it yourself.

What can you do to help instigate change?

Exploration of New Territory

Today I am trying something new.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you probably know that in addition to bipolar disorder, I have a number of other diagnoses (these are usually referred to as co-morbid diagnoses since they exist in addition to one another). Generalized Anxiety Disorder is one of the flowers in my bouquet of mental illness, I was diagnosed with it a year ago.

Just the fact that even the name has the word generalized in it makes the whole thing seem a little vague (hey, I’m a little ignorant about this world, ok?) but I know for sure that anxiety is something I struggle with on almost (if not on) a daily basis, and it is something that has been a part of my life since childhood.

I’ve been to a sizable smattering of support groups that focus on bipolar disorder, and led some, but as much as I address bipolar disorder, I am not addressing the other components. Anxiety. PTSD. OCD.

It is like being in the ocean in a small boat in the middle of an oil spill.

My boat springs a leak, and I start sinking.

My initial reaction, though, is shit. Oil is getting all over everything! 

I’ve been trying to clean up this oil, cleaning and cleaning and making a tiny dent… but underneath that oil is water, and that water may seem less threatening but it is still collecting together and threatening to sink my boat.

The trouble has been that since I do not have a series of medications to help stabilize my bipolar disorder, I spend an exceptional amount of energy and attention wrestling with it myself to keep it from wreaking too much havoc. It is time consuming, it is exhausting, but the tools I’ve compiled are making a difference. I still feel like hell a lot of the time, but I can control myself enough to keep from having a huge meltdown 9 times out of 10.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to address anything else even remotely emotional or thought provoking because I am trying to listen to a story or look at a different part of myself while wrestling a bull. The bipolar bull. Sometimes it gives you wings, sometimes it just stomps on you with its sharp, pointy hooves.

I feel pretty confident in saying this is probably why many therapists wont work with a bipolar patient who isn’t medicated. I’ve stumbled upon the explanation by accident. I have to keep 75-85% of my brain subduing a bull, and the remaining 15% can’t absorb the information fast enough to really make a huge difference.

Of course, therapy is entirely helpful for bipolar-related stuff at this moment, and to have someone act as a non-biased level-headed advice person (always good) as described in the last post. But, if I take a minute to let go of the bull to try and focus on something else, there’s a stampede and I wind up getting trampled.

It is quite frustrating.

Anyway, the new thing that I am going to do today is go to an anxiety support group.

I love support groups of all kinds, and even with my 15% attention span I almost always find some portion helpful, and relatable, and thought-provoking.

I do, however, get anxiety (ha!) when going to a group where I know the majority of the people -well, I don’t know that they’re more sane but they generally have a lot fewer issues than I have going on. Does that make sense?

I feel like I have become accustomed to bipolar, and even schizophrenic folks in my support groups. I find solace in the idea that the people there have generally had as many, if not more struggles than I have had… and I can walk away knowing that if others can survive with more difficult problems than I have, I can do what I need to do.

I have been to a group or two in passing where I am clearly the black sheep in the room, and I don’t think it is bad, I just don’t really know how to handle myself in those situations.

My therapist wants me to practice “filtering” myself in different situations so what I say is appropriate, but I have trouble discerning where “filtering” ends sometimes and straight up lying begins… which is why I’ve avoided doing it up to this point, really. I’d rather just say nothing at all than something that isn’t true.

In any case, I think I ought to go into this as optimistically as possible. I am excited, to some degree, though a little nervous, and I’m sure if I take the time to think before I speak it should be fine.

Plus, maybe I can act as that banner for someone else.

Hell, if that odd, bipolar girl can deal with her anxiety, so can I!

Sunday; Coming Out in the Workplace

The continuing saga of being employed while having bipolar disorder.

I have been working for two days per week for the last 4 months or so now as something of a glorified secretary slash hostess slash personal assistant aiding in  selling real estate. In that time I have been told constantly that the position is really below my abilities (particularly by my boss) but I have avoided glomming on to any additional responsibility because the low stress level I have at my current job has been key in keeping me at least half-sane.

I’ve been living as openly as possible in regard to having bipolar disorder since October now and I meant to talk with my boss about it right away, but things keep popping up. Little things that would divert my intentional conversation, like customers or having a particularly bad day. Somehow I’ve been working 4 months without talking about it, and it was filed in the back of my mind’s “do this eventually” folder. I knew it would come up eventually, but I had actively stopped trying to have that conversation.

In the meantime, I’ve talked with a lot of other people about this.

At what point do you make something, like having bipolar disorder, known to your employer?

Do you ever? Is it safe?

Do you wait until you have a problem or need accommodations? Or do you start by laying it out the first day?

Should you wait for your co-workers or boss to get to know you a little first?

The general consensus of bipolarites in my life have expressed that they are in firm belief that:

Loose lips sink ships.

But how much of that is just fear, really?

I admit I am young, and I have seen my fair share of discrimination in the workplace, but maybe it is because I am young that it has been like water rolling off my back.

You see, I really believe that if I am meant to be somewhere, hiding my needs makes me feel more weak than strong.

I have stopped feeling like there is only one job or one setting that is more than willing to take what I have to offer them, so if I don’t fit in a job because my peers don’t get along with me or they don’t like me, I’m not meant to be there. Just the same, if they are going to persecute me for having bipolar disorder, then I’m not meant to be there either.

When I look back on jobs that I lost, I genuinely feel that if I had asked for more help, or been more open with people about what was going on, things might have turned out better. If co-workers don’t know that discrimination is happening, they can’t always see it, which means they can’t say anything about it either.

Anyway, I refuse to work somewhere where I am treated like shit.

And if that means self employment, fine. I am willing to go that far.

Heck, I’m self employed now.

Anyway, my boss now is a really remarkable woman who I find to be a rockin’ female role model. I’ve haven’t met too many strong, female career types, so I think this made me think twice, in a way, before opening up about having bipolar disorder.

What finally pushed me over the edge was being offered a 3rd day per week to work.

I’m an ambitious person by nature (though I’m working hard on getting my ambitions and realistic abilities lined up with each other) so my immediate thought was that I could take on a third day no problem.

But, enter the anxiety. Enter the fear. Enter the looming word that my therapist said to me over the phone last Wednesday, that word nobody with mental illness ever wants to hear;

hospital

I don’t think things have been overwhelmingly bad lately, just severe enough to cause some concern with my medical team I guess. Mania, or rather being conscious of mania is new territory for me to some degree, and the current hypothesis is that I am not fully aware with just how bad things were getting in that realm the week before last. I am the first to admit that, sure, I could be a little blind to the severity of potential mania, but when I had that “h” bomb dropped on me (hospital, not hydrogen) I had to take a step back from everything.

Are things as ok as I thought? Is more stress really what I need right now -adding a third day of work to my week?

Actually, I said to my boss on Saturday, can I have 24 hours to think about it?

Like a Guy Ritchie movie, those 24 hours passed in a flurried montage of mere seconds, and I was standing in front of her desk again, yesterday.

I might as well just tell the whole story then, I thought. It is probably time.

I asked her to consider all of the things she thinks about me, my intelligence, my common sense, and my accomplishments (because this woman seriously thinks I am really cool… through no fault of my own), and then I told her I have bipolar disorder. That one thing doesn’t make any of those other things untrue, does it?

No.

In my experience, the manner in which the subject of bipolar disorder is broached with someone for the first time will have a significant effect on how the aftermath of the conversation pans out.

A guilty, shameful admittance of mental illness is likely to be met with the recipient feeling as ashamed of the idea of mental illness as you’re acting.

Likewise, confidence is usually met with confidence.

When most people hear something serious, they gauge the level of seriousness based on how the storyteller is acting. Mirroring those actions and emotions are an easy way to know how to respond to something these folks may not otherwise know how to respond to.

She knew I was dealing with a serious medical problem, as I’ve talked in limited amounts about things like doctor’s appointments and medications very generally, and the fact that I have been working only two days per week was a pretty good tip off too. She’s not stupid, that’s for sure.

Overall the conversation went well, despite the fact that I got a little turned around in the end.

My intention was to tell her these were the reasons I couldn’t work a third day a week, but instead I felt so confident and comfortable by the end of our talk I told her I would take on that third day. I did, however, tell her that I am being very conscious about stress, so if things get too overwhelming I wont hesitate to let her know.

I did, after all, meet the stipulations I initially set for myself in regard to taking on more responsibility in the workplace. I made it past February before taking anything more on, and I am hoping the sort of low-stress environment I work in will be conducive to keeping a level head.

I am meeting with my therapist again today, and hopefully I can help put some of that fire out from last week. She isn’t quite desensitized to a lot of my ranting and raving yet, I may just need to be a touch more gentle with her.

And work? We’ll see. I’ve set a ping pong ball in motion in a room full of mouse traps, so I’ll be curious to see how things play out this time around. My part in the menagerie, however, is pretty much over. What my boss decides to do with the information I’ve given her will ultimately decide my fate.

At this point, I feel I’ve really got nothing left to fear.

Whatever happens is out of my hands, so I will continue to show up, do my job, fix the printer when it breaks, and make people laugh.

Really, there isn’t much more they’re asking of me.

100th Post; A Blog Origin Story

Before I started this blog I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what to write about. In the past I’ve written about fashion, textile design, and costuming, I’ve written about celiac’s disease, and recipes I’ve tried, and I’ve written the usual free-form creative stuff, but I couldn’t find a topic that could hold my attention for very long.

That’s sort of the story with everything in my life though, my interest in things really waxes and wanes and it is hard for me to focus, both on just a single thing at a time and in general.

Someone I went to high school with has been writing a blog for a while now about her pregnancy, she has often linked it to her facebook account, inviting anyone to read it. The entries are cute and sometimes whimsical, she has a very rustic, yet feminine sense of style that I’ve always admired.

When I first thought about writing about bipolar disorder, there seemed to be an obvious rift between her blog and my (still imaginary) blog. After all, it wouldn’t be appropriate to post mine of facebook, right? Baby clothes are a socially acceptable topic of everyday conversation, but mental health is not.

But why the hell not?

This pregnancy will last nine months of her life. I will live with bipolar disorder for my entire life, so shouldn’t I get to talk about it? Just because people don’t understand it, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, right?

So with a little manic fervor and some balls, the decision had been made. I would write a blog about something that is permanent in my life instead of something I could lose interest in, what seemed like a good solution to my problem with keeping focus. Not only that, I would make it readily available to people who actually know me, even the ones who didn’t know I have bipolar disorder.

When I was younger one of my biggest frustrations was that people didn’t seem to understand me. Hell, didn’t even understand me! The problem wasn’t that they were rejecting the information I gave them, just that I didn’t give them the chance to understand. For years I expected people to read my mind or just know how I felt, though some magical, mystical power, but I never just told anyone.

Now that I am being open about having bipolar disorder and what that means to me, the change has been life-altering. That isn’t even an exaggeration, I’m getting all teary-eyed just writing this!

People who I’d grow apart from have told me they feel closer to me than ever. Some of my friends with bipolar disorder and the community here in Seattle has been nothing but supportive and encouraging of what I’ve had to say. I’ve even had “normal” folks tell me that they could relate to some of the things I’ve written about, which they didn’t expect to happen! On top of the support from friends and bipolar peers, I’ve also discovered the support of the blogging community which has been really reassuring.

The apex so far for me was a couple weeks ago, literally every person I had made plans with over the course of the week made a comment to me about this blog. I got phone calls and emails about it. And, to top the cake, my dad called me to have an in-depth conversation about bipolar disorder with me for the first time ever.

It isn’t that my dad has ever ignored me or the issues I’ve been dealing with, I just never really told him what was going on. I was, admittedly, totally scared, because for the longest time I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’m still working on the talking out loud portion, but I’m extremely grateful to have this platform to express much of what I have to say.

If you don’t tell people who you are, they can’t reject you. But, they also can’t fully embrace you either. I expected some resistance, some level of rejection by putting myself out there, but instead I’ve found myself embraced by so many more people than I ever expected. Trust me, your support has not gone unappreciated!

I know it can be terrifying to be open about having bipolar disorder (trust me, I was physically ill for an entire week after writing my first post and linking it to facebook), but for me it has been far more rewarding than I ever could have expected.

Thanks folks, you all totally rock!

I also want to make a brief shout-out to a couple of the bloggers and websites that have acknowledged what I’ve been doing.

Thanks to Disorderly Chickadee, who tagged me with the Liebster Blog Award. She’s got a rockin’ blog herself, full of intellectual and insightful information. Check it out!

Thanks to Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings and Kevin at Voices of Glass for both tagging me with the Versatile Blogger Award. Lulu’s presence here in the online blogosphere is a marked one and she is both insightful and amazingly supportive. Kevin’s blog continues to push the envelope for me a little bit, challenging me to think about and consider things I haven’t considered before.

Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings started a project for 2012 called, “Blog for Mental Health 2012” which I am lucky to take part in, involving taking a pledge and committing to blogging for mental health, showing pride, dedication, and acceptance to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. Props!

I also want to give a quick thanks to Bring Change 2 Mind for being an exceptional non-prophet dedicated to helping eradicate stigma, but also for publishing a brief short story about my own mental health experiences on their website. Thank you!

Finally, I just want to say, thank you for giving me hope. I imagine a future where people don’t have to live in fear of others finding out about their diagnoses and don’t feel like they have to hide parts of themselves from the rest of the world out of fear of discrimination and harassment. I know it is unrealistic to expect everyone on earth to be as accepting as the people around me have been for the last few months, but the truth of the matter is that I am witnessing something. I am living something I didn’t think would be possible for a long time.

It is possible to live openly with mental illness. 

And if that doesn’t give me hope, nothing will.