October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a civil awareness observance day for coming out and discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
Having lived in Seattle the last 5+ years I am used to being around a thriving and very open LGBT community. It makes me excited to see not only people feeling comfortable enough to live openly in regards to their sexuality, but also that our good ol’ USA is finally beginning to make some strides when it comes to LGBT rights (albeit slowly).
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a lot of folks from my generation have found themselves baffled as to why this community doesn’t have the same rights as others. Many of us who were born in the 80’s were brought up with openly homosexual parents, neighbors, friends, & relatives and it doesn’t surprise me at all that many of us grew up without the limitations of specific gender roles being forced upon us. Those of us in our 20’s have a plethora of different values and our sexual identities are not always so straightforward.
I feel as if my own sexuality is of very little consequence, my own heart doesn’t seem to make a distinction before it falls in love with either a man or a woman. Being in a committed relationship with my current amazing boyfriend makes me feel less inclined to “come out of the closet” to those who aren’t aware of my sexual preferences, why bring up something that isn’t immediately relevant?
Perhaps that makes me a coward, or one might argue that by putting that information on the back burner I am somehow denying my true self to others… I suppose it is a matter of opinion. I don’t have trouble talking to others about it when it is relevant, but I guess that is what coming out of the closet is all about.
A statement that says,
This is part of who I am, you can take it or leave it.
With the progress we’ve made with gay rights, I feel that is something I could do.
However, my heart has been heavy lately in regard to another secret that is shared by 57.7 million Americans living in silent fear of discrimination. Though we face a common struggle, our experiences have often left us severed from our jobs, school, church, romantic relationships, friends, and sometimes even family. We live in fear every day that we might lose the things we cherish if others found out what we’ve been hiding.
It has taken years and the struggle of many individuals to begin to clear the stigma around homosexuality. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness is a very real and terrifying thing that effects the lives of millions of Americans each day.
Just imagine being diagnosed with an illness that you are not only expected to have for the rest of your life, but that society also frowned upon talking about it.
So when I think of National Coming Out Day, my mind moves beyond the LGBT community. What you may not know is that this last week also included National Bipolar Awareness Day. This day isn’t widely known, and the bipolar community doesn’t seem to have forums about it, nor a large supportive community, heck -they don’t even have a flag! What would it mean for myself and others with bipolar disorder to come out of the mental illness “closet”?
Again, telling people about this part of me isn’t something I have trouble with when it is relevant, and people within my general age group tend to be supportive and curious about this issue. But what about that looming, “this is part of who I am” coming out statement we talked about earlier? Sure, we’ve had celebrities such as:
- Catherine Zeta-Jones
- Britney Spears
- Marilyn Monroe
- Kurt Cobain
- Emily Dickinson
- Carrie Fisher (my personal favorite)
and many, many more come out of the “bipolar closet,” but the average American would argue that as a typical citizen (a non-celebrity) we would have a lot more to lose.
Personally, I have lost a job within the last year while hospitalized and receiving treatment for bipolar disorder -which, yes, is illegal and considered discrimination. I have been declined jobs for checking the “I have a disability” box on an application. I’ve lost relationships, and I’ve put a strain on my family.
BUT, on the other side of the coin, I told my boyfriend before we started dating that I have bipolar disorder and we’ve been together over three years now. I’ve also had at least one job that went above and beyond making the workplace somewhere I could thrive after I told them what I’d been dealing with. I have two really close friends that I can be open with about anything because we all have bipolar disorder, which is a great support. My family is supportive of me, and my dog Luna couldn’t care less what labels I’ve been stuck with.
Bipolar disorder is not who I am, but it is part of who I am.
I don’t think of it as being sick. Sometimes I can perform tasks above and beyond what others can do, other times I need a little extra help. Some of the traits that people with bipolar disorder often display to a degree higher than those in perfect mental health are spirituality, empathy, creativity, realism, and and resilience. It is also often argued that we feel a spectrum of emotion far larger than what most people can feel, which can be both a blessing and a little bit of a curse!
I was planning on making this post (and now blog) available to people who know me (but may not have known about this part of my life) beginning today. National Coming Out Day felt like a good day to do it, despite my feelings of fear and hesitation.
Regardless, thanks for allowing me to be open with you today.