How open are any of you about having a mental illness?
I suppressed this information from almost everyone around me for nearly a decade. I wouldn’t even admit to myself that I had a problem for most of that time.
When I finally sought help and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, much of what I read strongly cautioned me against sharing this information with anyone except maybe your closest family and friends.
Stigma. It’s what we hear all the time in discussions about mental illness. While books, websites and blogs all stressed that I shouldn’t feel ashamed about my diagnosis, they equally stressed about how failing to suppress this information would lead to job loss, disappearing friends and, if you’re unlucky enough, perhaps even problems from your family.
I held my diagnosis tight for almost two years before my parents found out accidentally, and up until very recently I could count the number of people who knew on my hands.
So far there has not been a single person who has judged me foe having bipolar disorder. Actually, quite the opposite has been true – my friendships are stronger than they’ve ever been.
On learning about my diagnosis people have generally reacted in one of two ways: with an admission of suffering from some sort of mental affliction themselves or with genuine empathy and curiosity about it. They want to learn about it not for gossip’s sake but so they might understand and maybe help.
Granted, I still don’t speak too openly about it and largely that’s because I’m just a private person and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to push it in people’s faces any more than a person might choose not to share any other medical diagnosis. But if the topic comes up I’m much less afraid to share my personal experiences now than I was just a year ago.
Please comment about your own experiences with sharing your diagnosis, or reasons why you choose not to. I want to hear about how it’s been received and whether much of the stigma about mental illness actually just stems from our own fear of what people’s reactions might be.