Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Talking About Being Bipolar

Like many of the readers who contact me, I've long struggled with when and if I tell people that I have bipolar disorder. Of course my whole extended family and many friends know, but it isn't the kind of thing that you shout out to the world.

Recently someone I know who is a friend on facebook posted something on my wall referencing me being bipolar and I didn't know what to do. I ended up deleting their post because I use facebook to network for work. When I'm not taking care of my beautiful little girl, I'm a web developer and IT consultant and several of my clients are connected to me on facebook and twitter.

It's funny because it isn't as if I am hiding my condition. I was interviewed in the book - Taming Bipolar Disorder (which I recommend anyone with bipolar disorder read, especially if you are newly diagnosed) and they used my full name and my company's name.

And most recently I was interviewed for an article about bipolar disorder and pregnancy. The article is scheduled to be published on Health.com in the next 2-3 weeks. I'll update this when the article is up. In both of these instances I thought it was important to be willing to use my full name to let people who are also in the same boat with bipolar disorder know that they are not alone and that being bipolar isn't anything you need to hide.

There have been numerous times when I felt nervous about telling a new friend that I am bipolar. I always worry that they might think I'm crazy and not want anything more to do with me. Luckily that only happened once.

What's your experience with telling people you have bipolar disorder? Leave a comment or email me at bipolarpregnancy @ gmail.com

10 comments:

Trouble said...

My family and friends have all been supportive and curious about my bipolar disorder--it's always medical professionals who are jackasses about it.

Now that I'm pregnant, this problem was worsened exponentially, to the point a nurse asked me why I thought I should have a baby when I'm bipolar!

Anonymous said...

I've had some experiences where the person doesn't believe me when I tell them I'm bipolar cause they've known me only when I've been stable. It makes it a little difficult when I start to feel things going out of whack and they don't understand it's the illness or they tell me I can snap out of it.

Rachael said...

Hi Trouble,

I have had similar situations when medical professionals are frankly NOT professional. Where they have treated me more like a "crazy" or "sick" person than a regular person.

Anonymous said...

As you can tell, I am not quite comfortable "coming out" and disclosing I have bipolar. This has been an issue on my mind recently especially as social networks like Facebook and the Internet can really eliminate some privacy boundaries. I have disclosed to my immediate family and close friends. Like you, one of my biggest concerns is keeping it out of my professional life.

Jana in SC said...

This is such an issue, isn't it? I came out at work and it turned out to be an okay decision...not an overt problem...but then you always know that, no matter how well-intentioned people may be, they are going to be asking themselves all the time whether you're a liability; whether you are unreliable; whether they should worry about you going postal & quitting all of a sudden. I know it was on my mind a good bit of the time after I let them know.
But I do intend at some point in my life to become an advocate: I think I'm a great example of someone who, despite having an acute case of the illness, has learned to live with it at a high-functioning level (which I mostly credit just to the fact that I comply gratefully with my medication & exercise regimens, and take care of my body the best I can). I want to give hope to other people who have this illness..and how can I do that if I hide my own experience with it?
What normally prevents me from sharing is the worry that it's "TMI" for some people -- kinda like how some homophobic people just don't want to think about your sex life, so they don't want to hear that you're gay/bisexual/etc. They "don't need to know." And it IS a medical issue; I know people who don't share their diabetic status unless they absolutely HAVE to.
I guess my point is that it really is a matter of personal choice. I've found it is usually a case-by-case thing: so I agree facebook isn't the best forum to "come out in," for most people.

Thanks for this blog! I was surfing around looking for pregnancy advice b/c my husband and I are thinking down the road and I want to be prepared. This is such an awesome thing to contribute to internetLand. :)

buried rage said...

I feel like I identify completely with your post.

Anonymous said...

This is a great question... one I still struggle with.

I am newly diagnosed-- only since March of 2008-- and have been off my Lamictal since last summer, when my husband and I decided to try to conceive one last time (we already have a 2 1/2 year old, and we are still trying for our second...). I've been in a depressed state for the past 4 months or so... and my immediate family & husband are great... they've saved me more than once in both simple and complex ways- even when they aren't necessarily aware of it.

I disclosed to two close friends, too- one has been curious and suppotive at the same time and talking to her about how my BP affects me has been something like therapy- she is intent and listens and tried to help... while the other friend has all but disappeared from my life-- I like to call what she does a "drive by" to see how I am )... I'll get an email every other month, though she still emails my husband regularly (though it seems so phony; just obligatory... it's especially hurtful that she's been distant since she and her husband were our closest friends prior to me telling her my diagnosis, and she's our son's Godmother. I try to remember that not everyone has the same capacity for understanding or wanting to help, and try to place my latter friend in that category... but as such, its made her seem like less and less of the type of friend I want to have... whether that's fair to her way of coping or not, I don't know.

I don't get along with my in-laws, and so haven't told them for fear they'll use it against me in an argument, or oust me all together... and I am OK with them not knowing... anything to make my time spent with them as easy as possible.

I returned to college in 2007 and a stay at home mom right now while finishing my degree, and know that in the past there was something 'off' about me that affected me at work... so it will be interesting when I return to see how I do. As far as when/if I tell my employer- that's all very scary for me... I am really worried about an employer being unaccepting of my condition, and I am admittedly paranoid that they might just not find another 'excuse' to fire me if the disclosure of my disease frightens them, or if they cannot work with me when I get hypomanic... I worked in HR for years (thankfully I am out, and my degree is in a completely different field!), so I've seen the weasly ways that companies can lay people off, and understand how it could be done without being pinned on my BP.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same experience as the second commenter, people didn't believe me, they thought I was joking. They thought I was one of the more level-headed people they knew. I would have to explain to them that I just have good treatment. The problem with talking about being bipolar is that people don't understand it as a condition that is manageable, they think of sadness and rage and they don't realize that they may well know many "normally functioning" people just like them who are bipolar. I only tell people now after I've known them a while and feel they know me, and won't confuse me with their ideas of a disease. But I also struggle with wanting to be an advocate, and to erase the stigma. It's hard to have that bravery.

Jem said...

Hi,
I am a therapist with bi-polar disorder, and I think what I'm reading in the comments here is an undeserved, culturally imposed shame about having mental health disorders, because they have historically been misunderstood as character flaws. I think the only anecdote for this is to confidently educate others about the reality that mental health problems are medical problems, like any other brain-based disorders (such as epilepsy or alzheimers). They can be managed, if not cured, and it's important for friends and family to understand where we are in terms of health management, so they know when/how to support us. I think it's helpful and perfectly OK to tell new people that you have to manage a health problem with medication and lifestyle choices, just like someone with Diabetes has to. Those who reject us, as we might say to our children, aren't worth our friendship.
That said, I can completely sympathize with the struggle around other people's reactions; my own husband sometimes makes the mistake of trying "monitor" whether or not I'm becoming manic/depressed even when I'm stable. This is frustrating, but again, I think patiently educating others - with the attitude that we have NO more reason to be ashamed than a person with Diabetes - is the best thing we can do to help ourselves and further society's understanding of mental health needs in general.

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