Openness

Image: Farhan Fadzil
Two weeks ago, an editor from PatientsLikeMe contacted me to interview me about writing this blog. I've been a member of the website since August of 2010 when I searched the web for mood charts and came across it.

I'd been keeping mood charts on paper for several years, but I was looking for a more convenient way to manage the information. When I found the website, I saw that it not only had mood charts, it also had charts about stress, sleep, exercise, medications, etc.

In addition, it had a forum where I could interact with other patients with bipolar disorder. I was curious about it, created a profile, and got started. It has been very helpful. I'm definitely more in tune with my moods and how they are affected by my environment and the choices I make about my health. Being a member of PatientsLikeMe is definitely one of the things that influenced my decision to write this blog. I realized that when you're open with others, it's easier to share helpful information. After I started writing this blog, I posted it in the forums of PatientsLikeMe as well as on Facebook pages dealing with mental health and bipolar disorder.

I'm fairly open about having bipolar disorder in my everyday life. I don't tell everyone, but I tell people I'm close to at what seems to be the appropriate time. Most people have digested the information easily, but some have backed away. I used to be upset if people retreated, but then I came to realize that I actually have closer friends than before I was given my psychiatric label. Unpalatable diagnoses can be a good way of weeding out unsupportive people. So now, if people can't handle the information, I let them go and don't worry about it. I don't have to be friends with everyone--that would be impossible anyway!

I'm kind of on the fence about how to handle the information in professional environments. I really like my current job, and most of my coworkers, as well as my boss, know that I have bipolar disorder. It became obvious when I was manic for a few weeks and was then hospitalized. I acted bizarrely and even called my boss at 6 o'clock one morning to see if I could go to work early because I was bored and needed something to do. After the hospitalization, I became extremely depressed and was quite unproductive for a couple of months, but everyone was patient with me, and eventually I recovered and got back up to speed.

I've had some jobs where I went for years without having a mood episode and didn't tell anyone about my condition. I always felt like I was hiding something or holding back, and consequently, developing close relationships with my coworkers seemed unnatural. As a result of being secretive, I rescheduled many appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist and ended up going to many fewer appointments per year, which I'm sure was not good for my mental health.

So now I'm writing this blog. I started out as Anonymous, and I recently began to use my first name, Andrea. The article PatientsLikeMe posted on their blog only reveals my first name. I've started posting some blog posts to my Facebook page, so I assume that some of my (not so close) friends, who I haven't told of my diagnosis, may have noticed...I'll see what happens. So far, I've found that I'm happier the more open I become. Being open has enabled me to connect with a lot of amazing people. The only thing that worries me is some kind of future discrimination that might lead to me being unemployed at some point...because, after all, everyone needs money to survive. But, for now, I have a job that I like and I feel that I'm being treated fairly, and even supported...maybe there's nothing to worry about.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Andrea - I "came out" about almost 5 years ago. Like you, I don't walk around with a sign saying, "I'm bipolar" but I have shared this with many people. I've even had the opportunity to do some public speaking (in fact I'd doing a training for a local community college counseling staff today).

    Being more open about my diagnosis has been liberating. I no longer have to hide in shame. As for those who "don't get it" well, that's on them. I know myself today and can honestly say that I have learned to respect my illness with both it's assets and limitations. I feel blessed to be where I'm at.

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  2. It is really hard to hide, and sometimes even impossible. I know what you mean about respecting the illness. I have come to do that too. Actually, I like to think of it as a health condition, like any other. I also feel blessed.

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  3. I admire your courage. I am often curious how helpful it might be for my wife to blog or journal about her inner turmoil. Thank you for linking on NAMI, I didn't know about Patientslikeme. I will definately have to check it out!

    MB

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  4. Thanks. If she already enjoys writing, it might be a good idea. If not, maybe some other expressive therapy such as music, dance, or art. Some people enjoy hobbies like cooking, scrapbooking, etc. I think people should do whatever brings them the most peace, and they have to figure it out for themselves. Encouragement never hurts though...as long as it doesn't involve a lot of pressure.

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  5. Anonymous12/17/2011

    Your blog gives me hope. Right now, after having my diagnosis of Bipolar I for about 12 years and being on and off medication for years, I am in what is called a "mixed state". This year, I've attempted suicide - almost succeeded, and then lost custody of my kids, my house, my way of life. It has been a very trying year and I am continually surprised that I find myself thinking I'm not "really" sick. But last night, my friend informed me that I'm "off" and told me to ask my husband to confirm it - I asked him, and he did confirm. It's like - I don't TRY to be in denial. It just kinda happens.

    And, I have been really secretive. I'm very into church, and there are those who believe it is not an illness, but it is an evil spirit. I've been told this for so long and I've been on and off meds because of it - it's been very hard. So, your blog has given me hope - a hope that one day I won't feel like I need to go hide in a deep dark hole somewhere and not let anyone know why I am like I am. I don't know. I just thought I'd write - I have a few people who try to support me, but they are really at a loss with me right now. Thank you for writing this blog post. I'm not in a very good space right now and I really needed to read it.

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  6. I'm glad that this blog gives you hope. I attend a support group and I find hope in hearing about how other people cope with this disorder. I'm sorry you are going through a hard time. One thing that gives me hope is thinking about all of the hard times I have survived. I hope things start looking up.

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  7. Hello, Andrea. You have a nice blog site here. I have a dear friend who is suffering, and I have been trying to find ways to be of support. I have been trying to learn more to aid him, and just let him know I care.

    I think your blog will be of great help to many who come by here, and this will be a supportive environment. I wish you all the best. Chrysalis

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  8. Thank you very much. I'm hoping to help create a supportive environment. In addition to learning online, I think that real support groups are very important to. Many support groups for people with bipolar disorder have a separate support group for friends and family that meets at the same time. I have heard that those can be very helpful.

    When I have been at my worst, I have really appreciated my friends who have wanted to spend time with me anyway, even when I hardly had anything to say. Just knowing they cared helped a great deal. Now I'm very happy to be laughing, talking, and having fun with them again!

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  9. I'm so glad that you are enjoying your friends again. Friendships are so important. Sometimes all we can do is let someone know that we care. We don't want our friends to hurt. Thank you for your response.

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