Right up front I’m going to address the word ‘confession’ and why this shouldn’t have to be one.
The word confession implies a declaration of guilt or shame as the result of some hidden sin.
Sadly, this is how a good number of people with mental illness/brain disorders feel when it comes to sharing their diagnosis with others.
This sentiment is the result of a good many reasons:
1.) Our preconceptions have been shaped by sensationalism woven into fictional characters possessing various mental illnesses. Bipolar characters, for example, are often portrayed as ‘crazy’, or existing primarily outside of acceptable social norms- if they aren’t altogether written as the villain.
Last I checked, 2.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with Bipolar. No doubt there are many many more undiagnosed. Those with the disorder often remain silent. We look ‘normal’. But we battle demons on the regular.
2.) Bipolar Disorder is not something you can generally SEE in someone. It’s covert and cruel. It disguises itself, parading around with your emotions, reeking intermittent havoc on the brain.
If you are free of a brain disorder, “shaking it off” or “changing your outlook” seems reasonable.
This WILL NOT WORK for someone experiencing a Bipolar Manic/Depressive episode.
Our highs and lows (among other numerous lesser known symptoms) are not within our power. We do not steer the attacks, we manage them. And if that’s not possible, we might isolate and then tend to the fallout when we are again stable. We seek therapy, medication, education and emotional support to survive and live our best life. Some keep silent because this is not generally understood.
It’s like telling someone with cancer, “I bet if you removed sugar from your diet, that would clear right up!”
3.) We like to be liked. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want our emotions invalidated. We don’t want to be underestimated. We aren’t seeking to elicit your attention, pity or repulsion. We are IN PAIN. We want understanding. We want acceptance. We want support.
I say ‘we’ knowing that I don’t speak for everyone who has Bipolar. Just like cancer, there isn’t one type. Even with the same diagnosis, our experiences will vary widely. Our needs and wants will follow suit.
4.) Some, in their naivety or ignorance, give no credence to mental illness/brain disorders at all.
It’s clear that they find these claims to be lacking in validity. Words such as, ‘weak’, ‘snowflake’, and ‘dramatic’ are used in association with those who are open with their diagnosis.
As mental illness is gaining much needed awareness, younger generations are growing comfortable communicating their experiences and struggles. In response, I hear some worry that our future is doomed if it’s in the hands of these ‘snowflakes’.
Please, please understand. It takes incredible amounts of strength, endurance, perseverance, and resilience to live with a mental illness/brain disorder. The suffering can be overwhelming at times, and we cling to tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.
If your future is in the hands of these people, be encouraged. Because we are fighters. We are survivors. We push through suffering with massive amounts of hope for the future.
I can assure you that having bipolar disorder has not weakened me, although I fight certain weaknesses. It has strengthened me. Refining happens through the fire, friends. I won’t pretend it doesn’t burn. But I rejoice every time I overcome.
So many fears raged through me as I contemplated sharing my diagnosis publicly. Those listed above are just a few of them.
So with all of that piling up against me, why not keep quiet? What could I possibly have to gain with so much to lose?
Then I realized. It’s not about me.
I am speaking up for future me’s. For my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Fun fact: Bipolar can be hereditary (as mine was).
I want my progeny born into a world that not only acknowledges the validity of the disorder, but understands it well enough that there is no longer a stigma isolating it’s victims.
You are not alone. You are not less than. And you are certainly not at fault.
Confession: I have hidden my disorder in fear.