My New Philosophy on Life: Telling People about My Mental Illness

I used to get to know someone before I would tell them that I suffered from bipolar disorder.  I didn’t want them to judge me before they got to know me.  I liked it when I would tell someone and they would be totally shocked that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness at the age of 17.  Many would say things like, “you seem so normal,” or “I have never noticed,” or “I am shocked.”

I told some of my employers over the years, but then again, I told everyone after they got to know me except for one.  In fact, that person, even knowing, hired me on the spot.

I have lost friends because of my illness. I have lost the chance of becoming friends with people because they judge me and choose to not get to know me because I have told them I have a mental illness.

One thing I know for sure, the longer I wait to tell someone, the harder it gets. For example, I had a friend who was a social worker. There were days I had decided I was going to tell her and then she would tell me a story about one of her clients and I would chicken out.  When I finally decided to tell her, she was actually relieved because she thought I was going to tell her I was dying. (I had prefaced it with I need to tell you something and she just came to that conclusion.)

So, over the past two months, I have decided that if someone chooses not to be my friend because I have bipolar disorder, that is their loss. I would rather tell them in the beginning and find out right away that they want nothing to do with me because of my illness than waiting until I have sunk so much into the relationship.  I feel this will prevent me from getting hurt too.

When I started Bipolar Bandit’s Facebook, Twitter, blog, and Pinterest board, I did it anonymously.  I now have put my own picture on there.  I actually did this after someone pointed out that I might be taken more seriously if I had my own picture on there and my emails came from a person.  Therefore, I also changed my email address too.

I am proud of all the things that I have accomplished in my life even though I suffer from a serious mental illness.  I feel blessed that God has given me the chance to help others and advocate for the mentally ill.

I am no longer going to allow people to hurt me by distancing themselves from me after they found out I have a mental illness.  I was very hurt a few years ago because a church of over 3,000 people that I was very active in, just abandoned me. I don’t hear from any of the 50+ friends I made there. I still have a lot of the people from my church on my Facebook page.  I recently asked some of them to like my Bipolar Bandit page just to see if anyone would.  Several people removed their names from the conversation.  Many others chose not to contact me and say I was doing a good job or liked my page.  There were four people total out of over 200 people I sent a message to that responded in some way. (I am not bashing the church, but just pointing out that people are just afraid to talk about mental illness, misunderstand it and steer away from it.)

This confirmed to me that I do not belong at that church. I actually had done my testimony at that church one time and talked about my mental illness. The theme of the testimony was how we all wear masks and how God wants us to take off our masks. Everyone has problems in their lives and what good does it do to hide them? God wants us to share what we face and have overcome.  I, after explaining all that I accomplished in my life, said and now I am going to remove my mask.  That was when I said I had suffered from a mental illness since I was 13 and was diagnosed at 17.

If you have read this whole thing, I challenge you to take off your mask to someone. I wouldn’t suggest doing it to an employer if you are doing it for the first time. Tell a family member or close friend or perhaps tell someone you just met.

I have been blessed with a close family who has stood by me over and over again through all my hard times.  I also have been blessed with some great friends who have accepted me for who I am.

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About Michelle Clark Bipolar Bandit

I am a strong advocate for the mentally ill and have been since I was first approached by a lawyer in a psychiatric facility as a teenager. He wanted me to help him fight how the mentally ill are mistreated. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17 after a full blown manic episode. Before that, I suffered from debilitating depression for 4 years. My goals are to help others by sharing my story and providing tips to deal with mania and depression. I often write blogs related to advocating for people like myself. I want to encourage, inspire, and educate those with #bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses and also include inspirational #quotes. I founded the group Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses and the page Mental Health Advocates United and have several social media sites that are related to bipolar disorder and/or advocacy. If you are an advocate or would like to be, I hope you join our FB group: Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses
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17 Responses to My New Philosophy on Life: Telling People about My Mental Illness

  1. Nicole says:

    Good for you!!! This is something I struggle with especially with employers. I am not afraid I would get fired, but I do worry they will start second guessing any emotions I display. Or tip toe around me. I have had similar experiences with churches as well….I get the pray harder alot. Your post was very inspiring. I Am trying to decide who I want to “take off my mask with!”

    • I agree with you in regards to your employers. The same goes for just about anybody I tell. I feel like even if they accept me for who I am, they will still treat me differently or act differently around me.

      Good job for you, too, when you decide to take your mask off. Let me know how it goes.

      Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Lunatic Lady says:

    Well, I really think that’s a very brave decision! I thought about it too when I started my blog, but I’m mainly scared for employers. I don’t want them not to hire me, because after googling my name, they find my blog and assume that I am incapable of doing the job. On the other hand, I think you’re right about people taking your blog more seriously when they can relate to an actual person…

    Another small thought. 🙂 You said that sometimes when you tell people, they are surprised and say that they think you’re “normal”. That happened to me too with a friend. But she said it in a negative way, like: “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re imagining it, overreacting,…” I hate the fact that it’s so hard to explain to people that you can in fact have a mental illness without being completely, utterly, totally crazy. Why is that so hard to accept for people? Any experience with that?

    • Thanks for your encouraging words regarding that I am brave. I still hope I am doing the right thing and am still kind of scared to tell people. However, I am going to try it that way for awhile. The worst that could happen is I lose some of the people in my life, but as I said, those people should not matter to me anyway.

      Fortunately, the people who know I have a mental illness know what it is all about. I usually talk about examples of things I have done,etc. I was blessed that my mom went into psychiatric nursing after I was diagnosed to learn as much as she could about my illness. I have one sister who thinks I make it all up to get attention. She is not supportive of my illness and refuses to talk about it or be around me when I am manic. My other sister is a god send who has always been very supportive and comes to my aid when I need it. She has also tried to educate herself about my illness.

      I have a boyfriend who has seen me at my worst (10 day hospitalization) and he is still my rock and stands by me and loves me for who I am.

      I hear people say what you are saying all the time; about people saying that there is nothing wrong with you. I guess I have been lucky that for the most part, everyone at least believes me.

      The people who refuse to listen and believe that you suffer from such a devastating illness are ignorant, I believe. They are almost as bad as those people who turn their backs on “the crazy people”.

      • Lunatic Lady says:

        I am so happy for you that you have so many people who stuck by your side! That’s also what keeps me going. My boyfriend also stays by my side, just like you throughout hospitalization, anger fits, depression,… The same goes for my parents and brothers, they really try to understand. But friends don’t. I am a type 2 bipolar -well, to be honest I am not completely diagnosed yet- so my symptoms are not that obvious. And the only people that see me at my worst are my boyfriend and close family, so for friends it just seems like I’m making it up, cause they only get to see me when I’m doing fine.
        I’ve also never been really manic, so to them I can’t be bipolar. And depression is just the “winter blues”…

  3. sarah weeks sauve says:

    I for one say good for you. You didn’t ask for this and you should not be ashamed of it. I have a friend who has a down syndrome chil although its a mild case and knows it. She refuses to acvcept it. My theory is if you feel the need to hide it then you are ashamed and thats what is shameful to me. I have a son whom was born with a birth defect and I love him with all that I am. I have raised my kids to stand up for the kids at school that are being bullied for being “different” and to befriend them, they have! I say rock on girl!

  4. Kalie Dalbey says:

    I wondered about you putting your pic up. That is awesome!! I am proud of you.. If people are different than anyone with Cancer, diabetes or mental illness. People will walk away. When someone is different for whatever reason some people just can’t handle it. I am putting it out there that I am Bipolar too. I have been rejected my whole life not because people knew I had it. I was rejected because of my behavior (Bipolar). Before I knew I had it I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t keep friends. I seem to always say the wrong things. I feel now that if they know ahead of time like you said then that will save time and pain. It is a part of me I can’t change it, really it is what makes me me. I am very proud of you for all you have accomplished and you educating us on Bipolar. I have learned so much since I found you on pinterest. As I learn and understand Bipolar I am better able to take control. I have learned to know what triggers depression and mania. I have learned I am not crazy! It is an illness. Like any other.

  5. Meagan says:

    Good for you! How awesome and brave that you have revealed your mental illness. I started my blog anonymously, but I recently put my real name and picture on it. I don’t need to be ashamed, and neither do you. God made all of us the way He wanted. As far as that church goes, it’s a shame when people who claim to love God are so hurtful and judgmental. I’ve had issues like that myself.

    I don’t think I’ve read your blog before, but I follow you on Twitter. This was a very encouraging post. Congrats on removing your mask! 🙂

    • Thank you, Meagan. I’m not ashamed and don’t think I ever really was. I am, however, bothered by the things I do while I am manic and have been embarrassed by those. However, there is no going back, so I keep looking to the future.

      It is people like you, who are up front about their illness who are brave. I have always admired people who share they have a mental illness and don’t have to hide behind anonymity.

      Are you on Facebook?

      • Meagan says:

        Oh, don’t say people like me! LOL I haven’t been upfront about my illness to really anyone. It’s only been recently that I felt comfortable putting my picture on my WordPress site. I am trying to be more open, though. One step at a time, I suppose.

        I am not on Facebook. I deactivated my account due to so much family drama. Facebook always depressed me. I had so many “friends” on there, but no one who actually cared about me or really wanted to talk to me.

        I’ll keep reading your blog. I’m so glad I found it!

  6. Tina Barbour says:

    Good for you! I am slowly reaching the point of being able to tell others about my mental illnesses. It’s easier for me to do in writing than in person, though. I, too, have heard the resounding sound of silence to some of my FB comments and links. It’s a process, I think. And those who don’t want to have anything to do with me because I have mental illness–well, that’s OK.

    • Fighting the stigma attached to mental illness is a hard thing to do, I have learned. I wish you the best of luck in telling people about your mental illness. It sounds like you have a healthy attitude regarding the people who won’t accept you for who you are. It is one of those things that is easier said than done for me: not caring what others think or letting go of a relationship because they judge me because I have a mental illness.

  7. jahewi says:

    First of all, i admire your courage. It’s not easy to always wear a mask (figurely speaking, ofcourse :-)).
    I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ADD very late in life (at age 45), after a life of struggling. That’s 5 years ago and it was a turningpoint in my life.
    Now, on meds and with a lot of help from a local mental health organisation, for the first time in my life, i have the feeling i have a somewhat meaningfull life.
    I know lots of people, all from within this health-organisation (that feels safe for me), and even have a few real friends … and a girlfriend now.
    But from the past, except for my family, there is no-one left.
    So, to the outside world, i have no problems and i’m just this nice happy (sometimes silly) man.
    I probably still have a long way to go, but i’m sure that one day, i’ll be confident enough to lower my mask.

  8. Ian Knabel says:

    Well done and congrats. This is an issue I recently faced and after tossing it around for months I went the same way as you. Hi everyone, this is me! Don’t like it? Too bad, your loss not mine.

    I now think that the more people who come out and openly talk their mental health issues the better we will all be. I wonder how much stigma exists due to ignorance and the thought that only a very small number of people are affected with mental health issues

    Just a thought

  9. Pingback: My New Philosophy on Life: Telling People about My Mental Illness – Equine Assisted Psychotherapy North Texas

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