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.