‘I’m Scared to Tell People I Have Bipolar Disorder’: How To Feel Proud
Anticipating how friends and family will react to your diagnosis can be detrimental towards your mental wellbeing. Regardless, remain proud– there is nothing wrong with you.
By Julie A. Fast
I often receive questions on Facebook that are so loving and kind and filled with such longing to belong. The decision to tell people you have bipolar disorder is a personal decision that can include many mixed emotions and questions:
- What if the person runs from me screaming as though I’m a leper?
- What if I am judged harshly by this person for the things I do?
- Will anyone want to be in a relationship with me if they know I have bipolar disorder?
We have all gone through this. My decision to be 100% open about the illness has helped me move forward in life, but it’s not always this way in the workplace or with people who may not be as understanding as you need them to be.
Here is my advice on the topic: Moderate it as needed depending on your circumstance.
First: Be proud. It’s just an illness. It is a rotten illness and when untreated it makes us do some pretty scary and dumb things as well as some pretty daring and exciting things, but when managed, we are pretty darn regular people who simply need help. Just like a person with insulin-dependent diabetes.
Second: Remove yourself from the reaction of the other person. If you are proud of who you are—how you overcome this incredible struggle—if you can see yourself as a strong and unbelievably resilient person, the way people respond to your having bipolar in a negative way will sting you, but it won’t strike you down. You will bounce back.
Third: Understand that family and friends in no way know what to do. They simply don’t. It’s not innate to help someone who struggles. A person is either born abnormally empathetic, or they have gone through a similar struggle and will know what to say. Every other person will do something dumb around this. I have done it a million times. I once told a roommate who was on anti-depressants to buck up and value her life instead of taking a medication. Yes, I did that. Years before I married someone with bipolar and I found out I had bipolar. I did that. I have regretted it all of my life. Go easy on the people who don’t know what to say. I was an incredibly outspoken, undereducated and ignorant person around mental health when I was younger.
Fourth: Choose people who do understand. You do not have to leave the people who are not there for you. Have fun with these guys and save your deeper needs for people who understand. When my former partner was in the hospital for three months in a manic and psychotic episode, not one person in my life knew what to do. A stranger, a friend of a friend, took me to dinner one night and said, “No one understands. Don’t be so hard on them.” She then told me her story: she lost an eye to diabetes and was saved by an insulin pump. She lives an amazing and exciting life despite all of this and she alone gave me the hope I needed when my partner almost died.
Five: Plan what to say and practice it like a script. I teach my script system to all of my coaching clients. Here is an example of what you can say when you do decide to go public with this brain-based disorder:
Hi guys. As you may know, there is an illness shared by millions and millions of people around the world called bipolar disorder. It’s a genetic illness that affects a person’s ability to regulate moods. I have bipolar disorder and would love to talk with you more about the illness if you are interested. If you find this is too much for you, just let me know and we can find other topics to talk about. If you would like to know how you can help me find stability so that I can be a great friend and family member, let me know.
And finally and most importantly, start now in learning how to separate yourself from the response of others and still stay in a relationship, especially if it’s a family member. We live in a world of well-meaning, but unthinking people. They are not trying to harm you, they are simply ignorant. Just as I was when I made that terrible statement to my roommate who was depressed. The concept of attachment in Buddhism and the book the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz helped me greatly with this. My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder gives ideas on how to create an understanding team around you and the work of Martin Baker and Fran Houston in their book High Tide, Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is also a superb resource.
There is nothing wrong with you. Who wants to tell people about an illness that is rough to treat and difficult for the outside world to understand? That is tough for everyone! Being scared is normal. I say, let’s be loud and proud and cautious and educate the world on this illness.
Let’s be nice to ourselves.
I’m all for telling people about bipolar. We can’t control the outcome, but we can know that we are good people with a rough condition who want love and respect just like everyone else!