Sharing Your Personal Mental Health Story
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalized at the age of 25 with a major psychotic break intermixed with an extreme episode of full blown mania that lasted for weeks. Initially, I did not know about stigma and I thought it was okay to tell people about my newly acquired mental illness. As I was released from the hospital, I contacted a number of people that I had called friends and when I told them about the bipolar diagnosis, one by one, they fell out of my life. They acted awkward, judgmental, and were quick to steer clear of all my phone calls indefinitely. Over time, I became silent and withdrawn, ensuring to never share my truth again.
The Empowerment of Sharing my Mental Health Story
I experienced a type of self-stigma for nearly seven years, which left me feeling ashamed and petrified of negative judgement from other people. Over time, I learned that I was actually not my illness, but I simply had an illness. It took me a very long time to come to the realization that I was not the embodiment of my mental health condition. I am not bipolar, I have bipolar! Upon experiencing this realization, it felt as if a ray of sunshine had washed over me and I was finally free of the stigma and shame that had clouded my sense of self for nearly a decade.
I soon drummed up the t-shirt idea of a super hero logo that read Bipolar Babe: Stomping out Stigma to prove I was no longer ashamed, and I wore it proudly, often in a grocery store or some other public place. I actually wanted to share my personal story with others for the first time in my life. My t-shirt idea soon grew into a personal project and I designed stigma stomping postcards with inspiring quotes about acceptance and empathy. It felt as if I acquired a new voice and I wanted to share my story with everyone I met. Why? I felt that if my words brought some hope into the world, and it inspired one person to get help, then my personal act of honesty was well worth it. Currently, I share my mental health story in public venues, which include schools, conferences, non-profits, workplaces and various community organizations. I share my story, so others do not have to suffer in silence as I once did.
Sharing Your Story Means Embracing your Truth
Numerous people have approached me over the years, asking if I recommend them sharing their personal story of living with bipolar disorder. Every person’s journey is unique, however, I must convey that I personally have experienced a certain kind of freedom with the act of coming out of hiding. When I shared with other people about my truth, only then was I able to be truthful with myself. For years, I scowled at myself in the mirror, and metaphorically saw the word ‘Bipolar’ written across my forehead. I failed to truly see the person behind the illness, and instead, I chose to be a prisoner of my bipolar diagnosis. Many people may have valid reasons for remaining silent, and I certainly do understand the fear associated with tackling this milestone.
However, I assure you that you will just know when it is the best time to share your personal story of living with bipolar disorder, and this occurrence often contains three ingredients: timing, circumstance and opportunity. Still, you may just feel it in your heart one day knowing that in your sharing, you are not only empowering yourself, but offering the opportunity for others to accept, understand, and most of all give you the support that you deserve.