For decades, I have kept it a secret, hidden away behind a smile and casual conversation. I was afraid—afraid of being judged and treated as though I was something other than normal (as if such a thing exists). For a long time, I didn’t know what it was. I just thought I was different, but I didn’t really know why. And even now, 20-something years after being diagnosed, I still get a knot in my stomach when I think about revealing my secret to someone.
But my secret can no longer be imprisoned behind bars of apprehension.
It demands to be freed in the name of creating an awareness that is tragically lacking in our society. Sharing my secret may provide the spark of courage someone else needs to take the first step on their own road to acceptance and transparency.
What is the secret I’ve guarded so carefully?
I have bipolar disorder.
Those four words have weighed heavily on my heart for decades, and it is remarkably palliating to release them.
Now comes the part where I wonder what others will think of me.
Do they know having bipolar disorder does not mean I am unintelligent? I’m definitely no genius, but I’ve always done well in school. If anything, I believe my symptoms often make me better able to grasp certain concepts.
Do they know my bipolar disorder does not mean I am incapable of successfully maintaining relationships? My husband and I have been together for almost 30 years. Yes, bipolar disorder puts a strain on relationships sometimes, but it isn’t something that makes healthy relationships impossible. With God’s help, we have made it through so many tough times over the years.
Do they know I am capable of being a mother?
My children are not perfect, and I am not a perfect mother. But my children are amazing, intelligent human beings. And every one of them would tell you they feel loved and that I have been there for them when they needed me.
So, what does having bipolar disorder mean for me?
There are days when I feel like the world is a perfect, wonderful place and that I can do anything. That false sense of confidence has definitely resulted in taking on more than I can truly handle at times.
Then there are days when I feel like I can’t even get out of bed because everything is wrong and nothing matters. Days in between those two extremes are not common, but I have learned ways to hide the polarity and at least appear to be somewhere in the middle even when I am not. And yes, medications, prayer, and therapy have helped too.
Why do I feel the need to share my diagnosis with the world?
For far too long, we have all been taught to hide mental illness.
We don’t hesitate to tell someone we have a cold or a broken ankle. But it is rare to hear someone talk openly about having a mental health condition. For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, people are often afraid to disclose that type of information.
That has to change.
We absolutely need to be comfortable talking about our mental health issues. We need to feel those discussions are as acceptable as ones about cholesterol levels or the flu. More discussion brings more awareness, and more awareness removes fear. When fears are dispelled, people become receptive to treatment. And treatment improves lives. In some cases, it saves lives.
I pray my revelation here might inspire others to share their diagnosis as well—whether it is bipolar disorder or some other mental health issue.
We have to talk about it.
We have to teach our children that mental health conditions are no different than any other medical condition requiring proper care. We have to set an example for them, prioritizing our own mental health care and openly discussing their mental well-being with them the same way we would discuss nutrition or hygiene.
Becoming transparent when it comes to a mental health diagnosis can be intimidating, but it is essential for us as a society to put aside our fears and no longer hide mental health issues away behind a facade composed of smiling faces and laughter.
By embracing vulnerability when it comes to talking about our mental health diagnoses, we will finally be illuminating what has long been a very dark and dismal path of secrecy, making way for something beautiful . . . hope.