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How to tell others you suffer a mental illness.

How to tell others you suffer a mental illness.

How do you reveal to all your friends and family, coworkers and acquaintances that you suffer from bipolar or some other mental health disorder? Inevitably, if it is bad enough to get a diagnosis, it is bad enough to interfere with your life to one degree or another, and eventually people are going to find out. There is much debate on this subject within the mental health community, to tell or not to tell, but I’d like to share my point of view.

I’ve always been quite blunt, straight forward, and honest. Sometimes my honesty has been brutal and hurt others, but still I’ve never wavered in this. This trait has helped me “come-out” to my friends quite easily. It has always helped me to be honest with myself and to learn how to accept my shortcomings.

To be truthful, I have been blessed with an amazing family and close circle of friends who have loved me unconditionally through out my life. Early life lessons centred around love and acceptance, and due to this I had an amazing level of self-confidence as a child, and a great level of strength from which to draw as an adult facing increasing certainty. Because of the level of acceptance I had as a child, I think it was much easier for me to accept myself and my diagnosis.

This is the first step, to accept your diagnosis, and the second is to accept yourself. If you can not do these two crucial things, you really will have a hard time finding acceptance in others, regardless of whether or not you reveal your diagnosis.

So maybe I had an easier time believing I would be accepted no matter I had a mental health disorder.  Yet I have had my share of people who did not accept me, called me crazy, and thought less of me because of my diagnosis. Eventually, all those people moved on from my life and are no longer a part of it. They had no place in my life, and I didn’t make room for them. If someone doesn’t want to be in your life, no matter how painful it may be at the time, you need to let them go and get ready for someone else to come into it, someone who will accept you fully.

The pain these unaccepting people caused me was real, the scars they left behind damaging, but I held to my own conviction that bipolar was not something to hide or be shameful of. In fact, growing up in the age of “coming out”  I learned a lot about strength and conviction from the homosexual community. I am who I am, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner others would as well. And they did!

As time went by, I began to be more open about my illness and my struggles. I also began to find myself attracted to others like me, well before we each had disclosed our illnesses. Soon I was surrounded by people who, though suffering, were great assets to my life, and amazing friends. Today, I joke about all my friends being crazy. And honestly, they are all just a little off, even if they do not have a diagnosis.

When I met my husband, I told him right away I suffered from bipolar and shared my story. If my illness had been a deal breaker, I would have happily seen him leave my life before I got attached to him. Although my blonde hair was dyed red, and I was naturally skinny (though overweight due to meds a the time), and honestly I think that bothered him much more then the bipolar. He was a self-confessed lover of redheads, but we honestly worked that out and he has since grown to love my blonde hair and my skinnier body! I can’t imagine what would have happened if he didn’t know and I suddenly tanked in depression, and he left me.

I do not apologize for being bipolar, but sometimes my behaviour gets me in trouble, and I have to apologise for what I do. Even if I didn’t have any control at that moment over my behaviour, I still must take responsibility for my actions. But it is easier to apologise for my actions to friends who understand the whole situation.

Socially it is much easier to share my story. In the workplace, it is definitely trickier. There is still so much stigma and ignorance, it is hard to say. For many, bipolar eventually interferes with life and work. In an ideal world the workplace would be compelled to offer assistance, similar to offering assistance to the physically disabled, but I don’t think our culture is there yet.

There are many factors to consider in the workplace, only you can make that decision for your own circumstance. I do highly recommend you to take control of your personal life and share your diagnosis with those closest to you, to create a network of people who can support you and offer assistance for when life gets to be to stressful from symptoms of your illness.