Why People Shouldn’t Hide Their Mental Illnesses

I have bipolar.  I’ve said it many times on this blog.  I’ve written about the time I almost stabbed myself with a knife during my manic episode.  I talked about my near death experience that also happened during that episode.

It seems that just about every time I speak openly about my “illness”, people comment, send me messages, emails, and just about everything else telling me how grateful they are that I am open about it.  They use words like “brave”.  Then they go on to tell me about themselves, or someone close to them, and how they simply cannot talk about it.  But they are happy people “like me” are so open.

I’ll be honest, my ego enjoys these messages.  For a moment, I actually believe them about the whole bravery thing.  I think, “Wow, I’m so special, look at me.”

But then I think more about what these people have told me.  I think more about why I write the way that I do about my life.

The truth is that there is only one reason I am so open about being bipolar: it makes my life better.

I can’t imagine hiding who I am from people.  I can’t imagine a part of me that perhaps could help people understand me better, why I am sometimes open and happy around people while other times I am quiet and introverted.  I can’t imagine a world in which I had to pretend that this not something I face, have faced, and will always face.

In other words, it is simply convenient for me.  I feel comfortable in my skin.  And if people will judge me or look at me differently… fine.  I prefer that to the torture of pretending I am something I am not, of always worrying about how I am acting, of playing the “normal” one.

Can you imagine it?  Can you even think about what such a life could be like?

And yet, it seems to me, from the messages I receive from around the world, that most people are hiding this aspect of themselves.  Whether dating, in their public life, in their professional life, or anywhere else… this part of them is treated like some horrible secret, something that must be hidden from the world at all costs.

This pains me horribly.

Since I’ve written these posts, I’ve gone from receiving these messages to developing relationships with some of these people.  Talking to them on the phone, meeting them in person, chatting online…

And in every single case, I am struck by something.  These people have their challenges.  Often they reach out at a time in their lives when they haven’t quite found the balance they’re hoping for.  They are earlier on in the process.

But in every single case, whatever challenges they are going through can be conquered.  In fact, when they are committed to their mental health, I am struck at how quickly people can recover from things like manic episodes and even psychotic episodes.  People are resilient.  They are naturally strong.  And when committed to growth, 99% of the time they will achieve the health they are aiming for.

But there is one thing that can’t be cured or overcome: hiding who we are from the world.  Being afraid of ourselves.  Being afraid of the way the world might look at us.  This is what afflicts the people I speak to much more than any mental health difficulties.

I am not saying that a person with bipolar, depression, or any other mental illness needs to shout from the rooftops about his condition.  I am saying, though, that the active hiding of our conditions only hurts us.

This hiding, it is not healthy.  It is not good for us.  And no matter what “society” (what is that, anyway?) thinks, when we hide who we are from the world, when we pretend to be normal, we hurt both ourselves and the society we are hiding from.  We hurt ourselves because we create a false expectation for our behavior.  Calling in sick to work when we’re deeply depressed can be considered an act of deception instead of a perfectly normal action to take.  A swing in mood has to be explained through roundabout means.

And imagine a society with teems of people who are all suffering from a pain that could be very easily remedied simply by connecting with others in a similar situation.  Imagine that your neighbors, your friends, could be sources of strength for you and vice versa.  You’ll be helping them as much as you help yourself.  Imagine a world which encourages cooperation and openness for people with mental health difficulties.  Imagine how much stronger we will all be.

I can tell you, besides getting messages from people suffering from mental health issues, I receive a lot of support from my readers when I write about bipolar and its effect on my past and present.  This community of readers who stand behind me, next to me, and with me, are one of the biggest sources of strength I have when confronting bipolar and the issues it presents, outside of my wife and parents.  This support has been profoundly life-altering for me.

Imagine, imagine, if you could have that too.  Not just from an internet community, but from everyone around you.  From your friends.

I know it’s scary, I know there will also be some “negative” consequences.  But that fear is normal whenever we allow ourselves to be open, truthful, and vulnerable.  Those consequences are small in comparison to living a life of truth and openness.  And they are, in a way, positive, because any negativity you receive form others will teach you who to stay close to, who to trust, and who to distance yourself from.

I know that many people may see this article as a pipe dream.  Something from a crazy blogger who has made it a habit of writing confessionals, of being more open than the rest of us.  But I am not open only for good writing material (although it surely helps!).  I am open because it is good for me.  It is healthy.  It is strengthening.  It has only helped, and never truly hurt me.  And because I hope that the more I tell you, the stronger you will feel in doing the same.

You deserve a life of expansiveness, of openness, of honesty and truth.  Join me.