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.

  • HBB CHAI

    The best article I have seen on this topic. You are so prolific and authentic, and it is so healing. I wish I had an editor for my writings, mostly in poetic form. Glad to be part of your blog. Kol Tov!

  • Rebecca K.

    This is the part I most appreciated: “I am struck at how quickly people can recover from things like manic episodes and even psychotic episodes…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.”

    • Anon

      Agree! Definitely most profound and important part! In our modern, shallow, facebook-able, competitive culture, many of us have lost all sense of satisfaction with the self, because almost no-one can meet the ridiculous expectation that drown us today. So throw them off. Be proud for being unique and honest with yourself, no matter how conforming you may or may not be.

  • Sadly, telling people about my mental health has hurt me and
    I fear it would hurt me again. I hope it
    is different for other people, but this is my experience:

    When I first was diagnosed with depression, at university, I
    wanted to tell people I was ill, to explain why I was withdrawn, had stopped going
    to minyan, didn’t go to Shabbat dinner, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t work out how to say it. Even when I did people didn’t
    understand. A couple of good friends cut
    themselves off from me. I can see now
    that I was in such a worrying state that they had to do this for their own health,
    but at the time it upset me.

    Years ago I blogged openly about my depression. I made a few depressed friends through that,
    but a lot of people said they just couldn’t understand me. Even the depressed friends said that they
    couldn’t understand the depths of my depression. The result was often mutual incomprehension
    rather than support. Eventually I took all
    those posts down because I was afraid that potential employers would Google my
    name, find those posts and reject me. As
    I have never worked the depression may come out at interview, which is
    frightening enough, but I have no desire to force the situation.

    I have similar fears about potential dates or shadchanim finding
    out my mental health history and rejecting me.
    I fear I am already going to face problems dating in the frum world. Why make it worse? (To clarify, I would tell someone I was dating
    about the depression when it got serious.
    I don’t believe it is right to hide that from a potential spouse.)

    My friends are aware that I have mental health issues, but don’t
    really ask about it. I feel I can’t
    quite explain it to people. I think
    people in my shul are mostly unaware of the situation. Part of me would like to make it better known,
    but I don’t know how to do it and I doubt it would really help. It feels too much like special pleading.

    Reading this ultra-long comment back, I feel as if I am doing
    the special pleading I fear. Maybe that’s
    true. Maybe it would help to talk. Maybe, deep down, I want
    to talk. But, aside from in blog
    comments like this, I find it too hard. I
    fear this is just opening myself up too much, risking too much rejection for
    too little gain.

    • Eki Ag

      Hi Daniel….I typed a reply to you but had to get a disquss account and forgot half of what I typed lol….what I was trying to say is that you are fine just as you are. We all need healthy outlets for depression….there is no such thing as opening yourself too much when you share with ‘safe’ people, i.e. people that give you the emotional and mental room to be yourself…people that accept you completely….not that they accept a part of you but are scared of or annoyed by your depression. They don’t even have to be people that struggle with depression or they could. Think about it. You are fine just as you are and I wish you strength, peace and happiness as you go on this journey.

      • HBB CHAI

        yes, it is a process to find those safe people, not necessarily easy, maybe you would be open to a 12 step group. YOu can find info online about aca, Adult children, or whatever your issues are and there are phone meetings. You can listen if you do not want to speak. These difficulties are not for everyone and some friends will not be able to journey with you. Hope you find safe places to heal and grow.

        • Thank you for this. As I said above, my problem is finding safe people. I don’t think 12 step groups would be relevant to clinical depression. I have been involved with a Jewish young adult mental health group, but still did not find people I felt safe with (the group does not exist any more anyway).

          • HBB CHAI

            I understand. Still I have found 12 step groups to be filled with people with depression etc… so it may be worth a try or a couple of trys as each meeting is different. Hatzlacha Rabba.

      • Thank you for this, but unfortunately my problem is finding the safe people to talk to. I’m not sure how many people have ever accepted me completely, although this could itself be the depression speaking.

        • Eki Ag

          It’s a journey….you need to try very hard to keep an open mind about meeting safe people….it’s a trial and error exercise…I am in the same boat as you…you will make it through….stay positive and keep doing what you are doing…. 🙂

  • shoshana friedman

    This is my all time favorite article about mental illness. The only problem I have with it is your first sentence. You are not bipolar. You have bipolar. I opened up to the Internet community about my bipolar 2 diagnosis a few months the ago. I haven’t looked baCK and am also astounded at the openness and “bravery” comments I receive. In my real life, people are slowly approaching me for advice, questions, comments and appreciation. It’s wondrous and inspiring. I love your blog. Keep up the great work. -A fellow fan who has bipolar (type 2)

  • Tiiffy

    I think we often underestimate the hope that an individual can provide for someone else, whether we’re trying to provide the hope or we’re receiving the hope. Sometimes it’s the smallest hope that can keep us going.

    Thank you, Elad for being hopeful; for finding hope in yourself through others around you, and being free to provide hope to those around you.

  • Arnie Samlan

    Gutsy! You rock!

  • I completely agree! I’ve blogged about my mental diseases (Bipolar, OCD, PTSD) and people contact me every time sharing private stories with me. They are so happy that someone is speaking out loud but they are unable to do so for whatever reason. If everyone just said it out loud, we’d be shocked that the majority of the room would be filled with “brave” people! Here is one of my blog posts: Stigma Fighters.

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  • Teresa Thomas

    it’s shocking to me that I actually can see that somebody else knows how I feel. it amazes me also. I have 9 brothers and sisters and we grew up with a bipolar mother who would not take medication. my father was an alcoholic and no help to any of us kids. two of my siblings have committed suicide and I believe at least half of the rest are also bipolar or some other form of mental illness. they tell me I am bipolar, depressed, anxiety, PTSD and have anxiety attacks, n
    chronic migraines, you know, the whole alphabet. I follow my doctor’s advice and take the medications that they tell me to take. So far if we have it mostly controlled. Still working on it. But I am trying. everyone around me says they understand, but they dont. they cant, they are not bipolar.They tell me I shouldn’t take the medications, that I don’t need them. They are not doctors. but they all believe that they know what I need and don’t need. addiction is very prevalent in my family on both my mother’s side and my father’s side. I was feeling very very alone until I saw your post about Robin Williams. it’s like you’re speaking everything that I feel. I have been hospitalized twice in the last year for suicidal, what is it, ideations. my family has virtually cut me off due to the two previous suicides. They say they can’t deal with another so they won’t deal with me. for as long as I can remember, I have felt like I do not count to people. I do not matter. I have 8 older siblings and one younger. even my counselor does not seem to want to talk about my feelings, just how many beers I drank in the last week. there is so much more to me than that. thank you so much for listening to me. I am so happy that somebody posted you to my facebook. I never knew there was somebody who would understand me better than even my doctors do. Keep on truckin, man. Tks. Teresa

  • Anon

    It is largely about HOW you speak out. I have recovered from what was diagnosed as bipolar, but which turned out to be side effects from prescription medication giving me extreme anxiety and mood swings, exacerbated by issues hanging over from an abused childhood. Minus the medication = 95% cured. There is great hope in reading the words of other open, honest people with mental health problems. It increases one’s confidence to be open too. But there is NOTHING more irritating than, like an individual I met a couple of years back, meeting someone who USES their condition to their advantage. I.e. this person who bleated on and on via a blog, then via a mental health charity’s website and then on the radio, about their ‘battle’, garnering more and more sympathy, followers, and attention. Playing the hero/martyr. However, if you knew them personally, you knew full well it was a ploy to get their name ‘out there’ in order to revamp their floundering media career. Total parasitic hypocrite.

    ‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it’.

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