I started blogging in January, and in the nearly three months I have been blogging I have been very upfront about my chronic pain and illnesses and how they affect my life.
I have also mentioned, at least in passing, my long struggle with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Other than my Chiari Malformation, which I was diagnosed with in eighth grade, my anxiety is the condition I’ve been diagnosed with the longest, and so I’ve learned to be open about it.
But there is one diagnosis I have not written about openly, and that is my diagnosis with Bipolar II Disorder, which I received late last August.
The more I don’t talk about it, the more my bipolar feels like this big secret, this heavy weight. But honestly, most of this is self-imposed. I was so afraid of all the “what ifs”, of all sorts of imagined judgements, that I did not allow myself to be an advocate for bipolar disorder, like I attempt to be with my other conditions, that I have never written about my bipolar. I let it be the elephant in the room, something I let my doctors treat but that otherwise I never talk about.
But I believe it is something we should talk about. Mental illness is often comorbid with chronic pain. Me hiding my bipolar disorder diagnosis doesn’t help anyone. And if you’re afraid to talk about a particular diagnosis you’ve gotten…You’re not alone. But your mental health diagnosis is not shameful. It is not something that has to hold you back from a job, or parenthood, or a full life. It’s just something else that needs to be dealt with and treated, just like any illness.
My bipolar disorder, just like my Chiari Malformation, my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and my other disorders, doesn’t control me. Sure, it is definitely hard some days, and it is something I have to treat: just like any condition. But by acting like it’s something shameful, I actually only hold myself back from getting good treatment.
I have found a good treatment plan for my bipolar disorder, thanks to my doctor and therapist. It didn’t come overnight, and my fear of the stigma was a big reason why. I have never had a problem taking medication for my chronic physical illnesses, but fought having to take medication for my bipolar. I treated it like a personality weakness, something I could power through, rather than what it is: an actual medical condition. Finally, with the support and urging of my family and friends, I stopped fighting my need for medication and counseling. Thanks to them, my bipolar is incredibly well-controlled, and my treatment plan helps me to be my best self.
I am finally sharing openly about my bipolar diagnosis because I do not believe it is a diagnosis that is shameful. If any of my friends were to share with me that they had bipolar, even before I had gotten my own diagnosis, I would have accepted them fully, asked how I could help, and not treat them any differently. So why would I not talk about it myself? I cannot talk about how much I value honesty and vulnerability–two things I value most in the world, as a writer, minister, educator, and person–if I am not willing to be honest and transparent about all the conditions I’m being treated for.
People with all sorts of chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, thrive in all sorts of professions. We are writers, teachers, business owners, scientists, advocates, and much, much more. And if I believe that bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of–which I fully do believe!–then I need to practice what I preach, and be open about my own diagnosis. It is a diagnosis I am happy I got, because it has led me to effective treatment which therefore helps me live a more healthy, well, happy life, where I flourish in all my roles.
Finally, I also believe, as a Christian and a Christian leader, that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, because we all are created in the image of God. Mental illness is exactly that–an illness, not a personality weakness or a punishment from God–and we should treat mental illnesses like we do all illnesses: honestly, with dignity and respect for the whole person for whom our illness(es) is only a small part.