Stories & Lessons Learned from “Coming Out” with Bipolar Disorder
Sharing with people that you are living with bipolar disorder can be a devastating and painful experience. However it can also be one that opens people’s eyes and is liberating for you. In this blog, I will share my own stories including the humor, the successes, and the times when it really hurt to share that I’m bipolar. The stories I’m sharing are about my first time ever revealing that I’m living with bipolar disorder, making friends, meeting new people, and the hardest….my dating stories. I will emphasize the lessons that I learned from each experience.
My First Time…
The first time I shared that I was living with bipolar disorder was in front of a high school summer school class of thirty students. I was forced to go to summer school weeks after being diagnosed because my family was really concerned with seeing me spend my days in a ball in the corner of the couch. After my first full-blown manic episode, I was in a depression so deep that I only knew I was alive because the spoon fogged up when it was near my nose. A teacher, who knew me as an enthusiastic bright student, saw that my head was down on the table since I started the class and I wasn’t participating at all. In front of the class he asked me, “What’s wrong, Robin?…Are you heart-broken?” My head felt like it weighed 50 pounds and was crazy glued to my desk. So I slowly lifted my face off of the table, leaving my head still on it, and in a tone that must have stated “don’t mess with me”…
I said, “No. I am crazy. I have bipolar disorder.”
I really don’t know how people responded to my lifeless expression. I can only imagine that it would really scare people to see me like that, especially knowing me and after seeing me manic. I’m pretty sure that rumors spread through school like wild-fire because everyone gave me space. My friends who were close to me before I was manic, disappeared…except for one. I felt like a ghost throughout the rest of high school. (Luckily, I was able to find support in a positive environment elsewhere.)
…What I Learned
It hurts. It really hurt to have people fear me.
That pain caused me to decide that I wanted to educate people about the experience of bipolar disorder.
From then on, I shared openly that I am living with bipolar disorder and worked hard at learning so that I could answer any question asked of me to the best of my ability.
When I got back on my feet, I took off running in life. I didn’t have many friends. Nonetheless, I was determined to not only succeed in all the ways I was told I couldn’t…but also decided that I wanted good friendships.
My first day moving into the dorms at UC Berkeley was quite memorable for everyone on my floor…well, maybe even the building.
Everyone was nervous and uncomfortable about this huge change and new living situation. I came in, bouncing off the walls…so happily manic that it was contagious.
I welcomed everybody to my floor with a HUGE hug and smile. My enthusiasm, humor and spark brought almost everyone together laughing and playing. We all helped each other move in. People felt so comfortable in this very uncomfortable situation of moving in with strangers.
Then I led most of the people on my floor to each of the other dorm floors in our ten floor building and introduced ourselves to all the people in our building…practically going door to door. We were a tribe.
That same day, a group of us sat down in my room and I pointed out my behavior and shared with them that I’m living with bipolar disorder and was triggered into mania by the change etc.
There response was one of care and curiosity instead of judgment. They asked me questions about what its like to be bipolar and what I’ve overcome. I openly shared with them. Then they asked if there was anything they could do to help me…I told them that they were already doing it.
Everyone was so appreciative of my sharing that we all began sharing stories with each other of overcoming hardship. It resulted in the beginning of the closest friendships that I have had thus far.
…What I Learned
I learned that if I have confidence and inspire people that they won’t be afraid of me.
I was quite hypomanic and honest about it. It brought so much joy and freedom to other people without shame, judgment or fear. It tore down the traditional walls between people when they first meet. I inspired and empowered other people to connect with each other and share their lives openly.
I took the fear out of bipolar disorder for my friends. To this day, when my friends meet someone with bipolar disorder they treat them with so much acceptance, compassion and kindness. They have no fear and judgment because I destroyed the stigma.
Meeting New People…
I never walk up to anyone, shake their hand and say, “Hi I’m Bipolar.”….ANYMORE. When I was young, that was basically the first thing that came out of my mouth and then I “fire-hosed” people with everything I knew about bipolar disorder. Fire-hosing is like when someone asks for a glass of water, putting a fire-hose to their mouth instead. I did this because I was so proud of what I had achieved in my life. I had proven all the stigma wrong. I wanted everyone to know that what people believe about bipolar disorder is not true. I’m not as open and free when I meet brand new people as an adult. First I see if they show interest in me. I do this by genuinely being interested in them. I am naturally curious and want to hear stories and learn about people’s lives. If someone shows interest my profession, I share openly with them about what I do as being a therapist (but without going into my specialization…bipolar disorder). If they continue to be interested and want to know about my passion, then I confidently share with them my love of helping people who are living with bipolar disorder. I share that I have this tremendous passion and sense of duty because I too am living with bipolar disorder…. Then I invite them to ask me questions and I share my experience, listen to their awareness and understanding and answer their questions to the best of my ability.
…What I Learned
People only fear and judge people living with bipolar disorder when they don’t understand it. When people understand and have compassion for what they fear, the fear can no longer exist.
Oy Vey! There is so much I could say about this that I’ll have to write about this in my next blog that will be up Wednesday….
In the comments section, I invite you to share your stories and bloopers of “coming out” with bipolar disorder.