Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
I heard the words today Don't Ask, Don't tell today on a news program and I started thinking about sometimes I feel that way about having bipolar disorder. I have gone through many phases of being transparent about my illness and I am still not sure where I stand with it. While I sit here and write a blog about informing others about this illness and fighting stigma, I sometimes feel like a hypocrite. I still find it very hard to tell others that I meet or have been in my life for years that I do in fact have bipolar disorder. My journey of deciding on whether or not to disclose my illness started soon after I was diagnosed. I remember feeling so free and feeling some relief of finding out what was "wrong" with me. I went back to my high school and I told many people and it turns out it freaked out most people and others just didn't know how to react to the news. I had a lot of friends that turned their back on me because honestly they did not want to be around it. It was almost like it was contagious and they did not want to get it. I did have a select few that stuck by me and never treated me differently. At that time I was still very young and I thought once I went to college things might be different. Well things did not change there either and sometimes I think it was worse. I was in a sorority and I told one of my dear friends about it in confidence I thought but turns out she told a lot of people and after that things were never the same. People just treat you differently after they find out you have it.
Soon after this I became quite the actress and no one around me knew that I had Bipolar Disorder and most to this day tell me they would never think I did have it. I soon moved to Atlanta after college with a fresh start of no one knowing about my "secret". Well this worked out great for the first two years. After two years of working at that company things changed drastically. The company was being sold to a bigger company and everyone was afraid of losing their jobs. I know the stress took it's toll on me. I was getting very little sleep and barely eating anything. This just is the perfect storm to have a manic attack. I did fairly well for awhile but I made the huge mistake of telling a close co-worker who was the Vice President at the time that I had the disorder and I needed some support during this time. Well turns out the next day she ran to the CEO and told her about me after she told me I could trust her and she would tell no one. I think she was trying to get me fired because every one's job was on the line at that time. However the very cool thing about that potential ugly situation was that the CEO actually had bipolar disorder and she totally understood. I never knew she had it either. That just proves you never know who around you has a mental illness. She gave me a week off and gave me the name of her psychiatrist. Turns out I was one of the few people the new company kept and that vice president was fired. After I returned to work, things were a little weird at first but when I met the management of the new company and the workers they were great to me. Granted none of them knew either and never found out. I worked there for another six months or so but I was really missing my home and had lost a lot of my support. The company even offered me 3 months off to go home with pay to reconsider to come back at the end of summer but I knew my time there had come to an end and I did not feel right taking the money when I knew I was never going to return. It still made me feel good about myself though because they did not want to lose me. They never found out I had a mental illness though and I think I was glad about that at the time. I left Atlanta and moved back to a city near my hometown. I thought being closer to my family would help me stay stable. Turns out it was the right thing to do because my Mom can come over quickly to help me if I am having a bad episode.
So I started a new job and everything was bright and shiny again. I made new friends and had some great co-workers. I went almost a year with little trouble but I was handed a former employees work load in addition to my own and I got overwhelmed. They never replaced her and I took on two jobs at this time. I have always had this bad habit of never being able to say no. Finally things got so bad and I could feel myself going into a depressive state and feeling suicidal. I finally went to my boss and told her I would probably have to quit due to the added stress and how is was affecting my mental health. She told me to take the day off and we would discuss it the next day. Well she is probably the best employer I ever had. She had never heard of bipolar disorder but she spent that night researching it and that was amazing. She fixed my work load and allowed me to work from home on my more difficult days. She never told anyone else in the company of over 300 people and to this day I will never forget that. However she retired and things changed and I no longer had her protection and the new boss was very harsh and had no room for this. So I decided to leave a company that I dearly loved because they just could not accept that I had a mental illness. I once again looked for a fresh start. I never found one again of course. I had other jobs but the other bosses were not that understanding or really did not care. So I have have mixed responses in the work environment. My feeling now even though I no longer work is to not tell unless it is necessary for your own mental health. They are not allowed to ask you by law on most careers. There are a few exceptions but the accounting field is not one of them. I know some companies do not always follow this or they pressure you to think you have to tell them. Make sure you know your rights if you are working with a mental illness. Here is a link that might be helpful. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline1&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=47065
I have lost friends, dates, boyfriends and a career after people found out that I had a mental illness. There are only a very small group of people that know in my life and they are mostly family. My husband's response to finding out about my illness was a shocking one. He really did not see my mental illness he saw me and loved me for the real me. Even now after almost three years of marriage he does not see my illness he sees me. He is my rock and helps keep me stable and really tries to be there for me. It was even tough to tell people in my old church. They found out when I was in the hospital for depression and they didn't know what to say, send flowers. call me or even send a card. However when I had a hysterectomy they sent so much stuff and I had so many visitors. The funny thing is I really did not need them then and I was fine other then some recovery and minor pain. I needed them the most when I was suicidal. They however were no where to be found and they never treated me the same after that. I left that church of course and I am still having problems finding one. I feel a lot of people in church just do not know how to handle mental illness or want to deal with it. I think I was even told once that I had a spiritual weakness and it was just all in my head and it would go away if I was more faithful. My social anxiety also dampers my ability to meet new people and a new church can be overwhelming. However my faith in God is strong and I know he knows how I feel and that is truly all that really matters.
So at the end of this blog I guess I am still a great actress to those that do not know and free around those that do know. I do not even use my first name on this blog but my middle name because most do not know it and I still have the fear of everyone around me finding out and I am not ready for that at this time. I was not even going to put my picture on here but I thought well that is a start. I wanted readers to see my face and be able to relate to it and and know that it comes from my heart. I think it also shows another face with bipolar disorder and it's not your predictable stereotype everyone has about the illness. The media of course loves to show the most extreme cases that end in tragedy. The majority of people with bipolar disorder are more likely to harm themselves rather than others. The media leaves that out because it does not sell. I get so tired of having to keep such a huge secret about my life and I tell very few people that I am on SSDI. I do encourage everyone though that thinks they might have a mental illness to go tell a professional and get help. Those are the people you need to be honest with to get the help you need. They are legally bound not to disclose your information unless you request it so that is a good thing to know and it builds trust. I guess I still have not answered my question and still ponder on the thought is it better to tell or not tell. What do you think?