Coming out as mentally ill is hard, or it can be. It’s one thing to discuss symptoms and solutions with a doctor; it’s something altogether different to disclose a diagnosis to a friend, family member, or coworker. Making the decision to be open about one’s mental illness can help strengthen already solid bonds of friendship and familiarity. Conversely, it can create distance between people, depending on their levels of comfort, education, and acceptance.
I feel guilty for having a mental illness. I understand that it’s likely a genetic disorder, but rational thought is hard to come by. The internalized guilt I feel is the very definition of self-stigma. That’s how I choose to see it. If I’m going to advocate against stigmatizing mentally ill people, then I guess I’d better start with me.
I see that it is my obligation to speak. To shed light. To dispel fear. That is my clarion call to you: join me in pursuit of a better world for those of us who are different. We have been woefully remiss, we are responsible, they are ours. All of them. All of us.
In grade school, I was treated like an outsider. As an art student it was hip to be vague, so no one seemed to notice my inability to interface. I was simply considered aloof. In truth, I was dying inside for the wish of connection. It wasn’t meant to be. The voices in my head dictated my actions, often compelling me to behave irrationally.
Wellness is not a singular phenomenon; there’s a whole world out there that needs healing. If I take care of myself first and learn as much as I can about my illness, then I’m able to share my information with others. I can present my experience with hospitalization and medication to caring and curious people.
I knew then that Jackie deserved to feel her best—at least, the best that’s possible. I knew then that it was my place as her friend to always speak up when she sways from her true personality. I knew then that I was in the right to hold onto who Jackie was before she became ill, and to try to always believe she deserves to get back to that place.
I have very little power over things in my life, except for how I choose to perceive things. I can’t control other people’s actions or words, or any circumstance that comes my way from out in left field, or the frequency that my bipolar challenges run on. But I can choose to surround myself with positive energy, including music.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of managing my side effects is the maintenance of communication. I have to keep up my perspective or I’ll lose the ground I’ve gained since my last hospitalization. I don’t want that to happen. It’s all about being personally proactive.