I kept my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type I as my most closely guarded secret for years. Knowing about my diagnosis was strictly on a need to know basis. I did everything in my power to hide it from boyfriends, roommates, and extended family members until about a year ago. I made up lies for as to why I took daily medication, and did my best to down play my symptoms. I was humiliated by the diagnosis and was terrified of the way that people would perceive me. I did not want to be seen as weak, or as someone who could not handle their own well-being. I did not want to be known as “the crazy girl” and I was terrified that the diagnosis would hinder future career advancements for me.
Eventually I became exhausted of keeping up the secret and feeling like I had to hide my daily struggle from the people I knew that loved and cared about me. I slowly started telling people in my life. While many reactions were less than ideal, I was mostly surrounded with love and support. The more people I told, the easier it became to talk about. Soon friends started introducing me to their friends who were going through something similar. I always used to fear having people introduce me as “Sage, their friend with Bipolar Disorder,” for I had always assumed that it would be inherently negative. But then it started happening- and I became “Sage, their Bipolar friend- who has been dealing with this shit for years and would be totally down to talk to you about it.” It was empowering, it was liberating, and it was motivating.
Visibility is important. It is estimated that 18.5% of all Americans are living with at least one mental illness. Yet, the depictions that are commonly seen of those living with mental illness are often of extreme, inaccurate, and/or exaggerated cases. We rarely are shown images or stories of people who are thriving in life alongside their mental illnesses. There also is a lack of storytelling and commentary coming from those of us who live with mental illnesses. I want to work towards changing that; and creating healthy dialogue.