How wonderful it was ...
I had been afraid, ashamed, paranoid and isolated for years and years and years. The weight of silence wrapped me in a straight jacket in which I tried to appear normal to the outside world. And then, just the other day, I simply took it off. I took off my jacket of fear and shame.
I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder in January 1998 after a massive nervous breakdown which brought me into psychiatric hospital. There have been numerous subsequent admissions and my daily existence is ruled by the mysterious and unpredictable moods and behavioural extremes that are characteristic of the bipolar phenomenon. Some friends have known about my diganosis and a good many have not. I have not lived it publicly. Ironically, that isn't how I handled it in the very early years. I was initially a lot more open, mainly out of an overwhelming compulsion that sought to understand what had happened to me through talking about it with people. But I didn't find any answers, and in fact found myself more confused. I started to feel misunderstood by others, labelled and judged (rightly or wrongly, who knows) and even a psychiatrist warned me about not being too open about my diagnosis for fear of stigma. She cited the story of a psychiatrist colleague of her own who had suffered a nervous breakdown. He tried to return to work, but discovered how differently he was treated and finally left his job. She was making the point to me that even in the field of the mental health profession itself, people lacked the capacity of understanding and support which one might anticipate, and therefore how much harder it could potentially be elsewhere. Hearing this from my own doctor sent me further into my shell.
Another incident which contributed to my shame and paranoia about being open about my mental health label, was hearing a particular account of someone's response upon discovering that I was bipolar. I teach dancing to children and adults. It was the mother of one of my pupils who heard about the fact that I was bipolar, and she said that on that basis she would not want me ever driving her children in the car or anything like that. I cringed when I heard this, and another brick was laid for the foundation of silence.
Fairly recently, I had considered myself lucky enough to enjoy a friendship with a person who has a close family member with bipolar. Sadly, this friendship has suffered a blow from which it currently has not recovered and I find myself experiencing the loss of a friend. A good friend whose understanding and experience of bipolar health I respected and appreciated very much indeed. Having lost other friends, not to mention boyfriends, jobs and homes directly because of my bipolar behaviour over the years, this recent loss was one which I felt deeply. I was tempted to retreat even further. I was fuelled by that horrible feeling of no longer being close to someone who knows a lot about you, skeletons and all. It is not a safe feeling. It is a vulnerable feeling. It doesn't do me any good, given that I am someone who genuinely worries what people think or might say about me. We all do to some extent. So, the whole issue of telling people or not really raised its' head again for me.
People with mental health diagnoses juggle with the quandary of when to tell new friends, dates or work colleagues about their "label". Or even if they should tell them at all. So just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself on Facebook looking at the bit at the top where you type in a status for yourself. And I just started to write. I wrote a "coming out" . As I slowly clicked the post button, I felt an ominous rush of adrenaline. It felt a bit like I had taken my clothes off and gone and stood in the middle of the supermarket. But at the same time, there was a sense of relief, a weight lifted. I felt like I had stopped lying. Which was odd, because I hadn't actually been lying. I had simply not been telling people that I was bipolar. I had been hoping that I could come across as normal as possible under all sorts of extraordinary circumstances over the years. And as I sat there looking at my now public post, I was amazed to find myself feeling properly "normal" for the first time. Not hiding. Not being ashamed. Not being afraid to be vulnerable. No longer terrified of stigma and labels and whispers in the playground. I just decided to bite down and let whatever may come, come.
In fact what has come since that post is overwhelming support, admiration for my courage and honesty and positivity from all corners. But notably I am also being approached by others who suffer similar silent struggles. People who have depression, or other mental health issues, thank me in solidarity or are coming forward to share their stories and efforts to cope.
Mental and emotional trauma is immeasurably powerful. It consumes our waking thoughts and we become desperate to heal it or to find some way of living with it. Sometimes, we simply seek to stay alive with it at all. For me, after many long years, I have found that I can accept that my traumas are there. They simply exist. There are plenty of times when my demons overwhelm me, I would never say they are beaten. I would rather live admitting that there will be days when I will lose to them, rather than live hoping that I will somehow avoid the battles in the first place. I am broken.... but I am very, very beautiful. It is a glorious and wonderful freedom that I have granted myself. It has taken every ounce of courage to do so, but the reward so far, is a voice. The most honest one I have ever heard. And it is mine. Here, in this blog, is where I will share it with you. Thank you for reading this post, it is my first one ever. I will copy and paste my Facebook "coming out" post next for you. Welcome to Beautifully Broken. It's a place where there is no shame.