I don’t want to talk about it
On the 12th of August this year I finally plucked up the courage to write about the mental health issues that I’d been experiencing. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, sparse as it is, and I hummed and hawed for a good few hours about whether I would actually publish it at all.
There are a few reasons why I find it hard to talk about my mental health, and so I thought I would discuss them in this post. Partly to help you understand why I’ve not discussed this before; partly to help others who may feel the same way about their conditions, and partly to help me get to the point where I can talk about things more openly. This will be the first post in a series of posts about mental health.
Reasons I find it hard to talk about my mental health
1. I feel like a fraud
The first, and I think foremost, reason that I don’t talk about my mental health is that I feel like a fraud. My mental health is mostly good and even when it’s not so good it’s still far better than some people’s. As such, I feel like if I was to start talking about the issues that I’ve had, people will think I’m being stupid, or jumping on some bandwagon, or worse still, putting it on. I worry that people will think “Pull yourself together, you’ve got it easy compared to some folk.” or “Well you don’t seem bipolar to me.” or “Some people’s lives are ruined by bipolar, you seem like you’re hardly affected so why are making such a big deal out of it?” or “Are you sure you’re bipolar? Those tests they run are hardly conclusive.” or a million other variations along the theme of, YOU DO NOT REALLY HAVE A BIPOLAR CONDITION AND ARE THEREFORE A FRAUD.
The problem with this is that it’s most likely just me thinking these things, not you. It’s probably just the condition itself talking. That’s one of the hard things about mental illness, it affects the way you think, especially (in the case of depression and bipolar at least) the way that you think about yourself.
2. I’m embarrassed
There is still a stigma around mental illness. There are preconceptions about what mentally ill people are like. They’re the “nutters” that shuffle down the street shouting at hedges. They’re the “psychos” locked up in secure wings for their own good and for the safety of others. They’re the “jumpers” throwing themselves off bridges or under trains.
People forget that we all have mental health in the same way that we have physical health; sometimes we are in good health, sometimes we are ill. A mental illness is not something you are, it’s something you have. Stress, for example, can be a form of mental illness, and one that most of us have suffered from at one time or another. Many people have suffered from depression at some point in their lives. Having a mental illness does not make you a “mentalist”.
Bipolar has a stigma too. To some bipolar means dangerous, to some it means attention seeking, to some it means “properly mental”. I have to confess to thinking some or all of these things myself in the past. We see people like the late (and great) Robin Williams, and secretly label them as “other”, not like us, damaged (and possibly scary). We silently judge them, thinking that they use bipolar as an excuse for actions they should be able to control just like the rest of us.
Because of this I’m embarrassed to associate myself with bipolar. I don’t want those labels. I don’t want the associations. I don’t want to feel weak. I just want to carry on with everyone thinking that I’m “normal”. That I’m a “we” and not a “they”.
3. I’m worried that it will affect my relationships with people
I worry that people won’t want to know to me anymore in case I “go mental” whilst they’re around. I worry that the people that stick around will treat me differently once they know. I worry that once the box is opened, there’s no closing it again or going back to the time before it was opened.
4. I’m worried that it will affect my career
So far this has not been the case. The company that I worked for when I was diagnosed were brilliant. My boss at the time could not have been more awesome. Still, I worry that by talking about my mental health problems more openly, doors to future opportunities will silently be closed. That people that might have been open to working with me before, will now think that perhaps I am more trouble than I’m worth.
You can argue that I wouldn’t have been happy working there anyway if that’s what they are like, and that may be so, but it still comes back to the fact that once the cat is out of the bag, there is no going back.
And yet …
The thing is that despite all of the fears I have listed above I do want to talk about my experiences, because I feel like doing so may help others going through a similar situation. I am, however, keen to point out that this is a personal decision. Knowing how hard it is to speak about these things I would never expect someone to do the same unless they truly feel that they are comfortable and ready to do so. Self-care must come first.
In response to the above points (again this is as much for myself as anyone else):
- Yes I have a “mild” form of bipolar, so of course it does not affect me as much as it affects others with more serious conditions. This does not mean that it does not affect me at all. I’ll write a bit more later about how it actually does affect me, however the amount of affect is not important. If me talking about my experiences helps even one person, then it can only be a good thing.
- Of course I’m embarrassed. Nobody likes admitting weakness, or marking themselves out as different. I’m just going to have to deal with that. I have to remember that bipolar is something I have, not something I am.
- This fear is pretty much unfounded so far. Everyone I have talked to or that commented on my previous post has been very supportive and fine about the whole thing.
- Likewise, I have no evidence so far that this has affected my career in any way.
So here we are. Hopefully you have an understanding now about how this feels for me. That said, I don’t want to stymie debate. If you have any criticism etc, then please do get in touch (@mr_urf on Twitter).
Now to start talking about my experiences with bipolar …