Are you out? "Coming out" with a mental illness - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 01:09 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I've been thinking about this earlier, as there have been changes in my life that have provided new opportunities to me to come out -- or refrain from doing so -- about being bipolar. Because my bipolar disorder affects my life more than my bisexuality (and is seen as more of a negative, in my experience), even though I've been basically stable for the past couple years, I "come out" about mental health far more than about sexuality, but it feels very similar to me, and serves many of the same purposes. Being out, and the process of coming out, is important for my mental health; the very first thing that the illness does when it starts to take over is cut off my ability to talk about it, and I can keep it from growing by denying it the darkness it needs to thrive. It's also important to our culture to know that people with mental illness, or a history of mental illness, are here, and they better get used to us. And we can be lovely, loving, productive members of society; we're not just props for Hollywood thrillers or indy flicks.

But still, there are some times and places I don't think it's safe or appropriate to come out: I've talked about it in a college admission interview, for instance, but not in a job interview. I'll shout it from the rooftops around anyone I think is struggling (you're not alone!), but I'll refrain from talking about it around anyone who's displayed any hint of mental health prejudice. And often I'll take it slow, or use less dramatic language; I'll talk about having experienced anxiety, or having dealt with mood issues, before I'll talk about (or instead of talking about) having panic attacks or an anxiety disorder or manic depression or bipolar disorder. Later I might or might not expand on that, and be more explicit: more "out".

I'm curious to hear other people's experiences on this issue. Are you "out"? Do you/have you "come out"? Do you identify as a person with a mental illness, or a mental health issue, or is it something that happens or has happened to you and isn't part of your identity? Do you feel any pride about something supposed to be shameful? Do you feel shame? Or is it value neutral, more akin to having a broken leg? Is being out part of your mental health routine, or is it something you avoid, and why?

Thanks for whatever you're willing to share!
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#2 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 01:45 AM
 
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The longer I live with mental health issues (and the more they necessitate my viewing them as a consistent presence in my life, as opposed to a transitory "episode" here or there), the more I find "coming out" to be an important process. There's something both empowering and rather courageous in speaking out (the sexuality comparison is a pretty apt one), but I won't lie, sometimes it makes me nervous, and feels risky.

Like you, I tend to self-disclose in graduated stages, depending on whom I'm talking to, and the context (i.e. I'm more likely to be forthright with someone else who is struggling themselves, and could use the support, as opposed to with folks who may judge/more casual situations). Things like having dealt with depression, having been in therapy, taking meds -- those I have no problem being upfront about in the vast majority of situations. Disclosing that I've been hospitalized, or that I still sometimes struggle with self-injury urges? Not something I'm ever gonna reveal to my mother-in-law, or playgroups, or my employer (unless I ever absolutely had to in order to take time off for treatment, or for HR/health insurance reasons).

Interestingly enough, when I just typed that sentence, my inner censor immediately went, "Shh! That's private, that's dark, the nice people on MDC don't need to know that!" But another part of me thought, Why not? If I keep stigmatizing myself, how am I ever going to get the greater stigmatization addressed? I vacillate between wanting to be excruciatingly upfront (I've toyed with writing a memoir), and wanting to shove the memory of my own difficult times into a locked box somewhere (neither extreme, of course, being particularly healthy or useful).

I will say, too, that I think it's especially important to find support and a safe community in which to "come out" as *parents* who are dealing with the dual stressors of mental illness and caring for small children. I see very little being written by or about this issue, unless it's early postpartum PPD, and there are times when I really feel like an anomaly! There again, it's a fine line between empowerment and risk ... I would love to write about my own experiences, but if I did it in a public fashion, I would also be terrified of the scrutiny that would result. I'm currently researching some social services cases in where former self-injurers were involved in really messy battles to retain their parental rights, so I don't think it's 100% idle paranoia talking!

Excellent topic!
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#3 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 01:58 AM
 
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I am pretty damn out about my past depression, hospitalizations, self-harm, and continued struggles with ADD and secondary depression from it. I say pretty damn because I don't have a "I was in the loony bin" bumper sticker or t-shirt, but otherwise I share about it pretty openly when I need to. I don't mean that I go around saying, "watch out, crazy lady coming through!" or anything, I don't go telling everyone my whole life, but it's just something I don't hide or worry about needing to so much anymore.

At first I too was scared about being judged about it, but people see me and despite all my "issues" I feel are so apparent, they often seemed surprised and genuinely interested and empathetic about it. It also has shown me that a surprising number of people either have been through similar or know someone who has. I found that out when I first came out when I went back to college, on voc rehab for (mental) disability at the time, no less, and so many people told me how they or a family member or friend had struggled with mental health issues as well.
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#4 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 02:15 PM
 
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No way, I will never come out!!
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#5 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 02:52 PM
 
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: hi! I'm bipolar type 2, it's been about 17 months since my diagnosis, and I'm very happy to say that I'm stable! yay!

My diagnosis began with that of depression. I was puton 10 mg of Lexapro, and worked up to 20 mg. After about 10 days on the 20 mg dose, I began showing symptoms of mania. After I had a panic attack I called my primary care doc and told her what was going on. A few weeks later I saw the pdoc for the first time and was prescribed Lamictal I have been taking this for over a year now, and am up to 150 mgs. I take 75 mgs twice a day along with a B complex, and fish oil (I forget how much)

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#6 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 04:43 PM
 
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I can't say if I'm out or not? The biggest thing I've run into with the honesty approach (not just outing myself, but revealing it if conversation includes something pertaining to my illness) is that with the HUGE amount of over diagnosing going on these days (in so many areas) I find people just don't give a rats butt if you've been diagnosed- more often than not I get the response:

Me: "Well that rough patch I had a few years back was before my diagnosis of bipolar and now I'm actually doing so much better and I'm thankful to finally know what was wrong with me."

Clueless Person: "Bipolar? Yeah aren't we all." Followed by an eye roll, or a chuckle.

It makes me feel diminished as a person. I want to yell, "NO we are not ALL bipolar! This is a REAL medical problem that f**** people's lives up, it's not a joke, it's not silly it's dangerous and serious."

There's also so much confusion about bipolar disorder. Like I get "Oh well I'm manic depressive." And then I have to explain....yes that's called bipolar disorder. Same thing. You get people looking at you like you're Mary Kay Letourneau, or that you're going to freak out before their eyes, or you start to get the "Yeah my SIL is bipolar and she smoked while she was pregnant and she leaves her kids with strange men and she can't keep a job". Always assigning negative behavior characteristics to it- like you can diagnos someone bipolar just because they make crap life choices, ha if that was true yeah we'd all be bipolar.

I ran on a bit, but I guess I've pulled back from sharing the information. The truth is most people don't understand the disorder, and will mentally assign you to a very unsavory category as soon as the world bipolar flies from your lips. It's burned bridges for me, alienated people and really mostly just made me feel very angry because people don't know- they just don't know.

My parents (one of whom is bipolar- my father shot himself, lived and still resists and says he is NOT bipolar even though he has been told so by numerous doctors.) My mom thinks it's a crock, a failure of willpower, a way to gain attention and drama. I've never used it for those means and my parents aren't people I've ever run to in a crisis, she's just bitter and lacking a maternal gene which is a whole nother story.

So my luck with being out is not good. My husband bless him, he doesn't even get it. I've found it a losing battle. I save my "outings" for people I can tell care or would like to know how I'm doing.
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#7 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 07:28 PM
 
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Coming "out" was one of the best things I did for myself with my depression. Yes some people definitely do NOT understand & never will I think being open about it has been mostly positive.

Surviving sleep deprivation one day at a time with dd (Oct '11) & ds (Oct '08).

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#8 of 22 Old 10-18-2008, 11:05 PM
 
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BTW, I forgot to mention...I'm rather open about my bipolar-ness

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#9 of 22 Old 10-20-2008, 03:31 PM
 
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No, I'm not really "out." My husband knows, but he's been pretty unsupportive. He went to therapy with me about a month ago so my therapist could talk to him about having a spouse with trauma issues (at my request). If anything, he's been worse since then.

I don't have any official diagnosis, but I'd say that I have complex PTSD. I guess if I'd been formally diagnosed, I'd be more inclined to out myself. I have told several healthcare providers that I have PTSD--my dentist, so she would stop harping on me to wear a mouthguard at night (I don't think I could sleep with a "device" in my mouth). And a chiropractor--who wanted to know where my PTSD came from. As if it's any of his beeswax!

I agree that there's a fine line between risk and empowerment. And though I've been tempted to out myself many times as of late, I usually end up asking myself what I hope to gain, and then holding my tongue. I'd be glad talk to someone who needed support. There's just not anyone like that in my life right now.

I'm also paranoid about custody issues.

I've been tempted to post here and ask people whether they thought of themselves as mentally ill. I think our culture has a tendency to over diagnose. On the other hand, my mental state seems life-threatening at times. If that's not illness, what is?
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#10 of 22 Old 10-22-2008, 09:19 PM
 
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I'm not totally out.Many of my friends and family know I am bipolar,have an anxiety disorder,depression,and am on meds(lots of them).My therapist also thinks I have PTSD,due to all the issues I went through when ds was born.Only a select few know of my self injury,and the struggles I have with it.I haven't hurt myself in a while,but everyday it is there in my mind and I have to fight it.My parents don't even know what I do,nor do my dc,and I don't want them to find out.My kids I will tell when they are old enough to handle it.

I do feel ashamed about my self injury,but not my bipolar.My ex knows and will occasionally throw it in my face,like "oh go cut yourself you crazy " when he's drunk and mad at me.

I'm afraid for my dc though.With my issues and their dad's alchoholism,plus my mom's issues,I hope they don't inherit anything.That just scares the out of me.Both already have anxiety,ds's can be extreme,but I know that is part of his autism.

Student mama to one awesome,talented and unique dd,15 and one amazing, sweet and strong ds,12(born with heart defect Tetralogy of Fallot,also on the autism spectrum),9 cats,and 2 gerbils.
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#11 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 12:57 AM
 
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I'd like to come back later and post more, but I can really relate to so much of what was written in this thread. I am out carefully to supportive friends and to those who need support. I am not out at work (well, maybe to my union reps and the odd friend, but that's it). I'm more out in my family and infact crusading for my mentally ill family members to GO GET HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's scary to parent as a person with mental illness. I'm so afraid I will hurt my children emotionally as I go through my ups and downs. I have panic/anxiety, depression, GAD. Meds help a lot but aren't the cure for everything.

Must run but am so glad to see this thread. Sometimes I feel so alone too and afraid about how this will affect my life (work, kids, marriage) going forward. Hug for all of us and hugs to myself too!

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#12 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 04:47 AM
 
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i'm in hiding. i been dealing with depression for the past 18 years, almost 2 years as bipolar 1. most ppl just don't want to hear it so i have learned to just internalize it. i speak to my bf about and my psych of course, but not to my friends or colleagues. i have a hard time coping with it myself as a single mom it's a double whammie.
the one time i was force to bring it up was during divorce proceedings. i almost lost dd because of it.

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#13 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 04:52 PM
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I have been trying to be open about it, but sometimes I am too chicken. I have bipolar I, anxiety, and OCD. My family and a few friends know. ugh. I'm always worried about being judged and/or people deciding I'm too complicated to be friends with and dumping me.
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#14 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 11:04 PM
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I have Bipolar 1 and I am totally open about it. The only way for mental illness to become de-stigmatized in this country is for us to be open about it and show the general public that we're not "crazy".
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#15 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 11:04 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eccomama View Post
the one time i was force to bring it up was during divorce proceedings. i almost lost dd because of it.
Just having a mental illness alone isn't enough to make you 'almost lose' your child, is it? What if both parents have mental health issues? What if your illness is treated and you're doing well?

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#16 of 22 Old 11-03-2008, 11:14 PM
 
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The second I got though it with medication and felt ok about it, I came out.

I thought it was important and I was so grateful to finally feel like me again.

I have severe GAD, it got really bad, it got scary, it was horrible but I want people to put a face to mental illness and to be secure enough to get help before it gets that scary. That it isn't something to be ashamed about (I mention it casually). Of course, I probably wouldn't mention it at work for fear of discrimination.

The only issue I have, like previous posters, is that once you "come out" you are also more vulnerable to hurtful comments. Most of them are meant well, but trivialize it to the point that you know they don't get it. I wasn't a little anxious or just a little paranoid or a little sick to my stomach. However, mostly people are pretty supportive.

Mom of two boys (7/05 and 2/09)
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#17 of 22 Old 11-04-2008, 03:06 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Surfacing View Post
Just having a mental illness alone isn't enough to make you 'almost lose' your child, is it? What if both parents have mental health issues? What if your illness is treated and you're doing well?
well i ended up twice in the hospital after i left my ex. i was so depressed because of the way our marriage was going, him not being supportive emotionally or financially for over a year. I was a mess and wasn't very stable until end of the year, near the end of the our divorce. at least at that time i was finally diagnosed, was in therapy and on meds. my ex kept trying to bring that up in court, saying i was a bad mother, i was crazy, etc. he just wanted to take her dd away to spite me. i try to use the mental and emotional abuse him in court but that was so hard to proof. and unfortunately CA doesn't favor the mother, look at britney spears.

and if both have mental illness the courts still rather see the child with the parents rather then him or her away unless the child is harmed and it's documented. i had a friend in this situation and the finally took away her ex's custody after the child ended up in the hospital with 2nd degree burns.

sorry for the vent...

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#18 of 22 Old 11-17-2008, 12:55 AM
 
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#19 of 22 Old 11-17-2008, 05:20 PM
 
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Hi, my name is Nancy and I have bulimia, generalized anxiety disorder and trichotillomania; all officially diagnosed!

I'm actually one of those very "high-functioning" mentally ill people (that's the label I was given), so I've most often had the choice to stay "closeted" with my mental illness.

The worst experience I ever had "coming out" was at a Unitarian church service almost 10 years ago. I was having a panic attack that was just too severe to hide. An acquaintance took me to the ER and stayed with me. When I was discharged, she and I and my now-husband went out to dinner. All was well, I thought. I got a very good therapist out of that awful incident.

HOWEVER, for literally YEARS after this, whenever I would run into this woman, she would ask me "How ARE you," in that particular way. I don't know how to explain it beyond that. Yes, some of it may have been my self-consciousness that someone I didn't know very well saw me that vulnerable and needy; but couldn't she maybe anticipate that? And really, her solicitousness was just over-the-top. She actually asked me specifically about my mental state a few times. It was bad enough that I left the church permanently.

So I've been more careful since then. I actually find another area it's hard to come out about is taking medication. I know many people intimately who have mental illness and there's a strange kind of stigma within our crunchy circle about those of us taking psych meds.

In general, I find I have told more people over the years; mostly because I know I can look "down" sometimes and because I tend to retreat and not return phone calls when things get bad. I don't want to be a hurtful friend. I also want people to see that mental illness has practical implications and it's something I have to manage and juggle in my busy parent/working life. It takes real time, energy, effort and sometimes money. It's sometimes the reason I have to say "no" to committments or events I would otherwise want to participate in and sometimes I want people to know that.

I am also not out to dd, who is 4.5. That's a hard one.
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#20 of 22 Old 11-18-2008, 06:41 AM
 
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Hmm... I'm not out b/c I outed myself, but maybe somewhat b/c - at least I think this is happening - at this particular stage of decompensation it's not the easiest thing to hide.

I am more or less holding it together, but currently it's all on an emergency to emergency basis, so the holding things together is sometimes accomplished frantically, by necessity, and so with less finesse than I would prefer.

Sometimes I wonder, I'll catch a look on the street and I think, how far of a divide is there between me, and the lady who walks around talking to herself, odd mismatched clothes (I do that too, but I still choose my clothes with intention esp. when there is clean laundry), trying to get a cigarette off somebody or a dollar, the pull-along two-wheeled wire wagon full of (?) - and what differentiates the person who goes from where I am to where she is, from the person who is where I am and recovers, to continue a full life?

I wonder? But I don't know.

Gosh am I the queen of OT or what.
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#21 of 22 Old 11-18-2008, 12:18 PM
 
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Yea I kinda just outed myself on someone elses thread

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#22 of 22 Old 11-23-2008, 10:32 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Porcelain Interior View Post
Me: "Well that rough patch I had a few years back was before my diagnosis of bipolar and now I'm actually doing so much better and I'm thankful to finally know what was wrong with me."

Clueless Person: "Bipolar? Yeah aren't we all." Followed by an eye roll, or a chuckle.
The standard I've come up with is "no, actually only about 1 percent of us are." I haven't tried it out, but as we'll be with extended family soon, I know I'll get the chance. My MIL believes it "the diagnosis of the day" even though statistically speaking it's not. BP is not diagnosed at the rates now that it was pre-Freud; it was viewed as far more common back then.

We are having DS evaluated for early-onset BP, and we haven't gotten positive responses so far about that. My mother, who's herself bipolar and is a nurse, is trying to think of different things it could be. I've read the most recent books on it; my son fits perfectly. The descriptions could be of him, and I feel certain we'll get a bipolar diagnosis. At the same time, what I've seen of working with schools is that he will be viewed as a troublemaker, even with an IEP. That infuriates me and brings me back to the original question.

More and more recently I've begun to see mentally ill as a primary part of my identify. It informs much of who I am. I do not - and cannot - have a desk job. I don't function well as an employee. I need the freedom that freelance writing gives me. I won't have more children because of the illness - both because I'm heartbroken over DS having it and because I cannot handle more children. Many of the major decisions in my life are influenced by bipolar, and I'm accepting that.

I also think it's important to see someone who's bipolar and not a suspect on CSI. People's views of us tend either toward "weak" or "homocidal maniac," and I would like to do whatever I can to alter that view. I have started talking a good deal about mental health coverage from insurance companies and medical leave and other things. I've also felt called recently to help people who are homeless, and I know the mental health connection (an estimated one-third of homeless people are mentally ill) is one of the reasons. I'd like - when I'm better - to be an advocate for mental health issues, so yeah it's become a major part of who I am, and it's very freeing for me.

It's us: DH , DS ; DD ; and me . Also there's the . And the 3 . I . Oh, and .
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