You read that right. I'm coming out. I am joining the movement. I have been out for the most part, but now it is time to jump out and slam the door shut behind me!
I am Tracey and I am Bipolar.
I flinch when I say that out loud because those who hear me tend to jump to their own conclusions as to what that means. Some assume it means I'm insane, schizo, psychotic, dangerous... even contagious. Some become "sympathetic" and treat me like I'm either fragile or special needs. I have even come across those who act as if I am full of crap, doing it for attention or just a bored SAHM riding the diagnosis of the month. They assume this not because of my actions or rumors to my past. No, they based them solely on the heinous stigma that surrounds mental illness as a whole. A stigma I have battled against for the better part of my life. For this reason alone, I have kept "in the closet" about this very important part of myself.
But no longer.
I was diagnosed at 19. My story neither begins there, nor ends. But it almost did.
I had already figured out I was Bipolar. Not by a treatment center or a doctor or even an online search (such things were unheard of for the most part back then). It was in my first year of Jr. College. I had just stormed out of my Intro to Business class because I arrived too late to take a test and I completely lost it. I was directed to speak with my college counselor who just happened to run a "Bipolar/Unipolar" support group on campus. I attended one meeting and immediately knew the answer to the question I didn't even realize I had been asking myself for years.
"Why am I so damn different?"
Finding out the answer was an indescribable moment in my life that I will never forget. It was right up there with losing my virginity.... strike that. Better. However, knowing wasn't enough to save me from the self destructive ticking time bomb that had already been set to go off deep within. I attempted suicide twice before I was hospitalized, put on meds and then... finally... diagnosed.
Looking back at my childhood, I can see things that should have been obvious signs. Two things kept my family from properly seeing them. One: Most of them were Bipolar. Two: None of them knew it!! Yep. I was the first of my family to be diagnosed. Unfortunately, the diagnosis came too late for 2 of my relatives who were too far gone and sadly, took their own lives. (Although, in both cases, whether it was an accident or by their own choice is still up for debate by some.)
Those same things I saw in myself as a child, I now see in my daughter. At first, it scared me. Then I realized it didn't have to be scary! Sure it was scary for ME! I was CLUELESS!! She doesn't need to be! It took me years to figure it all out because I had to do it all on my own in a time when people were still being locked away for months even years! Just NOW, they are starting to recognize Bipolar Disorder as a pediatric issue. They are realizing that not all those bouncy kids are suffering from ADHD. Some are Bipolar. Treatments are changing. For the better.
With all this change, shouldn't the stigma change too?
All mental illnesses are REAL ILLNESSES. REAL DISORDERS. They are NOT however, defining.
I struggle with my illness. I live my life in spite of my illness. In order to do so, I embrace my illness.
I am Tracey. I am Bipolar. I am also a daughter, a sister and spouse. I am doting mother and aunt. I am a teacher, a caregiver, an entrepreneur and a bookkeeper. I am creative and open minded. I am supportive and caring. I am funny. I am loving. I am fun loving and wise. I'm a singer and a dancer. I am a jokester and silly. I'm encouraging and courageous. Above all, I am hopeful and sincere.
If you have been hiding, I ask that you join me and come out. Like I said, it's a movement. Well actually, its a campaign. Started by this guy: Michael Kimber. He's also on FaceBook. I learned of Michael and his Coming Out of the Crazy Closet Campaign, through Jenny the Bloggess. She too "Came Out" recently on her blog and asked others "Speak Up!"
So please. Join us. Come out. Speak up. Help us fight the stigma that has held us captive in our silence for far too long.
You are not alone.