Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
Nobody realizes that some people must expend tremendous energy to merely appear normal.
My bipolar disorder is a closely guarded secret. I believe with all of my heart that I would not have been able to accomplish the professional achievements or maintained the personal relationships I have were I to wear my mental illness along with my heart on my sleeve While my mother and my grandmother always taught me to be kind to the ‘slow’ person we would sometimes stop and chat with while walking on Park Avenue, I will never forget the looks and laughter from the meanies as they passed us by. This was a valuable lesson for a six-year-old child. It’s OK to be ‘different.’ There are kind people who will be compassionate towards you. But, then there are those who will not.
Energy is a precious commodity when you are fighting with bipolar disorder. Even when you’re not bipolar, keeping up a charade takes an enormous amount of energy. When you live with mental illness and have made a conscious choice not to disclose your condition, the energy necessary to just appear normal gets to be too much. It takes a well orchestrated effort to not be forthcoming with friends, certain extended family members, employers, colleagues and, to some degree, even your own immediate family. I think about this a lot. The time, the energy, the orchestration necessary to make faux normalcy seem real. It’s exhausting.
A lovely woman whose blog I follow published a very frank post. Soul Survivor gives us an account of what it’s like to be one of the Walking Wounded: Betrayal and Stigma. If you haven’t already, please give it a read. It eloquently describes what might happen when those of us with mental illness take that leap of faith and confide our condition in some people we thought we could trust. Reading her post gave me pause and got me thinking: Which one of us may be in the worse position? Which one of us has to expend more energy? The one who is honest about their condition and bears rejection or the one who goes to great lengths to make sure they never have to?
Life has thrown my family and me a lot of curve balls in the recent past. I am mentally fatigued. I am physically exhausted. I feel as if my façade of normalcy that was carefully constructed over the last two decades is cracking. But a conscious choice to not disclose my condition means I can’t just yell to those in my immediate sphere, “Time out! I’m bipolar, this is too much shit at once and I need to retreat and regroup!” Not being able to do something sometimes uses up more energy that if you’d done anything at all.
The energy required to deal with mental illness is something I am sure every, single mentally ill person will tell you at times can be unbearable. We have to constantly check in with ourselves to see how we are doing. There’s medication, doctor appointments, counselor appointments, feelings of guilt and worthlessness over our disease or inability to fully participate in society, worries over funding our treatment, anxiety about how others perceive us, dealing with the fallout from mania, from depression, from letting ourselves slide too far if we don’t seek treatment the minute we start to feel bad. This is by no means a complete list of energy sapping BS. It’s just what my frazzled mind can come up with at this moment.
I’m still pondering Soul Survivor’s post.
Would my coming clean about being bipolar after all these years make things easier on myself? Is it time to surrender? Is it time to change the thing about my mental illness I spend the most energy on? Perhaps my soul could feel a bit of peace if I could be honest when my friends ask how I’m feeling. Maybe I would be less tired if I didn’t have to measure my words when describing what bouts of homesickness are really doing to me. Every once in a while I seriously consider surrender. Every once in a while I would like to just come out of the mental health closet like my gay friends came out of theirs, and live a life of truth and relative happiness with who I am the way they do.
In my universe, disclosure of my illness puts a lot at stake. One particular circumstance could blow up in my face. This issue has an expiration date so close I can almost taste it, but I refuse to tempt fate. Patience, young Padawan. Besides sanity, the biggest victim of mental illness is credibility. In order to retain any shred of professional credibility, my condition is best left in the shadows. The vast majority of people in my industry would never take direction for the ‘serious’ stuff I work on if they knew it was coming from a bipolar. A bipolar woman at that. Sadly, gravity does not hold my universe together, lack of information does.
My Mom used to tell me that you can’t un-tell a secret. As I sit here eating Xanax and typing, it’s becoming more and more obvious that still, even at this point in my life, preaching to the choir while high on benzos is still the best solution. But, I’m finally in a position where I can whine about how tired of it all I am. Progress. Real progress. Maybe I’ll consider The Closet Question again in another six months when things simmer down. Right now, I’m off to answer a few e-mails and lie to a few friends in the US that I’m doing just fine.