Since blogger ate my responses to the comments in my last post, I thought I'd address a few here, since the more I think about it, the more there is to say.
A common theme was that I was 'brave' for posting it, and that it couldn't have been easy. Well, that's true. I have wondered ever since I started blogging whether to write about it or not.
After I was diagnosed, I pretty much told everyone. Of course, it got around my group of friends pretty quickly that I was in hospital. But I spoke far more widely about it than that. I told people who really didn't need to know.
I always thought that the fear and stigma of mental illness is one of the biggest crosses to bear, and I wanted to lighten the load. And I found it lightened the load for others too. I would tell people at parties (where it's often not done to talk about these things). And then one or two people would confess that they had a mental illness, and a few more would say their partner/mother/friend/boss has one. And then a discussion would ensue about things people had kept hidden away through fear of what others would think.
I get a real kick out of helping people with their problems. Not only have I told people with bipolar things they never knew - I've also helped so many relatives and friends understand why the person they loves is acting the way they do. Being able to spread understanding and therefore compassion is a true gift. And I give it because when I was sick, someone with bipolar helped me come to terms with what had happened, and someone else with bipolar explained a lot of stuff to my dad which helped him understand me.
But for some reason, a couple of years ago I got sick of telling people. I got sick of wading through the judgements and ignorance. I got sick of being an ambassador for people with my illness. I just wanted to be normal (whatever that is). And people do think differently about you when you have a mental illness.
Here's a small example. While travelling a few years ago, I wound up in Nimbin. For those of you who don't know, Nimbin is famous for its marijuana culture. I was sitting at a long table with about 20 people smoking grass. I had told one person about my illness. When I started looking a bit glassy-eyed and nodding off, he asked me "Did you take too much medication today?" Now, bear in mind we were in Nimbin, for God's sake. We were all smoking - a lot. If anyone else had nodded off, people would have assumed they had smoked too much pot (which is, actually, what others thought had happened to me - and what had, in fact, happened). Assuming under those circumstances that I had an issue with my medication was a judgement, and evidence that he saw me differently from those other people. He was trying to show that he had at least a nominal understanding of the issues I face, but ultimately just proved that he saw me through the filter of my illness.
That situation was not a big deal. But imagine what happens when you go for a job interview and on the form it asks you if you have any illnesses. Imagine that you have gone to the Housing Trust to apply for a house, only to be told that you will have to provide references from your previous neighbours to prove that you won't be a disturbance in the street (this actually happened to me). Eventually you get mighty sick of it.
To be honest, the main reason I hadn't posted about it was because it would be an obvious marker if anyone I knew ever found the blog. What I'd already written would probably be enough to identify me, but reading about that would clinch it. But now I'm not quite so worried about anyone finding it.
The real reason I finally posted it is because of what other people had written. Just as I had given courage to others to be open, so other gave me courage. Confused Husband has been incredibly honest about his journey of self-discovery. Artful Dodger wrote about a terrible event in his childhood which he has drawn something positive out of. People like this have made me ready to tell my story - which again, helps others to tell theirs.
I feel that now I've mentioned it, I've opened the floodgates. There is so much more that I have to say. But as this post is already long, I'll save it for later.
But if you have anything to say about your own experiences with mental illness, or those of people you know, I'd love to hear it. And if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them.