Several years ago, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I didn’t mind sharing my story with others. I was struggling with horrible symptoms, due in no small part to being prescribed the wrong meds, and I sought community–both for encouragement and to encourage others. I was a grad student in a department very tolerant of mental illness; indeed, some faculty and students still held a romantic notion of the link between genius and mental illness.
But as I found the right medication and my symptoms receded, I found myself less vocal. I felt I was now a “normal” person–or at least acted like one. When I left grad school, I said even less unless I knew I was in a “safe” environment to do so. I was incredibly uneasy about people from high school or college learning that I’d been diagnosed because I didn’t see them as a group of people who would be understanding. I felt the societal stigma of mental illness in a way I hadn’t before.
Something happened near the end of my time in grad school that changed my mind about publicly sharing my story with others, but I’d not been able to make good on it as I’d wished until recently. In February I shared the story of what happened in an article–“Stigma. Own it.”–written for a new blog called Real Spirituality for Real Life. I finally owned my stigma. Publicly. Standing in solidarity with others. And it turns out that having high school and college friends read it wasn’t so scary after all.