Today is World Health Day, and the World Health Organization (WHO) is campaigning to raise awareness of depression. As a result, you may have noticed some articles on it or mental illness in general in your social media feeds. I was reading an article today in The Economist that focused on the stigma of depression/mental illness. The article opens talking about an Irish cricketer who caught the World Cup winning catch over a higher ranked team. The other team’s home paper claimed that he had lied about being in bounds, and that because he had been honest about mental illness and addiction in the past in interviews, he was not to be trusted to be truthful. “Under pressure, a man of such character” would not be trustworthy nor would he be decent enough to be truthful in that type of situation.
Many times I have thought about “coming out” about my bipolar diagnosis. I do believe that like my sexuality, it would help for people to know someone who has a mental illness such as mine. It might normalize bipolar disorder for those who know me, if they knew that someone they liked and trusted was diagnosed with it. I think depression and anxiety are feared less than bipolar, borderline personality disorder*, and schizophrenia. For me, the problem is that your every emotion becomes evaluated through the bipolar lens. If I get upset about something, it’s not a bipolar mood swing. It might be because you just did something stupid, but instead the assumption is the former.
I also worry about the fact that I have a misdemeanor that I need to have taken off of my record in Maryland. I actually committed a crime, and I do not remember doing it. I did it at my place of employment, which thankfully was a part-time job that I did for fun/discounts. Thank goodness, because if I had done something like that at Hopkins, depending upon what it was, it might have been a felony. Luckily, because I have always had a clean record, and my defense was my illness, I got a misdemeanor with probation, mandatory therapy and community service. But Jesus, this shook me up. Bad. So bad. Getting kicked out the military didn’t even feel this bad, and that was breaking military law. I guess it was because I knew that my being gay wasn’t a sign of my being “broken,” but to me this was.
I think what is really interesting with this whole raising awareness, and even my thoughts of wanting to raise it myself, is that the people who do know about my diagnosis don’t REALLY know what bipolar disorder is. When I committed the crime, my partner didn’t know what to do with me, because it was “so out of character.” I had already been diagnosed, so she should have known the possibilities. (It was an issue of meds that led to the scenario.) There was a period where I felt almost abandoned by her. She did come around, but her initial response did its own damage. Even since then, I think that she has only done a superficial job of educating herself. I think this is the case with everyone who knows, IF they have even done ANYTHING to inform themselves, particularly my family. People only know what they see on TV, maybe what they know from an article, joke about, or whatever. I doubt my family or closest friends here would know the initial signs if I were to start to spiral down. That’s disappointing but not surprising.
I applaud the WHO for wanting to raise awareness on the international stage, but there is a complexity to the issue of mental health because of the various diagnoses. How do we address the diagnoses that people fear? The ones that get blamed for kids who open fire on schools? Because a campaign for those, that’s where things get tricky. There has to be a solution. I’m not confident that we will find one anytime soon. (Something is better than nothing, I guess.)
*My current psychiatrist thinks I should have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. I disagree. He also did not put me on antidepressants when I told him I thought I was heading into a depression; I ended up in a depressive episode for about 5 months. I need to find a new doctor.