Today, I am outing myself.
These are the five words I have not been able to say to you until now: I have a mental illness.
My Bipolar Disorder has been something I’ve carried around in my back pocket, hidden from the rest of the world, but it’s always weighing on me. I take it out occasionally and share it with people I trust, or whom I know can relate to it, but for the other 99.9 percent of the world, it’s a dark and heavy secret.
What if you don’t understand? What if you judge me? What if you don’t want to learn about my illness? What if it changes your opinion of me? What if it scares you?
For so long, I’ve let my fear of what you think dictate whether I tell you. Not anymore. I’m done hiding from judgment and reactions and opinions. I’ve realized that I’m just perpetuating the stigma and making it okay for others to be scared and hide the truth of themselves from the rest of the world. I would rather be a part of the movement to change this and inspire other sufferers to “come out” as well.
Today is the day I officially vocalize that I am not ashamed of it and I am no longer afraid that you know.
I’ve lived with Bipolar Disorder for half of my 30 years, getting diagnosed and beginning treatment five years ago. Manic and depressive episodes have become a relatively normal occurrence for me and even though they are challenging and do set me back, they are something that I’ve become accustomed to dealing with.
Earlier this summer, my whole world changed. I experienced my first psychotic episode and was hospitalized. Psychotic episode. Those words are still hard to say out loud. Up until that day, it was a term that I had only ever heard of in books or movies—not something that happened to someone I know, let alone to me.
For those of you who don’t know what the meaning of psychosis actually is, it is a mental disorder in which thoughts and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality. For two weeks prior to my hospitalization, my reality wasn’t real reality. For two weeks, I experienced intense and disturbing delusions, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, dissociation, the belief that I had magical powers and was hearing voices in my head.
Am I crazy?
Am I a psychopath?
Something chemically occurred in my brain in order to cope with extreme emotional distress that severely altered my reality. For those two weeks, all of the “crazy” things I just listed felt real to me. Real. Just as real as the sky is blue.
When I talk about it now, it’s almost as though I’m talking about a different person. It feels like a foreign entity took possession of my being for those two weeks, forcing me to vacate it. It wasn’t me. It was mental illness inhabiting my body, making me feel and see and do things that I would never normally feel or see or do. I still feel violated. Yet somehow, I need to find a way to reconcile that it was me, and that it was my own brain, and that I’m the one who hurt my family and friends.
I spent seven days in the hospital. Some of that was because I legally had to and most of it was terrifying. With the help of medication, I eventually arrived back in my body and my mood stabilized. The voices slowly got quieter and the gap between delusion and reality was eventually bridged. I was discharged a completely different person than the one that was admitted and one big question lingered: With what explanation?
This wasn’t the same as having an asthma attack and needing help breathing for a week. How was I supposed to tell people what happened? After wrestling with that question, this is what I’ve decided to do.
I finally, after all this time, understand that if you judge me for my mental illness, that’s your problem, not mine. I live with this, and have for years, and will continue to learn to live with this for the rest of my life. So I’m not going to spend my precious time on this earth being ashamed of something that is out of my control. I didn’t choose to be mentally ill. I’m doing my best to live with it and I’d rather wear it on my sleeve than continue to hide it in my back pocket. It’s too heavy a secret to carry around with me anymore. I want to spend that energy on living and laughing and loving as much and as hard as possible.
I’m not asking you to get it. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m not even asking you to empathize. This is what I’m asking of you. Please, choose to suffer out loud. You don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. It doesn’t have to weigh you down. There’s a community of people coming out publicly and defiantly, fighting against the stigma—unwell and unashamed. Don’t take as long as I did to be okay with who you are and what you struggle with.
You can struggle and sparkle at the same time. And we can struggle and sparkle fearlessly and together.
Author: Brandy Mudryk
Images: Movie Still, Mad Love
Editor: Travis May