As a 30-something bipolar chick in this day and age, it may come as no surprise to you that I have debts. Quite a lot of them (I won’t bore you with the accumulations of these debts as a result of employment discrimination after having ‘The Kid’) but let’s just say, I have a lot of bills dropping on my mat each month.
As a result, I have 3 jobs. Last night relates to job # 3, which is, in fact, my favourite of all. Let’s just say that 5 times a week, I stand in front of a room of people, wearing black and neon sportswear that may, or may not be embellished with Z’s,
whooping like a hyena encouraging the masses.
Last night was Autumn social night. It’s always fun to socialise with people in a context so completely removed from the usual interaction. Seeing your back-row diva who loves to rock her black leg warmers, in a classy dress with her hair beautifully styled is always refreshing, It allows you to see the students who you see on weekly basis, but don’t really know in a neutral environment. On the flip side, they get to see the woman they pay their hard-earned money to, spruced up and not nearly as loud and confident as she appears when she’s up on stage shaking her ample booty and “ooooo-uh, ooooo-uh’ing to the crowd. And with that comes *gasp* real conversation.
Some of my students have known me for some time and have attended various events I’ve hosted. As a result, I have fallen into ‘F.F.T’ (Facebook Friend Territory) with several of these lovely students. Therefore, I know that they have already
profile stalked learned the truth about their ‘Instructor’ in their own environment where they’ve had time to process and reflect and fucking hell, even return to class the following week!
So picture our seating arrangement. Seated at the end of the table, to my right sits ‘leg warmer’ chick, opposite sits super-hard-core 3-times-a-week attendee and diagonally opposite to the right, my ‘veteran’ who’s been attending since Day 1. It is inevitable that throughout the course of the evening, there will be numerous opportunities to reveal or desperately guard,
my dirty little secret my condition.
As is so often the case, alcohol is the catalyst for my revelation. Now, I would like it noted that I am in no way, shape or form ashamed of my disorder. I am very much out and proud. However, I am also not fucking stupid. The 20-something naive little me would matter-of-factly drop it into conversations in the early days of knowing people, with the attitude, ‘Why should a diagnosis change people’s opinion of me?’ Ha. Ha. Ha. What a fool. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still agree with my ‘Pollyanna Philosophy’. It shouldn’t. But the fact of the matter is, it does. I learned the hard way. As the people I’d happily met with for coffee and taken our fresh little bundle of joys for walks in their prams (strollers), suddenly and without reason, disappeared. ‘Normies’ think that doesn’t really happen. Oh, it does.
So no, in terms of my Z business, no they don’t generally know, because I need their money and I’m no longer naive enough to think that my diagnosis will have absolutely no impact on their opinion of me. However, I will never deny my illness or create a lie to cover it up.
“So, (insert my name) why is it that you don’t drink?” asks B from halfway down the length of the table.
So here we are. That moment. That fork-in-the-road scenario. I have a wealth of options to choose from. Full out bullshit or a watered down, cowardly version that is tenuously linked, or somewhere in-between. As always, I have that slow-motion-consider-my-options-moment. Which in reality is a split second to make my choice. Do you respond with:
a) I’m such a lightweight, alcohol doesn’t agree with me (she must be pregnant)
b) I’m on medication (she must be pregnant)
c) I’m tee-total (she’s a recovering alcoholic)
d) The truth
Fuck it. “Because I’m bipolar,” as I flash her my brightest smile and return to my dim-sum. Silence. Leg-warmer chick shifts awkwardly in her chair, finding something, anything, to do but look at me. Hard-core chick desperately concentrates on the near-impossible task of picking up individual strands of seaweed with her chopsticks and B diverts her attention to another conversation that is occurring at the other end of the table. *Tumbleweeds*
And here it is, that pivotal moment. With 8 years of ‘confession’ under my belt, I can guarantee that at this point, one of two responses will occur:
# 1. The elephant in the room. Smile politely and pretend, pretend, pretend that you did not just hear that dirty little word. Ah, the British. The stiff upper lip. Do NOT engage in a conversation containing that sort of content. Just smile brightly and spare the poor woman the shame that she actually just revealed that about herself, poor lamb. What was she thinking?
# 2. The ‘But you don’t look Bipolar!’ (refer to previous post) In actual fact I’d gladly take ignorance any day over the previous. The thing is, at least ignorant comments like the one above, proves the willingness to engage in conversation about mental illness. I actually have grown to love these responses because this is exactly where I get the opportunity to beat the shit out of stereotypes and ignorance. THIS is where change happens. I sit here feeling quite smug as I think back to the last person who made this comment to me several months ago. She now laughs in embarrassment at her misconceptions of mental illness. She was deeply ashamed after we talked it through (in a light-hearted way, I didn’t want the poor girl to feel like total shit!)
I now feel a slight sense of smugness/proud parent syndrome when I see her posting ‘Mental Health Awareness’ articles and the such on Facebook with comments such as, “I’m ashamed to say, I was clueless about this until someone made me aware that they had bipolar…” etc etc.
And so I will tackle stigma and stand up for those who are not yet ready to ‘come out,’ one ignoramus at a time. For every one you ‘enlighten’, they may tell others. My God, we’ve got a long way to go but silence and shame is what’s created the situation we find ourselves in during 2014 (don’t even get me started on the ‘psych-unit’ Halloween costumes which made the British news last week *face-palms*
Oh, and I’m totally aware that for every one person that I enlighten, at least 3 will run for the hills. Am I ok with that? No. Have I come to accept that this is the reality of being ‘out’ about my mental illness? Yes. Does that make it ok? Fuck no but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And the real question, how busy will my classes be next week? 😉