It has always amazed me at the response I get from people when I ‘out’ myself. Since diagnosis in 2007, I have always vowed to fight stigma and never to deny my illness. However, having said that I am also aware that confessing to my condition in certain situations is much like signing a ‘witch hunt’ warrant.
I do not wish to sound like a contradiction so allow me to elaborate.
In friendships and new acquaintances, I am fully 100% upfront and forthright about this aspect of my life. Yes, I have bipolar, no that does not make me someone to fear. Yes, if this is an issue to you, kindly take a hike now before I grow emotionally attached to you. Close the door on your way out. Simple.
However, in terms of my professional life and my business, to put it ‘out there’ unnecessarily is not a wise move. I speak from experience. In my previous employment as a professional, I was fully open about my condition as I hoped that this frank approach would help to reduce stigma and fear of mental illness in a relatively small workplace. Ha.Fucking.Ha. Welcome to the pinnacle of dumb fucking ideas.
Prior to my diagnosis, I had been a bubbly, well-liked member of staff who got on with everyone whilst refusing to fall into ‘clicks’. Post-diagnosis – I was ‘frozen out’ by the vast majority of colleagues and became the ‘target’ of all manner of gossip. It seems that when you are open about having a mental illness certain rules suddenly seem to apply:
1 – Everything you say should be taken with a pinch of salt because “She’s crazy so she must either be full of bullshit, or just downright delusional.”
2 – Someone with bipolar disorder automatically becomes fair-game for all manner of gossip. Loyalty means nothing anymore and stories are just ‘juicier’ if they involve someone who’s ‘unstable.’
3 – Anyone with a mental illness diagnosis must be kept at arms’ length at all times – you never know when they may just ‘flip out and go on a rampage.’
I wish I was joking. I really do. So forgive me if keeping a roof over my head stands in the way of ‘coming out’ in my professional life but honesty doesn’t pay the bills. I won’t even go into the employment tribunal against my previous employers who forced me out of the workplace under the guise of maternity issues. It’s all too common according to the union.
However, the truth IS out there now. Back at the beginning of the year, a mixed state hit and I was signed off work (a new place of employment) for several weeks. Upon my return, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. People who once would sit and eat lunch with me, now will not even make eye contact. People who I would laugh and banter with, now meet my greetings with, “What do you want?” Even as I type this, I still find it hard to believe that we are treated with such injustice in 2015. It seems that political correctness has gone into overdrive but prejudice and stigma against mental illness is fair game.