Why I’m afraid to admit I’m bipolar

Writing this blog post is the hardest writing assignment I’ve ever given myself. Harder than writing a novel. Harder than writing about my battle with anorexia. Harder than writing my query letter or even my hated novel synopsis. It’s hard because I’m afraid of what the reaction will be.

Here it is: I’m bipolar.

In my off-line life, I’ve shared this with friends. Most have been supportive, though sometimes baffled. (You? Bipolar? I thought you were just depressed!) A handful have dropped me. Some have dismissed it. A cherished few have bent over backwards to help me, pray for me, and encourage me on hard days.

My pregnancies were particularly hard. I was afraid of what might happen after I gave birth. (Postpartum depression? Psychosis? Would I end up like Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf?) Fear gave me insomnia, insomnia gave me time to think at 3 a.m., and 3 a.m. thoughts tend to be wild and creative. So I took the worst case scenario and placed it in the lives of fictional people. Hence the birth of The Cruelest Month

I’ve wanted to share this online. But I’ve hesitated because I don’t know the repercussions of this revelation for my publishing endeavors. Until now, I’ve kept silent. Silence is safer. Familiar. Stifling.

It shouldn’t be a big deal to write this online. It should be acceptable for someone to say I have a mental illness. It should be acceptable to hear I’m going to counseling. It shouldn’t hurt my chances at getting a book contract any more than any other chronic illness would. In a perfect world, prejudice and stigmas against others wouldn’t exist. Then again, in a perfect world, mental illness wouldn’t exist, either.

But realistically, it does exist. Theoretically, it might make publication harder. That stinks. 

Here’s the reason I wrote this novel and I’m not supposed to talk about it?

I query someone. They google me and read I’m bipolar. What’s their reaction?

As soon as I say I’m bipolar, many (not all) people have a stereotype pop into their minds. Their ideas may be formed from any number of sources: a celebrity who has landed in the psych ward; the accused killer who pleads not guilty by reason of insanity; an acquaintance they’ve known and avoided because of their strange behavior. Maybe they’ve been hurt by someone with a serious mental illness.

Would you sign a business contract with a previously unknown person if you thought her behavior might be erratic? Would you be concerned that she might not be able to complete her work because her mood swings became uncontrollable? If you don’t know me, then you have no idea how I will handle the stress of publication. No matter how caring and open-minded, any sensible person might hesitate. I understand this. But here’s what you need to understand.

I’m more than my illness.

296.89. That’s the identification number for my illness. I write it on insurance forms and read it on the receipts from the psychiatrist’s office. But I’m not that number any more than Jean Valjean is only 24601 or a concentration camp survivor is the number branded on his arm or any U.S. citizen is her social security number. 

My identity isn’t only as a bipolar person. I’m a Christian. Writer. Wife. Mama. Former ESL teacher. The woman who chose to write a master’s thesis on Moby-Dick and has Van Gogh prints in virtually every room of her house. The woman who gets lost in her hometown, doesn’t like coffee, and gets even more lost on Twitter.

And I’m more than the sum of these parts, just as our bodies are more than a bunch of organs and nerve endings and veins, and our lives are more than a series of events. Each of us has an area where our lives are broken: divorce, cancer, debt, loneliness. These things are a part of our lives, but they are not us.

If the statistics are right, then there are many people, possibly some reading this now, who have a mental illness. That’s a lot of people who need to know they aren’t alone. They need to know they are more than a number on a page. Many need hope.

Hope is hard to find in our world. It’s easy to succumb to despair. Many people have successfully fought despair and triumphed; others have been defeated. 

For every man who comes through a bout of depression, there’s a Van Gogh standing in the field, watching crows circle.

For every woman helped by her medications, there is a Virginia Woolf, loading her coat pockets with rocks, wading into a rushing river.

And for every celebrity crashing in hospital, there are dozens, hundreds, who suffer silently as the rest of us walk around oblivious to their pain. 

It’s for those hurting people—whatever the source of the hurt—that I write.

If my work is to bring hope to anyone, then I must first acknowledge my own struggle to find hope in the midst of mental anguish. Telling the truth about my problems is painful. But I can’t stay silent any longer.

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20 thoughts on “Why I’m afraid to admit I’m bipolar

  1. Laura, I commend you for your honesty and courage, and I’m glad to be your friend. I’ll be praying for you and cheering you on. I believe you’ll be a tremendous find for some lucky editor, and I hope it will happen soon. You have important things to say.

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    1. Meg, thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate your encouraging words and prayers. I’m so glad I met you at that seminar and that we’ve gotten to be friends!

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  2. Proud of you for your courage to be honest with the world. What a different world it would be if we were all more honest and stopped hiding behind the things in our life that we don’t like or that aren’t great. No telling how many people you are able to encourage just by speaking truth. Thank you for your post and your honesty. I wish you the best in finding a publisher. God will provide.

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    1. Thanks, Heather. I got inspired to share this from a recent sermon our pastor preached. He talked about how we often try to hide our “stuff” like kids hiding their toys under the bed or in the closet because they don’t want their parents to see that they haven’t cleaned their rooms. I hope I can encourage other people to seek help if they need it, and give them some hope in whatever difficulties they find themselves in. Thank you for your encouragement!

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  3. I think it’s brave and honest of you and I admire your openess. You shouldn’t worry about sharing these things, it shows you are dealing with things positively. I’m sure your book will find the best home as a result!

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    1. Thank you! It’s probably one of those worries that’s only in my head, but it’s still scary. I hope that I can connect with other people as a result of my honesty, and maybe help encourage someone else to get the help they need.

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  4. Laura,

    As I start my reply, I want to say you are very brave. But then I think, it’s not about the bravery. It’s about pushing through your own personal pain to find the words that can describe that pain to others. I personally believe, our pain has no use if we don’t find a way to share it. I myself was helped by some one else sharing their pain. If that person hadn’t shared their pain, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to step out of my own self-destruction.

    Often times I’m concerned about the label I wear “recovering sex addict.” I start to think they (whoever THEY are) will think I’m a whore. But every time I share my story a light comes on for someone.

    Just the other day I was getting a massage. The therapist asked me about my work. I told her about my budding ministry/ blog and that I was a recovering sex addict. Over the 90 min I was there, it became evident I was there for her and not me.

    In the last 6 years of my sexual sobriety I’ve had several opportunities to share my story with women’s small groups. I’ve always had good come out of it.

    When I find myself insecure in who I think I am, that’s when I have to trust God the most. He has allowed me to come through my pain so that I can help others.

    Thanks for sharing. God bless you!!

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    1. Tamara, I think what you’ve described is the “blessing of going second.” In other words, someone shares their pain/struggle and we get to “go second” when we open up. At that point, it makes it easier for us to share; then when it’s our turn to share with another person, our honesty helps them open up. I am so thankful for whoever it was that helped you on your path out of sex addiction. And i am thankful that you have the courage to share with others so openly. I know others are helped through your honesty. I’m encouraged by your transparency. Thank you for reading.

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  5. I am proud of you, Laura. All of us, no matter how perfect we may seem, have something we are afraid to tell the world. God gives us writers the courage to boldly stand naked for the world. We strip ourselves bare to inspire, encourage and uplift others. Your weakness is a great tool for the Lord, my sweet. Bless you.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Diane. I have wanted to write about this for some time; many people off line know about my BP, and I felt rather fake-y not being open about it online. And it does seem as though any potential agent/editor who looks at the topic of my novel/my membership in NAMI will have an inkling that I have some personal experience with this, either myself or a loved one. So why should I hide this?

      Thanks so much for reading!

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  6. dear beloved of God, Your words resound with His power and glory. I am moved by your testimony and your obedience aside from fear, way to stomp on the enemy!!

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  7. I loved reading this post.
    To quote a friend of mine, “Sometimes our quirks or weaknesses that we are self-conscious about are the very things our friends and loved ones like about us.” This is so true.
    Our family recently found out that one of our loved ones is bipolar. In a weird way, all past events suddenly made sense. The things she and I have been through all took on a different meaning and I love her now more than ever.
    It is a shame the world can’t or doesn’t want to view people through the eyes of love instead of profit. But, I am willing to bet that the profit you gain from this post is more valuable than anything the world has to offer you!
    Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. The story about your friend reminds me of how I (and my family) felt when I was diagnosed. It was that “Oh, now that makes sense!” feeling when I remembered certain behaviors and emotions pre-diagnosis. I’m glad that your loved one has you, and that you love her unconditionally. I wish all people, regardless of their quirks or weaknesses or illnesses, could be loved this way. Thank you for reading!

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  8. Hey Laura,

    That was a very brave thing to do. 🙂 I’m glad you’re able to live with the truth of not only your troubles but also your uniqueness and humanness! May we all be able to do this. I very much agree with you about how we’re all more than a label and number, good bad or indifferent. To me, you’re still Laura, my friend! 🙂

    Grace and Peace,
    Paul

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    1. Paul,
      Thanks for the encouraging words. I’m relieved I’ve got the information out there (I hate hiding things like this) and I’ve been so encouraged by the responses of others to this post. Thank you for reading!

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  9. Dramanomics. Crass trivialization. The writhing black that glistens, that at turns rolls slowly, bogged inescapably in the inevitable, or roils violently, beyond any temporal constraint: that is ineffable, it can only be spied on from afar, and only substantively through the cracked lense of art.

    All other discussion of the subject, of ME, is mere dramanomics. Not necessarily without value, but too often overvalued.

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