“It is a thing that can be spoken of”

In the historical mystery Anatomy of Murder, Harriet Westerman’s husband has suffered a horrible blow to his head, leaving him in a volatile and sometimes violent state. Now residing in an asylum run by a compassionate and wise doctor, he is slowly stabilizing. (By 18th century standards, this asylum is remarkable in its compassionate and healthy attitude toward the mentally ill; it’s the best of its kind, the characters note.)

The doctor encourages her to take their children to visit their father. Harriet, though, is afraid. What if Stephen, age seven, always remembers his father in this sadly altered state?

Her friend Crowther recommends following the doctor’s suggestion. Stephen will have Harriet and other family members to correct any wrong perceptions about his father’s character, even if Westerman doesn’t recover. He adds,

“He must know it is a thing that can be spoken of.”

That last line struck me with considerably force. So often when I read other people’s stories of their dealings with mental illness (their own or a loved one’s), there’s this sense of secrecy.

I’ve overheard close acquaintances ask friends about a particular relative who has bipolar I. “We just don’t talk about him,” was the reply.

Another person said that her mother never let the family discuss her sister’s bipolar disorder at church or anywhere else. It was a secret, not fit for “polite society.”

Like many secrets, it bred shame. It also made it difficult—impossible!—for the family to receive the support they needed.

Unhelpful.

I say this with some caution, because I know that everyone’s stories are different. I don’t want my experience to blind me to the reality that some relationships are toxic, people can be judgmental and hurtful, and it wouldn’t necessarily be safe for some people to be as open about their mental issues as I am.

But everyone deals with something.

Everyone needs a safe place to talk about that issue. It can be spoken of. It does not have to remain a secret.

That’s not to say that everyone needs to see (and smell) my dirty laundry strung out on the clothesline, stains and all, and flapping around in the wind. That’s not wise.

There are definite limits to what I will share online. You’re not going to read my middle-of-the-episode, not-quite-logical writings while I’m in the middle of that episode. For me, I find that would make it too easy for me to hurt someone else or damage relationships.

Choose who you tell wisely; choose what you share wisely, too.

There are levels of how much information I share with the various circles of people in my life.

My blog readers: you know the basic facts and a few details of my past episodes.

My church and people at my daughters’ school: they know the basic facts. (Bipolar II—I usually have to define it—take meds—currently stable.)

Closer friends: how these basic facts affect my life. (Here’s what a depressive episode looks like for me—here’s what hypomania or a mixed episode look like for me—please intervene if I’m not acting like normal-Laura.)

Family members (my parents and husband) and my doctors: lots and lots of things.

God: Um, I think he already knows everything, but I still share it with him anyway!

It’s a little like getting a security clearance for the government. There’s levels of who can know what and when and where and how. People have to be approved to gain that clearance level. They have to be proven trustworthy.

But I don’t feel that my bipolar disorder has to be a top secret, confidential, classified topic. I talk about it openly and casually, particularly with people I’m comfortable with. I’m fortunate that my family is understanding and supportive.

When I write about it, I want to send this message:

I have a mental illness, but I’m so much more than my illness.

You might not understand my particular difficulties.

That’s okay.

If you ask questions, I’ll answer as honestly as I can.

It’s okay to talk about this.

Some secrets should be shared.

That’s how healing begins.

It’s something that can be spoken of.


 

(Quote from Imogen Robertson, Anatomy of Murder, pg.149)

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16 thoughts on ““It is a thing that can be spoken of”

  1. I am glad you speak of it, both for those who are dealing with mental illness and for those who aren’t. We should be able to talk about what’s going on in our lives whether we are talking about illness or job loss or broken relationships. Not only does this help us to come alongside people in their suffering, but how else can we understand someone well enough to also be able to enter into their joy when something great is going on?

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    1. Oh, that’s a great point, Tim. but how else can we understand someone well enough to also be able to enter into their joy when something great is going on? I definitely want others to feel my joy when something good happens, whether that good thing is big or little or in-between. “Yes, my meds are working! And the side effects aren’t terrible!” If someone doesn’t know that I’m mentally ill, they won’t understand how BIG that is. Of course, the same is true of my understanding of others, their difficulties, and their joys.

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  2. What a refreshing, resoundingly healthy examination of bipolar disorder disclosure. I agree with every word, including the God section! (I use “Higher Power” these days, but it’s similar, yes?) Anyway, thank you for being an inspiration! 🙂

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    1. Dyane, yes, it’s similar but different at the same time! I guess the big difference would be God is personal and “Higher Power” (as I understand it, at least) is more impersonal. I love being able to tell God all the junk in my head and heart! He already knows it, but he likes honesty. 🙂 And unlike even the most empathetic people, he can handle ALL of it! 🙂 🙂 (I felt like that deserved a double smiley-face.) I’m so glad you liked and agreed with my post. Thank you for being so honest about your illness, too. I know that helps a lot of folks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for having the courage to talk about a subject that society likes to keep secret. Bi-polar disorder, depression and a host of other mental illnesses need to be talked about more often and more openly, so that the individuals bravely dealing with these terrible diseases have the freedom to openly speak about them and share their difficulties with those of us who can help support them. You don’t know me, Laura, but I hear you, I see you and I sooo support you in your daily struggle this disease.

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    1. Lucie, thanks for supporting me in this. I consider myself fortunate that my bipolar is “manageable,” that I have the money for the proper medications, good health care, and a supportive family. So many people don’t. I’m reading a book on schizophrenia right now, and I’m sad for those who have it. I think they might be even more stigmatized against than those with bipolar disorder. If I can give people hope and help them to open up, perhaps that will lessen the stigma against folks dealing with this devastating diseases.

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      1. It’s the “stigma” that comes with the “unknown”, I think, for many people. Hopefully, with education and awareness more people will be MORE ACCEPTING and more understanding of what these diseases truly entail….Believe me, I can relate (intimately relate!) I have chronic fatigue syndrome and have had it for years…talk about a “stigma”! If one more person tries to “validate me” by telling me that they’re “fatigued, too”, I’ll scream! ( I go to humor, instead. More accepted, by society, as a whole!!) 🙂

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  4. I fall into depression once every 2-3 years. It wasn’t until I started owning this that I was really able to open up and talk about it. Before that, the sense of shame not only kept me silent with others, it kept me silent with myself–unable to admit that something was wrong for fear of what it would mean. Our society’s shame made me feel that my life would be over if it really was depression. But I have found so much freedom in naming my illness. Admitting what’s going on to myself and the people close to me was a significant step to healing last time I had an episode! Praise God for open communication.

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    1. Elizabeth, I’m sorry you deal with depression. I had depression throughout my teen years. (It wasn’t until later that I realized I was cycling between hypomania and depression; the depression had far longer episodes than the brief periods of hypomania.) It was hard for me to admit to myself that I was depressed. Well-meaning adults told me and my fellow teens that our feelings were all “normal”, so I didn’t recognize that depression wasn’t normal. It was so helpful to admit my depression and feel free to seek treatment. (Not so helpful to be misdiagnosed and not taken seriously by counselors . . .) I’m glad that you’ve found that freedom to speak. 🙂

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