Together at the Poles

Going Public Today: Why I’ve Decided To Stop Hiding


A few weeks ago was Mental Illness Awareness Week, which gave me a lot to think about. For the most part, I’ve considered my bipolar disorder to be something essentially private, much like if I had asthma or some other disease. As a result, it didn’t warrant any public revelation, not so much because I was ashamed of it (I’m not), but because I don’t normally discuss any of my other illnesses, so why would I discuss this one?

However, something I realized in these last few weeks is that people who are public about their bipolar disorder are actually needed. Unlike say asthma, there is a lot of what is normally called “stigma” around bipolar disorder. Because of misinformation and just plain old prejudice, being publicly bipolar can present a lot of barriers to people. While in principle we cannot be discriminated against on the basis of bipolar disorder, this happens all of the time.

Nonetheless, this need for public revelations wasn’t my only motivation. I’m not the type of person to martyr myself on the nearest available stake, no matter how worthy the cause. Living with a large secret like bipolar disorder has been harming my ability to make friendships and to work effectively. From the therapy I’ve been getting for the last six months, I’ve realized how much my secretiveness has actually been an impediment to my life, not a benefit.

So, I’ve decided to go public with my bipolar disorder today. Since one of my motivations in this blog is to not simply write about myself for its own sake, but to write about myself in so far as it can benefit other people, I thought I would write down my considerations in going public both positive and negative, and then put together a summary of why I came to my decision.

Reasons to Stay Private

For years, I’ve stayed private about my bipolar disorder, and it was not completely without reason. The following are some of my main considerations.

Discrimination

I realize that every time someone goes public with his or her bipolar disorder, it benefits everyone with bipolar disorder by removing stigma, and I’ve known that for years. I’ve never really had any doubt on that score.

However, I have responsibilities other than those to society or to other bipolar people. I have a family who depend on me financially, and if I lose opportunities for jobs or promotions because of discrimination, no matter how unjust, I am less able to fulfil that responsibility. Just because I am not “in the wrong” doesn’t mean that my responsibility diminishes any less. I don’t go walking in dark alleys at night either, justifying it on the grounds that, if I get mugged, someone else is in the wrong.

No matter how much legislation is in place, discrimination remains for people with bipolar disorder. We can’t know every decision that is influenced in other people, consciously or unconsciously, to our detriment. As a result, I worry that revealing my bipolar disorder could hurt my ability to earn a living and thereby my family.

Not Being Taken Seriously

Conversation

Public Domain

I’m not so much worried about losing friendships. My friendships are very strong, and if I am mistaken and I do lose some friends, I will simply assume that those friendships were never very strong to begin with. My concern is more with being taken seriously.

While it is true that some of my enthusiasms are guided by my bipolar disorder, a lot of them are not. I also simply have interests and good ideas that are not simply a result of my bipolar disorder, but are simply my own.

Basically, I don’t want people thinking while I’m talking to them, “Is Daniel behaving pathologically? Is this him being manic? Is he okay?” Meanwhile, what I’m actually saying is simply being ignored. I worry that I will have an extra hurdle to go over in almost every conversation. On top of getting my ideas across, I will also have to constantly be persuading people that I am “all right.”

I Can’t Take It Back

I call this the “tattoo effect.” While getting a tattoo might seem like a very good idea, once I get one, I will have it forever. I would worry that, ten years down the line, I might not think that a particular Chinese symbol has the same meaning for me that it used to do, or I might find myself in a work environment where tattoos are especially frowned on.

The same thing applies in publicly revealing my bipolar disorder. Once it’s done, I can’t take it back. If, ten years from now, I decide that going public was a bad idea, I’m stuck. On the other hand, if I decide to stay private, I can always go public later.

Reasons to Go Public

Those are the reasons that have been holding me back. However, they are not what have shaped my decision. There are a number of other reasons why I have decided that I will go public with my bipolar disorder today.

Public Benefit

In the summer of 2010, I started to facilitate a bipolar group in Toronto. I’ve always done it under my real first name, but I’ve kept my surname private. On the group’s Meetup page, there’s a picture of me facing away from the camera (I’ll be changing that, too). So, I’ve managed to be able to help out somewhat with the mental health community while staying largely private.

One thing that I’ve realized from that group is that there is a lot that can be done in the mental health community. In Toronto, there is a lack of resources for people with bipolar disorder, and as someone who has bipolar disorder and is relatively functional, I have a lot to offer. I think that I’ve done a lot of good in facilitating that group, and I would like to do more.

However, when acting anonymously, there is only so much one can do. Sure, I can run a group, but I can’t address any governments anonymously. Most newspapers won’t publish anything that I write anonymously, so I’m restricted to blogging. I actually had a rather funny incident along these lines about a month ago. The first time I tried to post a comment on a newspaper website, my comment was rejected. What made it funny was that the article was about the stigma about bipolar disorder and why so many people hide it, and my comment was about why I wasn’t public about my bipolar disorder. The comment was rejected because they didn’t allow anonymous comments (the editor wrote me a very polite and apologetic letter in which she acknowledged the irony, but she couldn’t change the policy). Nonetheless, this brought home for me the limitations on my advocacy that would be brought about by staying private.

The other issue is that I am, in some ways, an expert in the field. While I am not a therapist, I hold a Ph.D. in philosophy, in which I wrote my dissertation on the philosophy of medicine. Specifically, I compared the ways that practical and scientific reasoning interact in both ancient and modern conceptions of medicine. However, because I am uncomfortable writing Daniel B., Ph.D, I am not able to reference that expertise, which I think is very important to any discussion of bipolar disorder. In fact, I think I may be unique in this. I have never seen anyone else who is bipolar with a doctorate in the philosophy of medicine and who applies that expertise to the subject.

Finally, there is just the benefit of being another person who isn’t afraid to say that he is bipolar. A lot of the overcoming of prejudice around mental illness is for people with bipolar disorder to be public about their illness. The more of us that do so, and the more present we are in the public eye, the more we can effect a change in public perception of the illness. Just be going public, I can contribute to this.

Not Hiding

I had a strange incident with my psychiatrist a few weeks ago. I was having a rather severely hypomanic day (it verged on mania) where my thoughts were racing incredibly quickly and I was extremely confused. I had trouble even getting to my appointment, since my anxiety kept convincing me that I was about to miss my stop and I should be getting off of the subway. My memories of the day are extremely hazy.

When I got to the psychiatrist, I was convinced that my speech was as racing as my thoughts. However, when I brought that up a couple of weeks later, my psychiatrist said that I was speaking a little fast, but that it was nothing that would have been obvious. We chatted about this for a while, and the conclusion that we both drew is that I present well. In other words, I’ve gotten very good at hiding my episodes over the years. For example, when I have racing thoughts, I just cut a lot of what I want to say rather than try to push it out, which means that my speech doesn’t race.

However, this isn’t how I’ve been perceiving things. Whenever I am having pathological moods, I am constantly afraid that people will notice (which, I assume, is how I’ve gotten so good at presenting well). However, this has two effects. First, I am often very awkward in social situations, since I don’t want to give anything away and so I simply withdraw. Second, after any social event, I go rigorously over every single thing I’ve said to ensure that I haven’t said anything revealing. This leads to a huge amount of anxiety and makes social events such a chore overall that I end up withdrawing in general.

The problem with having a big secret that we think can seriously damage our lives is that we need to live in constant fear that people will discover it. This causes massive amounts of anxiety, and I don’t really think that I can get deal with much of my anxiety so long as I am so private about my bipolar disorder.

Better Relationships

I wrote a blog post a while back about the defects of the idea of a “real me” that supposedly underlies my bipolar disorder. A large part of that post discussed the ways in which I’ve come to terms with my fluctuating moods and, more importantly, my fluctuating personality traits. I am the human being that has a succession of contradictory personality traits, and this enables me both to view my bipolar disorder as an illness while not identifying with any of them.

The problem, though, is that, regardless of my views on that front, I still interact with people on a personal level. My successful attempts to hide my bipolar disorder rest on constantly hiding what I’m thinking and feeling. Of course, I don’t do this all of the time, but I am well aware that I have constructed not a person but a persona. This has made it harder and harder to create relationships with people, because I am often withdrawn (even when I don’t appear so).

I’m not entirely sure what the effect of going public will be, but one good side is that I won’t need to be quite so reserved. I’ve often considered my reservation to be one of my greatest strengths, but one need only ask someone his or her greatest strengths to find his or her greatest vices. I hope, just as in my marriage (my wife knows), I will be able to have closer friendships with people.

Getting Cut Some Slack

I am very much afraid that I will use bipolar disorder to enable some of my worse traits and behavior. Once I have the excuse available of bipolar disorder, I don’t want to run into the situation where I will misbehave, either not do it pathologically or not try to stop myself, and then use bipolar disorder as an excuse. I was on a blog the other day in which someone asked if people had ever used bipolar disorder as an excuse for something that wasn’t really from bipolar disorder. Reflecting on the question, I realized that I had never done so, which surprised me. A lot of this is because I’m private about bipolar disorder, so I don’t have the opportunity.

However, on other occasions, bipolar disorder really is an excuse. I had a situation years ago where I lost my temper in a place that I frequent, during an especially severe hypomanic episode, and got temporarily banned. Afterwards, I went to the person in charge, and, knowing that he was sympathetic when it came to mental illness, explained the situation. I was correct. While my ban was always only temporary, it was important to me to re-establish my relationships at the place, and explaining that I was bipolar was an important part of that.

Daniel Bader Ph.D.

Copyright © 2011 Bipolar Village

While this is a rather severe case, there are lots of other incidents where I need some slack cut. If I’m especially effusive, I might dominate a conversation and become tiresome or tell an inappropriate joke. I might run out of lecture material ten or fifteen minutes early because I’ve been speaking too quickly. In a way, it’s these minor incidents that are the problem. They don’t each warrant going public in their own right, but I believe reasonably that if people knew I was bipolar, they would likely cut me some slack.

In my current situation, I feel like I am living in an unforgiving environment. I think the moral standard for people with bipolar disorder is that they try to behave appropriately during episodes, not that they succeed. So, I feel like I’m being judged for things that aren’t my fault (even if it isn’t true; after all, how would I ask without revealing my bipolar disorder?). For a long time, I’ve simply accepted this, but it’s becoming an especially difficult burden.

Conclusion

So, let’s get to it then…

Hello, my name is Daniel Bader, and I have bipolar disorder. I am pleased to meet you.

34 Responses to Going Public Today: Why I’ve Decided To Stop Hiding

  • Hi Daniel,

    I am pleased to meet you too.

    Your words have truly resonated with me.

    The fact I have bipolar disorder is mostly anonymous in my life. Anonymous to most people who know me, yet most of my closest friends are aware. Like you, I believe it is just like any other illness – I wouldn’t tell people about my irritable bowel syndrome (oops just did!), so why the bipolar? Like you, I am a private person. Like you, my concerns are about discrimination. I believe that people’s preconceptions will shape how they see me. I keep my “mental health status” private because I want people to see me for me.

    Like you, I am concerned about the effect such a public revelation would have on my job. I am a postgraduate student in psychology, and I have just applied to several universities to acceptance into their Clinical Psychology training programs. I don’t just fear, but I know that the university of my choice would not take me if they knew. Bipolar is too much of a risk.

    Personally, I don’t want to go “public”. I don’t want to declare. I feel quite happy with how things are for me, with a number of my friends knowing, and most people not. And for the most part, me having bipolar is irrelevant. But I do wonder if over the years the reasons for disclosure you have listed today will become more salient for me. I’m betting that they will. Sometimes it would be nice to be cut some slack…..

    A long comment. And if you are still reading I guess the message I want to send is that your words have touched me very much and have inspired me to think about my own reasons for remaining quiet. I admire your courage and your reasons for going public.

    I wish you all the best.

    Sara

  • Hi Sara,

    Thank you very much for your kind words.

    It definitely wasn’t an easy decision for me, and I absolutely understand why someone would choose to stay private about their bipolar disorder, and everyone needs to make his or her own decision based on the circumstances. Since you are happy where you are right now, that’s great :)!.

    A lot of it for me was that hiding this disorder for fifteen years was simply starting to wear me down in a lot of ways. Over time, you may find the same thing or you may not, as no two bipolar people have the same experience. Just do whatever you find makes you happiest.

    Best,
    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      I am so proud of you:) Your blog is amazing. I thoroughly enjoy what you have to say and I’m so excited about the idea that you are going to be an advocate for people with mental illness.

      You’re right. There is a stigma attached and people do judge. I think the more we talk about it and the more people are educated on the topic, the more acceptance there will be.

      We need to talk more! I have gained more insight and perspective from reading this.

      Andrea

      • Well done on telling your story Daniel. I believe Andrea is right in her view “The more we do talk about it the more people become educated on the topic and the more acceptance there will be”. Mental illness can and does affect a huge number of the worlds population and educated awareness is the only way we can all accept our differences and enjoy folks for who they realy are. From an Aussie Down Under.

        • Thanks, Nanette :). It’s kind of neat – since going public, I’ve felt like I’m a part of some kind of social movement, in the literal sense, like I feel things moving. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

  • Hi Andrea,

    Thanks :). I’m right now getting in touch with some of the groups at U of T to see how I can help out. They’ve got some interesting things going, but there doesn’t seem to be a peer support group there, so that might be a good project to get going (I run a local one that isn’t tied to the university).

    I know you have some experience in all of this, so I could definitely use any suggestions. I’ll definitely be in touch.

    Best,
    Daniel

  • Hello Daniel,

    Allow me to congratulate you on this brave venture.
    Huzzah, Mazeltov, Grats!
    Also an excellent site that I can see growing in community and scope, very soon, I’m sure.

    Best,
    Mike,

    • Thanks, Mike.

      It’s starting to grow in terms of readership, so I’m really happy about that, and a lot of people have been really positive. I’m still working out the details of what I’m going to do in the “real world”, but that’s half the fun :)

      Best,
      Daniel

  • Hi Daniel,

    Have been spending the last couple of hours reading your blog for the first time. Having two nephews with bipolar and understanding only a little about the illness, I now have a better understanding. Thank you, Daniel, for explaining your 15 year struggle, and congrats on going “public”. I’m proud of you.

    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      Thank you very much :). I’m really happy that you’ve had a chance to read the blog, and it’s nice that everyone in the family knows and is supportive. I’m glad that you found it so informative.

      Best,
      Daniel

  • Hi Daniel,

    I am so very proud of you: I have read your blog and It is amazing. I know I have learned a lot more about bipolar. With all the information you have in your blog, I am sure it will help other people with this disorder

    love you

    Grandma xx

    • Hi Grandma,

      Thank you for visiting. It really means a lot to me how many of the family have spent time looking at this blog.

      Love,
      Daniel

  • Hi Daniel, I latched on to your site via Facebook. It’s always great to read about other ppl suffering from bp. I was diagnosed 13yrs ago, however, I now believe that I’ve had it from a young age. I was in denial for such a long time. I now know it’s ok to hide it or to speak out about it. I enjoy reading your blogs. I have researched other sites, however, your site seems very interesting and believe I am going to gain a lot from you.

    Thanks for setting up this site. I look forward to reading more of your blogs, keep up the good work

    :0). Kelly

  • Hi Daniel,

    This is the first comment I’ve ever posted – I guess my first contribution to the online Bipolar forums! I have found much comfort in your blogs, and you present everything in such a well thought out, reasoned way. It is so nice to know that the worries that are going round in my head persistently are voiced and shared.

    I sometimes think that I wish I could tell the world, and that it would feel like such a weight had been lifted. I hate knowing and that other people don’t. I was ok with my diagnosis in that it was great to hear what was wrong with me finally and be able to access the right help. But it’s always there. Whatever I do, I think about it. I would love to just say, ‘Sod it,’ and tell everyone. The only thing I would be worried about is the discrimination. I am a strong person but this thing is really eating away at me and I think a logical thing would be to come out and relieve all this pressure that I’m placing on myself. I just want to feel human again. There’s also the worry of whether my sister would feel ashamed. I don’t want people to start seeing
    her differently or rejecting her. She already blames me enough.

    I will continue to follow your posts and look forward to hearing about your feelings having, ‘confessed.’ I think you’re incredibly brave, and I hope to follow your excellent example one day. You should be proud of yourself. I am proud of you, and I don’t even know you!

    thank you :)

    • You’re welcome :). I don’t want anyone to think that I think everyone should go public, since that will always be a personal decision based on the circumstances. I’m just sharing my experiences, and so far they have been largely positive. If you do decide to disclose, one thing to consider is speaking to your sister before anyone else, since you are worried about how it will affect her.

      • I have always been open about my bipolar and did get some negative feedback from store mamager, however I proved him wrong

        • Thank you for the comment, Kathy. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to prove people wrong.

  • As a professional, I too, kept my Bipolar a secret. However, When I retired from my practice of Optometry, I decided that it was time to talk about it openly with my friends and neighbors. Because I moved to a Senior Retirement community, I found that so many members were ignorant, misinformed and very afraid of mental disorders and admitted that they themselves and family had a mental disorder of some kind. I chose to have group discussions about mental disorders in our Community Club House and explained how I learned to develop the power of positivity in my life, I encountered many challenges while dealing with bipolar disorder. I shared my book exploring these challenges and how I ultimately achieved episode-free stability. In the “Power of Positivity”, I present the numerous sources that were an inspiration to me and led me to a positive state of mind. After more than fifty years of struggling with bipolar disorder, I have written this book to help others achieve long-term stability: the “Power of Positivity for Bipolar Disorder and Anyone Else” : http://www.amazon.com/Power-Positivity-Bipolar-Anyone-Else/dp/1478110147 .. Be Well — Be In Peace, Dr Fred

  • Thank you for having the courage most of us do not. When people know about a mental illness, then everything can be explained, even their own bad behavior. I once thought it was ok to tell people and be upfront as I owned a small barbershop and people used to say, “You don’t seem like the same person who cut my hair last time.” They didn’t know I was in another phase and rapidly moving from Hypo-manic to Manic to depression. It took every ounce of me to keep that shop going emotionally and when I came clean and told them why I was struggling but their service and haircut, color was not, I lost clients. They became afraid. I lost friends. I lost family and now cannot even have emotions, even if I am going through something like having two miscarriages in a row. Even my parents ask me, “Are you on your meds?” Normal people get to have emotions, everyone is afraid of ours. My favorite is when someone uses your mental illness as a scape goat for their bad behavior. I tried to be honest and let people know, but it didn’t work for me. I live in a new town now, with new friends and only the closest of family and friends know. People that I trust. I often wonder if someone sees something weird in my actions, as I also have Schizoaffective disorder along with Bipolar and sometimes have auditory problems. I wonder if they know and then I feel ashamed. How can I help my DNA? I call it the Italian curse. I’m sure you know the emotions that go along with this disease. I am so proud of you that you have overcome. God Bless you. Thank you for helping others. I wish I had your fortitude and courage.

    • Thank you so much for your reply, Jean. I’ve found it difficult to deal with the discrimination, too. I’ll be posting about it tomorrow. “Normal people get to have emotions, everyone is afraid of ours.” – yep, that pretty much sums up half the problem.

  • Please tell me how you handle the lows and depression that comes with your illness

    • I find that when I get down, I find it really hard to get anything done. This can put me behind in my work, especially. For the most part, I’ve learned how to be partially functioning while being overwhelmed. I’m working on a better system :(.

  • I’ve been a professional musician all of my adult life, really since I was seventeen and now I’m fifty-two. I was diagnosed a long time ago. Being a musician, people kind of expect you to behave differently — after all, it is show business. And it worked well for me for a very long time. Then I decided to “come out of the closet” because of unfair practices I see in daily life. Example: When there’s a gruesome murder commited by someone with a “mental health issue,” the press is all over it and blames the illness for being the reason this person commited a heinous act. But do you ever see the press say something about it when the killer has no history of mental illness? No, you don’t. What you see is the press speculating about what disorder the criminal MAY have. The assumption being that behind every heinous act is a person with a mental disorder, even though the person has no history of mental illness. Do you ever see the press in this situation come out and say “The killer has no history of mental illnesses or disorders.” If they don’t have that history, the press will most certainly provide one, no matter how untrue it may be. Some people simply “snap.” So, because I have no criminal history or negative things on my record, I decided I would speak out because I do not live in a glass house. I did it in a big way on NPR’s “The Infinite Mind” which played to millions of people. WRONG THING TO DO!!!!!! I’ve played literally THOUSANDS of gigs and now I have to beg for work. I’m lucky to get a gig once in six months. I used to play five and six nights a week with no problem finding work. Now my reputation has ruined any career choices I may have had before. It’s very politically correct for those who do not suffer with these kinds of disorders to talk about how tolerant they are. It sounds good but it simply isn’t true. There’s always the big “question mark” that lingers over those who are so damned tolerant. The idea is wonderful but not practical. So here I am, a lifelong musician who is out of work. (Actually, I wouldn’t play as well as I do without having Bipolar — I could literally practice for days at a time with no sleep and get a lot accomplished.) Such are the stigmas, stereotypes, and myths surrounding persons with mental disorders. By the way, I’m Bipolar 2 (hypomanic-depressive).

    • Thanks for the comment, Christopher. I’ve found people can actually say they support people with disabilities, while simultaneously discriminating against them. I’ve got a post tomorrow about my experiences after disclosure.

      • I was realy sad but not surprised to read Christopher`s story. I`ve encountered many amazing and talented people who are just that because of their struggles with mental illness. As a society we are fearful of the unknown and I guess it will be some time before we overcome that . Mental illness is not a stranger in our household so sadly, I can empathize with the struggle and only touch the edges of yours. Maybe your musical career can follow a different direction now that door seems to have closed for you. I hope so. Nanette Hall

  • I`ve just found your site again Daniel,but find no more posts since I last logged on. I do hope your plans and dreams are materialising. Two separate sets of my ancestors lived in Toronto so somehow I feel a connection.

  • Daniel,
    I’m with you. Having already broken through my personal stigma re. HIV/AIDS via my blog it was easier to make no bones about latter day diagnoses of Bipolar II and type-2 diabetes.
    I feel responsible for my stigma which requires me, therefore, to “come out” about my mental illness…damn the torpedoes. (I am almost oblivious to external stigma so long as I foster my own.)
    Peace!

    • Thank you for your bravery, Kenn :). I’ve tried to take the middle road of thinking that going public is a meritorious but not obligatory thing for people who are under stigma, and people who are willing to damn the torpedoes are so important to all of us.

      I’m also sorry about the late response. Your comment got buried in a spam attack I faced several months ago.

  • Hello Daniel!

    I’ve been reading your blog religiously nowadays. Keep writing entries. You’re great at expressing a positive light on bipolar disorder and are the epiphany of a well educated, civilized person that is living with a mood disorder. I had written some comments on blogs in the past on the topic without realizing that I was using my entire name and how easy it was to research myself and find it! I’m still wondering whether I want to be public about it. It is a big decision for all the obvious reasons. But I believe it makes more sense to be open about it. We need to be the role models that show society that we are not a race of crazy beings on the loose. We have to express that, “yes, their are people that have bipolar disorder that are living a normal life” and “yes, we are capable of sustainable happiness and fulfilling relationships.” Who isn’t? Why should we keep it a secret when we have contributed so much to society creatively?

    • Thank you very much, Cheryl, and I apologize for the late response. It’s a tough call on going public. I do think I’ve lost work over it in the past when applying for jobs. Of course, I can’t prove it, but I think it has happened. However, on balance, I’ve found it’s been a positive experience. It really depends on the field. If I was in the “private sector” of faceless corporations, I probably wouldn’t have gone public because of their lack of ethics in HR.

      I’ve just finished up my degree, so I’m hoping to post more regularly again, probably once per week. I hope you’ll be around!

  • Danial, I was amazed when I read your story. I did exactly the same thing by opening up my life on my blog. I know that it was difficult for me, however, 59,000 page views later I am glad that I did it it one person realized that they were not crazy and not alone. Wish you well.

    • Thank you, Nick. I’m glad to meet another blogger who has gone through the same thing.

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Counselling from Daniel
Daniel Bader, Ph.D., RSW, CCC
Daniel Bader, Ph.D., RSW, CCC is a Registered Social Worker and Canadian Certified Counsellor with a private practice operating out of Kitchener, Ontario. He provides in-person counselling in Kitchener and email, video or telephone counselling within Canada.

To find out more, please visit the website for his private practice, Bader Mediation & Counselling Services.