Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hey! Yo! Attention! … Never mind. Thursday, December 30, 2010.

“And just fake it if you're out of direction, fake it if you don't belong here … You’re such a fuckin’ hypocrite.” – “Fake It,” Seether

So you know I’ve been in this debate with people who don’t believe there is such a thing as bipolar disorder – or mental illness in general, for that matter. And one guy is all like, “Why do you want to label yourself bipolar?” and “You’re just ignorant and doing what your doctor is telling you to do” and “Believing in mental illness just increases stigma” and blah blah blah.

And I’m all like, “But being diagnosed bipolar made me feel better ‘cuz it put things in context” and “I’d rather be considered sick than have people think I’m choosing to feel this way” and “Maybe meds don’t help everyone but they helped me” and yada yada yada.

And we’re totally talking past each other, like we’re in two different universes, you know? And before long everything escalates, and we’re like bitching at each other and name-calling and stuff. And we both walk away more sure of our own positions than ever before.

And it’s kind of funny that just a couple of weeks ago somebody threw a picture saying “BIPOLAR AND PROUD” on my Facebook wall, and the people that were tagged were debating a little bit there, too. Because someone’s like, “Is bipolar something to be proud of?” And some people are like, “For sure,” and others are like, “Oh, HELL no.”

“It’s an illness, not an accolade,” says Clarissa. “I’m bipolar and proud,” says Dee. “I’m also BPD, OCPD, PTSD and ADD and proud too!” And I really had to think about whether I should leave it on my wall. I decided to keep it there, because I’m not proud of being bipolar, but I’m proud of being in the process of RECOVERY.

I’ve already talked here about labels and assumptions and stigma. I totally get that. If people find out you’ve got bipolar disorder, there is a price to be paid.

But there’s a whole lot of way cool people that have struggled with bipolar. And as a journalist, I admit it’s kinda neat to share one thing with some of the finest writers in the world. I’m in good company, you know? Me and Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf, hangin’ out, takin’ our lithium …

But that’s where it starts getting really weird, ‘cuz I’m a bipolar journalist who’s in the closet. Never mind that in my profession, being diagnosed bipolar is practically a badge of honor! ABC News reports that in this economy, when an employee is discovered to have bipolar disorder, his career can be destroyed, even if it’s not impacting his work.

“Doesn’t having the label of bipolar lower your self-esteem?” Someone asks me, and I say no. In fact it’s just the opposite. I have an illness that drives some people to the street, but here I am – intelligent and attractive and educated and responsible, with a good job and a nice house and a lovely family. I’m a frickin’ poster child! I want to SHOUT from the rooftops: I’M BIPOLAR AND I FUNCTION QUITE WELL, THANK YOU!

It’s true. I really, really want to tell people. I want to tell everybody I know. Know why? Because the only people they KNOW are bipolar are those who have hit bottom and stayed there. The rest – the ones who are recovering, who are working, who are functioning, who are leading normal lives – we’re all keeping our mouths shut.

Guess what? We’re all around you, but we keep it a secret. There’s even a name for us: the high-functioning professional bipolar patient (PHFBP for short).

So on the one hand, I’m like, “It’s an illness, and nothing to be stigmatized for.” And on the other hand, I’m like, “I can’t tell anyone.” So does that make me a hypocrite?

Blah blah blah. Yada yada yada.


  1. I'm a PHFBP (love that acronym), and though I can't prove it, believe I did indeed lose my job when I told the truth as to why I'd been absent for a week. I'm still in favor of telling as many people as I can -- to come out of the closet! -- but that wasn't a good experience, natch.

  2. I really lucked out with one past employer - I had been there for years, chose to go inpatient, and then told the entire staff the truth when I got back. I got nothing but support from them.

    But I'm less intimate with my current employer, and while I have taken exactly two sick days off from work in the last 7 years and my accuracy and productivity have never been questioned, our budget is tight and I feel vulnerable. So I'm not "coming out."

  3. I'm also PHFBP and still working. It is exhausting trying to keep it together when going through a Mania/Depressive state, but I keep plugging through. I doubt I'll ever tell management, because I do belive it would kill my career.

  4. I too am a PHFBP and my employer is aware. He doesn't totally understand what that means and he doesn't really try because as "long as I get the work done" he "isn't going to worry about it". I just worry about the day when I don't get the work done. It is a struggle when your bad days are an internal battle.