Monthly Archives: April 2015

Truth Teller

I came out to my friends on FB about my Bipolar Diagnosis, to mixed reviews as you can imagine. (If you want to see the exact post I put on FB you can check out my post called My Secret Kills).

I’m sure my post made people uncomfortable, it caused a stir. I have a large variety of friends on FB, some who know me well and others not as well. My close friends, some who I’ve known over twenty plus years offered kind words, support and prayers for myself and my family.

My more casual friends that I know through sports, or local social events, commented less, because I’m sure they just didn’t know what to think or say. At first it was hard to make peace with the fact that I just pushed a status button and let people see into the depth of my life. I would see them in the grocery store and on the baseball field and almost immediately I would feel embarrassed or awkward and question the sanity of my choice to reveal. And now some time has gone by, and I’ve made peace with it, the fall out being what it is.

I had many private messages from others with mental health diagnoses, some I knew of and some I did not, because they were quietly suffering as well. Others told me they thought I was brave and that they were proud to be my friend.

A few people out right laughed and mocked my post, of course not to my face but behind my back. I’m even ok with that, because it reveals to me where they’re at in their lives. Some people are not ok with truth, and they hide away from it because honesty can be painful at times, it can make you see things about yourself that aren’t pleasant and need some work. I’m ok with them not wanting to live honestly, but I want no part of it, I’ve worked too hard to deal with reality to live anywhere but.

In all this, I remember why I chose to come out. I was hoping to bring awareness to mental illness, I wanted people to see a face with it, to make it real, to make people realize they know someone who suffers from mental illness. That it just doesn’t look a certain way, this illness can take on anyone, at any economic level, any social status, or religion, any intellectual level, either sex, any race, mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

I wanted to create a place where people could be real, and not have to hide behind the illusion of some perfect life. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see pictures of my friends and their families, I’m ok with others success and joy, but it also cuts away at my heart when I’m struggling and it appears that other’s lives flow so smoothly. I just wanted a balance, I want to know my friends in truth, their joy and pain.

Being a truth teller has opened a door with my children. My 12 year old has now heard open discussions about Bipolar Disorder and he has seen his mother struggle but also strive to get well. He has a better understanding of real life, and the real work it involves. Though to him it isn’t a total surprise because we’ve always been open about his Asperger’s syndrome and so he knows there is no shame in honesty, in learning about and accepting one’s self. And I’m glad for him, and pray that I’ve saved him some time in embracing himself and his God given strengths and weaknesses.

My friendships feel more authentic now, I feel more authentic now. I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend to be someone I’m not, and I don’t care to. I’m starting to feel ok in my own skin, and I’m ok embracing others that are hurting, struggling with illness, with life. I’m not uncomfortable when people confide in me about their personal life. I don’t feel a need to fix them, or their situation, I just try to sit with them and listen and be present. Isn’t that what most people want in a friend anyway? It’s what I want.

I talk to my real friends, about our real lives and it’s freeing, to not be alone, to know that we all struggle on different levels with different things. I feel like struggling with mental illness has almost given me a window into others souls, not in any spiritual or magical sense, just that I can look at others and sometimes see pain in them despite the smile they put on their face to make others comfortable. It’s a hard earned gift, as is empathy, but it’s real, its truth. These days I almost prefer the honesty of AA to church, because nobody hides behind their sin, their struggle, it’s open and real.

I love truth now, I love the grace that goes with it, and freedom that it allows. I love the real acceptance it can provide for myself and others. My real friends and I accept, truth and grace. I hope that you can find this in your life and embrace it as I have.

Privacy Laws & Disclosure

In response to the tragic German Wings copilot that crashed his plane intentionally into the French Alps.

I have always been a big believer in patient privacy rights, especially when it comes to mental health, due to the stigmas that it can carry. It’s hard enough when you struggle to function with Bipolar Disorder or some other diagnosis, much less live with your spread sheet of mistakes. There are credit reports, resumes, school transcripts and broken relationships that go before you in any new attempt, and the explanations that need to follow. It’s hard to have to start at a deficit and explain your way into credibility.

To make available another level of very personal medical information is almost damning, it’s a hurdle that many would not be able to overcome. An obstacle I would not want to have to add to any already challenging list of self-disclosure. The thought of having to explain to a complete stranger, for example a potential employer about my struggle with mental illness in order to justify an opportunity seems unfathomable and writhed with discrimination.

It is sure damnation, when an employer has two candidates in front of him and one has to disclose a mental health issue, you can be sure a red flag will go up.  To think at that point that it wouldn’t professionally be held against him, is complete naivete. We tell ourselves that an employer in that situation wouldn’t be biased but human nature being what it is, I wouldn’t want to give opportunity for discrimination unless it was out necessity. I want to be judged solely on my professional skills, and aptitudes, on my performance at past jobs not on the medication I take twice a day.

My “mental health” record would start when I was 16 years old, a junior in high school suffering with depression/bipolar disorder while my parents were going through a divorce, oblivious and too self-absorbed to notice. At 17 and still struggling I checked myself into Charter Hospital because I wanted to get better, I wanted help.   If privacy laws dictated that my hospitalization be public record and required that I report it would I have chosen the same route?  Perhaps not. Without privacy, individuals and families will be forced to suffer quietly in their homes and languish away any future potential.

There are just too many stereotypes to over-come with mental illness and not enough information in place to justify changing privacy laws. People hear a diagnosis like Bipolar Disorder and their mind instantly flashes to the latest tragedy they’ve seen where someone suffering from this illness lost their life. Meanwhile in suburban-ville many are living among you with this very illness, unnamed but successfully mothering, wiving, coaching, educating, and working. Some of them make the best teachers, nurses, writers, coaches, etc. and you don’t know or need to know their personal strife to benefit from the services or professionalism they provide.

Even as I claim and justify my point, I am left feeling like there is still a matter left unaddressed, there are still innocent lives that need to be protected. Are there certain vocations where there needs to be an exception?  I would argue perhaps, but it is such a slippery slope.

I would argue that there are two specific situations in which medical disclosure should be considered mandatory. One being, professions that require responsibility  for others lives, such as carrying a weapon, maneuvering large machinery or vehicles, some hospital work, etc. Secondly, I would argue that in these professions documented psychosis be something shared with employers. I never like to take anyone’s freedom and privacy away, especially when it’s an undeserved action and sadly no fault of the patient, but unfortunately innocent life must be protected when certain probabilities are in known existence. Odds are something we can only afford to take into account for ourselves, but not for others.

I argue this point, not just as someone who suffers from mental illness, I argue this as a parent who grieves for the children lost and all of the victims aboard that plane, including the co-pilot who might have also been saved from this tragedy had someone recognized and reported that he needed to retire his wings. Not in punishment or retribution but in care and for the benefit of others and himself. Praying for all of the families involved.