As a mental health advocate I preach eradicating stigma. Prejudice compounds the complexity of managing a mental health diagnoses. My tendency to blame myself and stigmatize my diagnoses took years to correct. I now know overcoming self-stigma granted me life.
Two years after being diagnosed with Bipolar I with psychosis and rapid cycling, I excelled in my position at a highly respected university. I thrived managing public relations, events and ceremonies. I was capable. I got the job done. My colleagues and senior leadership respected my work.
But the earlier six-month psychotic episode haunted my every move.
My career was the only rewarding aspect of my life. While admired for my professionalism, I felt like a wet rag. My life was lonely, and I no longer believed in myself. I was paranoid that I would eventually be found out and labeled insane.
I therefore became acutely aware of the smallest interpersonal detail. I lived in fear that my hand tremor in a meeting or racing speech in times of stress might give me away. All roads led to the possibility of being called crazy. Since I was convinced that work was life, losing my position was not an option. While this method of operation provided the university with my undying dedication, I was lonely, miserable and acting the role of a new Kate I didn’t like.
My growing paranoia triggered a second, less severe episode, resulting in a three-month leave of absence. I developed an acute fear of returning to work. Colleagues would certainly be aware of my diagnoses, seeing the reality behind the smoke and mirrors.
Or so I thought. In the end, no one had heard about my health.
Years later, I asked a close colleague what people had thought of my leave and of me as a person. She said everyone respected me and spoke highly of my abilities. While a few people knew the full story, she said they judged me based solely on my professional capabilities.
If only I had asked that question a few years back . . .
I’m public now. I tell my story with sincerity to anyone who asks. I enjoy sharing and pray others find hope and faith in their wellness. The liberation I’ve found with being Kate – not Bipolar Kate –has been refreshing and a stepping-stone to better compliancy and wellness.
A good friend shared a quote by the late feminist and activist Audre Lourd. I find the passage inspiring as it evokes self-acceptance and wellness:
When I dare to be
to use my strength in the
service of my vision,
then it becomes less and less important
whether I am afraid
Being afraid is no way to live. Let’s stomp out stigma – both the brand you may encounter publicly and the more debilitating kind you tell yourself.