Tony K

Coming Out of the Closet, Finally Accepting Myself Completely

It hasn’t been easy living with Bipolar Disorder. Not only do I have to treat my intense moods that are the hallmark of the condition, but ever since I was diagnosed at 16, I was always taught directly, or indirectly, to be ashamed of who I am because of it. From the very beginning, close acquaintances, and society at large, have told me to hide that part of myself…to reject that piece of myself that’s “unacceptable” and “intolerable”.

I remember desperately wanting to write about my Manic Depression for my college entrance essay, only to be told by a teacher that I shouldn’t because colleges might reject me because of it. I remember my father telling me to hide my medication, in case a stranger or distant relative thinks I’m “crazy” because of them. And of course there are all the jokes that people make about people with mental illness and taking medication, as well as movies, TV shows and news reports of “dangerous lunatics” who are mentally ill and go around hurting people.

So throughout most of my life, I lived a double life. My outer world that I allowed the public to see, and my inner world that I desperately wanted to hide, that only I and my most closest acquaintances knew about, always afraid that my two worlds would collide and ruin my chances of having a “normal” life.

It’s a hard to live a life where I only accept one piece of myself while rejecting the other, loving one part while hating the other. I suppose that’s why I’ve gone off my medication so many times, desperately hoping each time that the psychiatrists had made a mistake and that I was actually “normal”. After all, who in their right mind wants to be labeled “crazy” and be the constant butt of everyone’s jokes and derision? But no such luck. Each and every time I went off my medication, I’d eventually end up in the hospital.

But recently, after a very challenging series of events that showed me how much stigma our society still has towards mental illness, I finally decided to take the plunge and come completely out of the closet with my condition. I started talking about my Bipolar Disorder on social media, with people in my church and even sometimes with strangers. Through conversations, discussions, and meetings I wanted to do my part to fight to eradicate stigma.

I have been astonished by how much support I’ve gotten. My worst fears of being socially excluded and isolated were instead replaced with others coming to my support in sympathy, compassion, and empathy. People from my church started telling me about their own experiences with mental illness and with that of their relatives. People on Facebook started to “friend” me and respond positively to my comments, and even strangers gave me their approval and support for fighting for the cause of ending stigma of mental illness. I was simply amazed by the level of acceptance I felt not only from others, but also from myself. For me, it’s my firm belief that I was born to have my mental illness as many people were born with the genetics that caused their own mental illnesses. And it’s also my firm belief that no one should ever have to feel ashamed simply for being the way they were born. I can finally be my whole self now without feeling shame.

10 responses to “Tony K”

  1. Lori B says:

    Thank you, a thousand times over I thank you for being brave enough to tell your story. My son is you. He was diagnosed at 14, but was first hospitalized at 8 years old. Many med changes, a life of feeling bad about having bipolar because that’s how people identified him.

    But I saw HIM. I see YOU.

    Stigma has been our biggest obstacle, including in the MH community.

    You have just helped so many people. Rock on my friend. You just knocked STIGMA for a loop!

    Enjoy your life! #I WILL LISTEN

    • Tony Koo says:

      Lori, thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I know the struggle that stigma has played in my life. It’s what makes my condition twice as painful to deal with. Having hated myself for having bipolar disorder has been so hard, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I have to fight every day to love and accept myself just the way I was made.

  2. Kris says:

    Thank you, Tony. You are brave and strong. And valuable. My 12 year old has bipolar 1 and I hope so deeply that the stigma can be reduced so she will not need to feel shame. You have helped in that regard. We thank you and wish you well, Tony.

    • Tony Koo says:

      Thank you Robin. Yes, I think stigma in our society over mental illness is better than it was when I was a teenager. But I think that it takes effort on the part of people who want to seriously improve the lives of those who are suffering from mental illness to be brave and speak out that will really change our society. I believe that it can be done. Just look at how stigma against being gay has be greatly reduced in our country in the last 30 years. And the same for the reduction of stigma based on racism, or sexism as well. All those changes occurred people were proactive in wanting to make change in our society.

  3. Robin G says:

    Thank you, Tony! It’s a hard/uncomfortable balance. I listed bipolar 2 as a medical condition on an application to be a foster parent. I figured it would be good to be upfront from the start. When a lady called to briefly tell me more about their program it seemed like I might as well have written psycho-killer. I explained the situation, the illness is controlled with medication, I’ve never been fully manic & I have support.
    I’ll most likely use a different agency. But I’m not sure about listing my illness as a medical condition.
    Ironically, I’ve been a social worker since 1986. I’ve placed kids in their program. I wasn’t diagnosed until 91. Was I a better person when I was more miserable, yet not “on drugs”?
    Some day.
    When ppl see each other as ppl, not lables, it may be “safe” to just be honest about who I am…
    I can relate to wanting to be normal.
    Being able to be me may help.

    • Tony Koo says:

      Hi Robin, I admit that coming out of the closet wasn’t an easy decision for me and a lot of factors played into it. For me, in some ways, I did it because I didn’t have as much to lose in my life by doing so. Even if people judge me, it wouldn’t affect me all that much. But for people who have a lot more to lose, I could see why it would be more difficult to be completely upfront. For me, because of my situation, it gives me an opportunity to be more vocal about my mental illness, and I suppose that’s a blessing in disguise.

  4. Susan says:

    Thank you for speaking out and being brave to share your story. You bring hope to many others.. Bless you!

  5. Tony Koo says:

    Thank you so much Susan. I hope that by sharing my story, more and more people can find have hope in knowing that they are not alone in their struggles.

  6. SiliconValleyHero says:

    Tony,
    I think your story is the push that I needed. I work on security systems, where people trust me to wander around their businesses un-escorted to repair and install security systems. I pass background checks for criminal checks, drug tests, etc…and my employer knows that I am battling sickness in my body, but they don’t know what, or to what extent. I am teetering on the fence of sharing with them, and chance losing my job, or coming out and getting a bit more support from them. where my performance has failed is on those days my separation anxiety got ahold of the worst of me, and I would constantly call or text my wife, and did not know what to do to handle it. I now know how, but those “bad days” have marked my job performance. I want to let them know how hard I battle to fight the daily fight, but I am scared of what could happen. I live in silicon valley, and have been recently offered jobs working for some of the top companies in the world, so as far as ginding work again, I can do that…but 5 years at the same place is also a good thing…sorry for the rambling, but you have enlightened me, and helped take some of my fears away….sincerely…SiliconValleyHero

    • Tony Koo says:

      SiliconValleyHero,

      Thank you for sharing your story with me. Yes, coming out in the workplace can certainly be tricky, and I remember once when I was working at PG&E, I was forced to reveal my bipolar disorder (because I had gotten hospitalized). Surprisingly enough, everyone was very supportive of my condition.

      But, in the worst case scenario, you do have the law to back you up if you feel like you’ve been mistreated by your company. I never sued anyone for discrimination due to my mental illness, but it is always an option. One that big companies are always afraid of. I’m not saying you should be litigious in nature, but it is within your rights to do so if necessary.

      Tony

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