Mental Illness and Self-Stigma: A Personal Story

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My name: Hilary
My age: 32
Diagnosis: Bipolar 2
Symptoms since: 2005

I wrote a very raw, personal, naked blog about my struggle with Bipolar 2 disorder that I published on World Mental Health Day 2012.

I've never really faced stigma from my mental illness but I guess when I examine it, I realize that it's probably because I've never really put myself in a position to face it. I think the mental illness stigma I've faced has really been self-inflicted stigma.

Being Anonymous and Open About Mental Illness

I am exceedingly open about my bipolar struggle through Twitter because I feel like it is a very open-minded, accepting community. I chose to publish my blog to my website and tweet it out. That said, I'm pretty much anonymous on both my blog and Twitter account. I don't share my name on either. HealthyPlace asked me to provide a picture and I told them that I couldn't (and wouldn't) do that and also, that I did not want to share my last name and I guess that really is a sign of self-stigma or some form of underlying shame that I still feel about my illness. It wasn't until I joined Twitter a year-and-a-half ago and started writing that I really became somewhat honest with the world about what I'd gone through.

I'm always very careful as to who I choose to tell about my bipolar. I feel like it's really no one's business except those I choose to share it with. I know that if I was asked about it on a job application, I'd flat out lie. I have faced a weird sort of stigma from my mother who feels I shouldn't be as open with my mental illness as I am but I've tried to explain to her that once I came clean about it, I felt free. She always tells me: If you start dating someone, don't tell them. I try to tell her that I wouldn't; that I would always wait until the right time but she still always pesters me about that.

The Pain of Mental Illness Self-Stigma

When I was first diagnosed seven years ago, I didn't share my story with anyone. I was so ashamed at what I had been through. I always considered myself such a strong, capable person but that seemed to no longer be the case – I mean, hell, I could barely function or take care of myself. And I certainly didn't want to face the fact that I had actually tried to end my life at one point. Only a little over two years later did I finally share it with a few close friends.

I guess I felt like a life loser. I couldn't really hold a job. I used to be super successful and was given every opportunity in the world to succeed. I went to private school in Manhattan and to an Ivy League College from which I graduated with honors. Once the bipolar hit and I was diagnosed, I started to isolate. I avoided social situations because I never wanted to answer the impending questions: "How are you?" and "What are you doing these days?" I always deflected and turned the questions back around onto the person asking them.

I guess the real honest truth is that I'm still somewhat ashamed of my illness and don't want to be completely honest with the world or myself about it. I did, however, choose to come clean with some people because I was tired of hiding.

Hilary's blog: To the Brink and Back

next: Mental Health Stigma and Medical Professionals: My Story
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