I Stood Up: Disclosing Bipolar Disorder on Facebook

Stigma Story: I Stood Up: Disclosing Bipolar Disorder on Facebook
My name: Sara Johnson
Age: 31
Diagnosis: Bipolar 1 Disorder, PTSD
Symptoms since: 1998

Thank you, HealthyPlace, for the "Stand Up for Mental Health" campaign. On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, after several days of debating with myself, I decided that I was ready to tell my friends and family that I have a mental illness, and what exactly that means to me. I put the "Stand Up for Mental Health" campaign picture as my cover photo on Jan. 22, the day you launched the campaign, and that really got me thinking about how tired I am of hiding such a significant part of my life. I am a social worker and over the years, I have encouraged clients to fight mental health stigma while hiding my own illness.

The response to my post has been extremely positive. Today, one of my friends followed in my footsteps and posted about her experience with mental illness. Thank you, HealthyPlace, for helping me gather the courage to open myself up. I know it was the right thing to do.

Standing Up: I Have Bipolar Disorder

This is my Facebook post from Tuesday:

Dear Facebook Friends and Family,

HealthyPlace.com (which is a great website, you should check it out) recently launched the Stand Up for Mental Health campaign, which basically says that instead of continuing to educate the public about mental health and hope that they come around, a better way to reduce stigma may be not to tolerate it in our own lives and for people with mental illnesses to come out of hiding and show what mental illness really looks like.

To that end, I would like to formally announce that I have Bipolar 1 Disorder and PTSD. I was diagnosed with depression at age 17, which switched to bipolar when I had my first manic episode around age 20 or 21. I spent my late teens and early 20s being a total mess (and I’m sorry for all of you that got stuck being a part of that). My bipolar symptoms started to get under control in my mid 20s. I went back to school, actually graduated, and got a “real” job. I have not been manic in years, thanks to effective medications, but I still struggle with depression. As most of you know, I was shot during an attempted carjacking last March, which led to a diagnosis of PTSD, which is something I am still struggling with. A lot.

Living with a Mental Illness Hasn't Been Easy

I have lost jobs because I could not tolerate the stress, since stress and depression are a bad combination that can quickly spiral out of control. I see a psychiatrist. I go to counseling. I take medictions and probably always will. I have been hospitalized in psych units. I have a really hard time maintaining a normal sleep schedule, which sucks because I don’t function or think well when tired. I am horribly, horribly disorganized. Sometimes my brain just feels “chaotic”, and that is the only way I can describe it. I can be moody and irritable, though I try very hard not to take it out on other people. I have days where it is a major accomplishment to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I sometimes disappear from my friends’ lives for weeks or months at a time because the idea of interacting with another human being is just too overwhelming. Since the shooting, I have trouble driving at night. I jump if you tap me on the shoulder unexpectedly. I have nightmares. I struggle with how unfair it is that a person can do something so terrible to another human being. I fear for my safety and the safety of the people I love.

But I also have an awesome family that has somehow survived the mental health rollercoaster of the past 14 years. I’ve known a lot of families that give up after a while and I am thankful every day that mine did not. I get good treatment, and I was lucky enough to get treatment soon after my symptoms started (many people suffer for years before getting help). I have great friends that tolerate my occasional disappearances, support me in the good times and the bad, and give me hugs. If you have friends/family with mental illnesses (which I guarantee you do, whether they have disclosed it to you or not), remember that a lot of times there is nothing you can do to change/fix the problem, but a hug, or a pat on the shoulder, or a quick message letting the person know that you are thinking about them goes a long way.

I am happy to answer any questions any of you have, about me or about mental health in general. I would never ask anyone to publicly discuss their mental illness before they are ready, but if you are ready, I think that the people at HealthyPlace make a good point that the stigma is not going away on its own, so we need to stand up for ourselves.

Sara Johnson's Facebook page

next: I Have Bipolar Disorder: Blooming Slowly
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~ all stand up for mental health articles

Last Updated: 01 June 2015
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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