Like most big decisions, “coming out” about your mental health is one that needs to be made carefully and is oftentimes full of conflict. I didn’t make the decision to disclose intimate details of my personal life to the world without going back and forth about it for months before and even months after I published it. As much as I would like to give an enthusiastic thumb’s up to anyone debating on whether or not to spill the beans, I am far too aware that every person’s illness, family, employment, and belief system add layers upon layers of complexity to the issue. So allow me to walk you through my decision-making process and you can decide for yourself if disclosing your mental health condition is right for you.
I work as a psychiatric nurse. Ironic, isn’t it? I work with patients every day who are in the hospital with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, drug addiction, take your pick. I work with psychiatrists, pharmacists, my nursing peers, behavioral health techs, and social workers all attempting to help these patients put the pieces back together so they can go home to their families and attempt to function in their lives again. In short, I’m submerged in the world of mental health awareness and care. My own bipolar disorder has been managed for a number of years now, which is what allows me to successfully hold my job, have a family, and go after what I want in life. However, that management has not been without setbacks, hardship, sacrifice, and determination. I have certain limitations I’ve come to accept and there have been times the veil that separates me from my patients, has been thin. But at the end of the day, I’m just another member of the healthcare team that works to stabilize patients who for whatever reason, have ended up back in the hospital.
I don’t disclose my mental health information to my patients. Ever. There have been times I’ve been tempted to over the years, but ultimately it would not be therapeutic for them. The veil that separates nurse and patient needs to be intact in order to provide the best care possible and disclosing personal information about myself would not only be inappropriate, it would blur the boundaries that are there for a reason. Our patients are in the hospital because they need supportive care and a firm framework to help them rebuild. Becoming their buddy isn’t going to help them recover. Keeping this boundary is just part of the job.
What spurred me to open up to everyone else was more like a slow burning ember that just kept burning until the heat became distracting. My coworkers oftentimes laughed and shared personal stories at work and there was real comradery between them. I usually remained silent, guarded, kept my nose in my work. There were many times I wanted to join in the conversation, but take my naturally introverted self and mix it with a very reckless past full of debilitating mania and crippling depression and it would just about scare anybody silent. But as time went on, and I grew more confident and comfortable around my working peers, I started feeling less scared and more like I was living a two-faced lie. On the surface, I was calm, quiet, and very pulled together but that was only a sliver of the truth. The other side of me, the side my family and very closest friends knew, was very different. I began to feel the daily burden of keeping quiet about my life experiences as a heavy weight on my chest. This is when I began thinking about just letting it all hang out and writing about who I really was underneath it all and how my bipolar disorder has both helped and hurt me in my life.
If you’re going to disclose something deeply personal about your life, then you’d best be sure you’re at a point of unconditional self-acceptance with it. This was a long journey for me. I denied my bipolar disorder for well over a decade and it was only recently that I came to accept the fact I have this illness. However, I reached a point in my life where I was able to look back at all my struggles with a clarity and wisdom that had been lacking in me for a long time. When I saw the hardship, isolation, and grief I went through, I wanted to give to others what I never had – another person to say, “I see you. You’re not alone.” That’s what drives me forward. It’s the fuel for everything I do. Don’t forget to check your motives. Why are you really drawn to tell others? Is it for attention? Validation? Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons or your bound to end up with deep regret.
Self-disclosure cannot be undone. There’s no saying, “You know what – never mind.” Even when deciding to move forward with it, I had my brief moments of panic that I had made a terrible mistake. I published my post at night with the thought that I could delete it in the morning if I changed my mind. But when I awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and decided promptly that I had changed my mind, I was already flooded with messages of love and support. That ended the uncertainty for me. I knew then that I had lit a spark that might, just might, find the right person who needed to hear what I was saying. Because in the end, this wasn’t about me, it was about you. And I’m listening.