Today there is an effort to get #imnotashamed trending on Twitter. I've tried to do my part by tweeting. Not sure if multiple tweets by the same user really gets a trend going.
I've been thinking whether I am completely without shame. What would that mean? I've tried to break it down into as many social areas where I could feel shame.
Internal - I don't feel shame when I think about myself. I feel strongly that having bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of. It is just as much an illness as any physical illness. It has been described online as an invisible illness and I agree (mostly… perhaps another blog post lurks there). Given its near invisibility and how it is wrapped up with one's very thoughts, it is difficult to be unashamed. If only one could think oneself out of the horrible highs and lows. But someone with diabetes can't think their pancreas into producing insulin.
Family - I am proud of my efforts as a father and husband. I have more or less been the only provider since my wife was pregnant with our first son. I have held down the same job despite three hospitalizations. Finding out your child has autism is a huge emotional stress... it's an additional daily stress getting through the day. I am there for my kids. Could I do more? Sure. I could educate myself on autism, become a better advocate, and get closer with my neurotypical son. But I do think most of the time I'm doing my best.
Close friendships - I have about three close friends and they all know I am bipolar. Granted I called all of them when I was manic and something clearly was not right with me. That behavior could have been swept under the rug as sleep deprivation (maybe). But I was open with them. Luckily they all accepted it openly and we remained close friends. I still worry that one of them doubts it as a "real" illness and that maybe I could overcome it just through willpower.
Acquaintances - Perhaps I feel shame here. There are lots of other parents I have been acquainted with for some time. None of them know. I am afraid how they would react, which I guess is a kind of shame. Their children are friends with my son and I don't want to jeopardize that based on any prejudices they may have. Lately I've questioned whether I need to keep silent, but these are casual friends. The context usually doesn't come up for us to share our internal struggles etc.
Work - I telecommute. I don't interact with people face to face. Letting someone know remotely that I have bipolar just doesn't come up. Unless someone has difficulty working with me, I don't see why they need to know. When I needed to go to the hospital I did impulsively let my supervisor know. That was a huge risk, but it turned out fine.
Public - I don't feel any differently in public because I have bipolar. However, I'm not going to sport a shirt that says "Bipolar" on it. My town is not necessarily the most tolerant or forward thinking. I can't foresee wanting to do that. It's a bit "in your face" for me. It shouldn't affect how I interact with a random stranger so why have the shirt?
Online - It takes actions and not just talk to show the lack of shame. I like to think that my blog, Twitter, and Instagram are some form of evidence. I've got pictures of myself with clear indicators that I have bipolar (I almost just wrote 'I am bipolar' but changed it). I'm trying to be candid about my daily struggles on this blog. Is that enough or is it just too easy? I can vouch that from a technical perspective having a Blogger blog couldn't be much easier. It doesn't seem like I'm much of an advocate if all this social media is the equivalent of talking to myself since I have no readers. At least from my primitive understanding of Google Analytics the only reader appears to be me. Nevertheless, all this content is out there. I have no plans of taking it down, so if anyone stumbles across it, they'll find yet one more person out there in the world coping with having a mental illness.
Image credit - my drawing (isn't it obvious?) :)