When I first entered the mental health care system I could not believe I could be diagnosed with a mental illness. After all I was an Olympic Athlete, a successful business person and had recently finished my master’s degree somehow getting a bipolar diagnosis at the time seemed to tarnish the other parts of my life. It should not have made me feel ashamed to have an illness but it did. As a matter of fact I lived with tremendous shame for many years after my initial diagnosis.
Where does the shame come from?
I think for me the shame came from a feeling of believing having bipolar disorder was my fault, as if I had brought it on by something I had done wrong. I had not considered the genetic predisposition or in other words strong family history which most likely caused me to end up with the illness–I simply thought it was a personal weakness. Later I learned Stigma causes such shame to exists.
It often caused me great sadness to feel so badly for having bipolar disorder. Not only did I have to learn how to manage the illness I had to do it without talking about it with friends or family. I wanted it to be a secret and I didn’t want anyone to know. My struggles were deeply intense and terribly lonely.
So instead of reaching out to others for support I isolated myself and tried to hide what was wrong with me. The repercussions were immense as I lost contact with most of my friends. This left me to rely on my family as my sole support and in the long run I was so fortunate to have them. Social isolation makes the illness worse and slows down the recovery process. Looking back I’m pretty sure some people knew what was wrong with me but may not have known how to support me. Once again Stigma plays a huge roll in keeping those of us with a mental illness from getting the support we need.
Mental illness drastically changed the course of my life. It took many years but I finally learned to say, “I have a mental illness and it’s not my fault.” It doesn’t matter what stage you have marched on in life mental illness can affect anyone no matter what walk of life.
If I had one or two wishes I would wish for greater compassion for those of us afflicted with mental illness and greater compassion for those who support us–as frustrating as it can be sometimes. Finally I would hope contributing to a dialogue on mental illness may help decrease someone’s pain and suffering and that when someone does struggle you know you aren’t alone.