Why say anything? That is a question I often ask myself. Why even mention bipolar at all? Why put myself out there? It is, after all, a risky thing to be “out”. Stigma is real.
Interpersonally sharing my experiences living with bipolar makes me feel vulnerable. If you have a relationship with someone it is subject to change. If they know you have bipolar they could look at you differently, either with fear or pity. Both are unpleasant.
Sharing publicly makes me feel insecure. It makes me feel like I am just throwing more noise into a public conversation that doesn’t need me in it. I feel like I have nothing to offer, nothing to say.
On top of my insecurity I constantly feel like I don’t do enough. I feel like even if I were to objectively, measurably, undeniably accomplish more than anyone else in the world, I would still dwell on that one thing I didn’t do.
I continually kick myself for not doing more. This is especially true when it comes to public advocacy. There are all kinds of advocates doing all kinds of good, and I feel like I am just hanging out on the sidelines. And even when I join in I feel like I can’t contribute anything of substance.
But I need to acknowledge that I am not just sitting on the sidelines. I may not have a huge public platform. I may not have an influential public voice. But I do have a voice and I am using it as best I can.
People that I went to school with know that I am bipolar. My friends know that I am bipolar. My colleagues know that I am bipolar. My loved ones know that I am bipolar. They all know because I told them. They know because I share my experiences with them.
I am working to destigmatize bipolar, one person at a time. Those people learn that bipolar isn’t just the publicly visible mania. Bipolar isn’t just the crippling anxiety and deep depression. Bipolar isn’t just “crazy”. People with bipolar are people, people who can and do live “normal” lives. People like me.
Public advocacy is awesome. Public advocacy is one way to fight stigma. Interpersonal relationships are another. Interpersonal relationships, in fact, could be the best way to change people’s opinion. It is one thing to see a person in the public sphere, a celebrity or an advocate, tell their stories. They may be informative and inspiring, but celebrities and public figures are detached from our “normal” lives. They can be difficult to identify with as being “real” people.
It can be easy to dehumanize celebrities and public figures. It is hard to dehumanize someone you personally know who is living with bipolar. You can’t help but see that person as a human being, just like you.
My voice is a small voice but I am using that voice. I am open with friends. I am open with colleagues. I am open with loved ones. I am open because I don’t want their perception of bipolar to be like mine was before my diagnosis.
I may not be changing the world, but I am changing my world one person at a time.
And that is why I say anything.