The Gay Closet
Twice in my life I had to come out of the closet. The first time I came out as a gay man. That was fifteen years ago. About five years later I came out as having bipolar disorder.
Coming out as a gay man was difficult. I first came out with close friends of mine. Later I came out to family. I wish I could say the results were positive, but none were in the beginning. While everything is good today, the immediate reactions I got were hurtful and lonely.
The Bipolar Closet
I’d like to say that coming out of the bipolar closet was easy, but it was nearly as hard as coming out as gay. The stigma surrounding bipolar made me scared of being judged. Many people confuse bipolar with Schizophrenia, which they don’t really understand either, but fear more.
My choice to come out was because I began having seizures – but not right away. The theory of a connection between bipolar and seizures is still controversial, but more studies are determining there may be a link. According to the website O’Reilly,
Seizure disorders are believed to be more common in people with bipolar disorder than in the general population. A seizure-related phenomenon called kindling is theorized by some to be the cause for some sudden mood swings.
Twice in my life I had a run of seizures. First they’d start out only on occasion, then they occurred more frequently. While at work one day I had a series of three in a row. That was the first time I experienced that. I went home in fear, leaving my employees understaffed. That was ten years ago and I haven’t been back to any job since. Both times I was put through a battery of tests, but they could not determine the cause. When the seizures suddenly stopped, I was told there was nothing that could be done. If I’m not having seizures, then there was nothing to measure. I likely will never know what caused them.
Having seizures regularly was beneficial to me. I didn’t have to tell anyone I was bipolar. I could tell them I was having seizures, which is socially more acceptable. Long after the seizures ended, I used that excuse. Down the road about one or two years, I could no longer tell the seizure lie, I lied by telling people I had major depression. While some may consider depression as a weakness, it is not viewed as strange or scary as bipolar.
I did get reactions from people, but most were simple, silly questions like, “Everyone get depressed now and again,” or “I get sad sometimes, but Ii just shook it off.”
Eventually I decided it was time to come clean. Time to come out of the bipolar closet. I didn’t make an event of it. No parades or drama. If somehow I was acting strange or told a story about acting strange, I would let it roll off my tongue. And you know what? Overall I received a lot of love and support. People would ask me questions, but it was to help understand and not to belittle me. Questions were like, “How come no one had bipolar when I was growing up?” I reached the point that I had so much comfort about it that I did a sermon at church that ended with thunderous applause. Our minister was out of town and I was filling in. If you’d like, you can view my sermon notes here.
Things to Consider
Personally, I wish everyone would come out of the bipolar closet. Seeing the number of people impacted by the disease would make it less scary. However, I know it’s not safe for everyone to do so. When I went to a bipolar support group, I would sometimes be brought to tears by the painful stories from people who received no support at home. Sometimes they were alienated from their families.
If you do decide to come out, here’s some important things to consider:
a) Do I want to become a bipolar ambassador? Whether you want to or not, you will become one. You’ll have plenty of questions to answer. Sometimes hostile.
b) You don’t come out just once in your life. You’ll have to come out again and again, for the rest of
your life. Got a new job? How you going to tell them? Make new friends? How you going to tell them?
c) Probably most important. Are you in a safe environment that you can come out?
d) Will if affect my job.
Coming out for me has been a wild and wooly ride, but I’m glad I did. I hope you are in a situation that you can too. Hiding behind the stigma can be sad and lonely place.
Have you been able to come out of the bipolar closet to your friends, family or coworkers? I’d love to see how it came out for you.