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.
24 comments on Coming Out of the Bipolar Closet
When I came out with my diagnosis of bipolar and OCD, Iwas presented with “it’s all in your head”. What a lovely thing…..ummmm NO. Yes it’s in my head. Then it was “There is nothing wrong with you, you’re just making things wrong with you”, sure, cause everyone wants this shit. Needless to say it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.
My friends and the family I do speak to are all very supportive and love me regardless. It’s a magical feeling. When making new friends I tell them pretty quickly so no attachments are made before they decide they can’t handle this kind of commitment.
I’m glad you have found love and acceptance in all parts of your life!
Thank you, Rachel. It’s good to see you’ve stuck with the supportive people in your life. “It’s all in your head.” “Well, duh! Yes, that is the problem.:
I loved hearing about your stories. While some aspects were painful for you, it gave you a gift. You can now relate to other people that are afraid to come out (of either closet) and you have some words of wisdom to share with them. Something no one did for you, something you did right here, for the whole universe to read. It takes courage, even when in a safe place. It means becoming vulnerable for a moment and bringing down your walls. Kudos to you!
I suppose my environment is safe-ish. No one has looked at me differently (that I am aware of). The main force I am up against is medications. No one can seem to understand WHY I need medications. And Moods… No one can understand why my moods are what they are. Well, guess what folks, neither do I half the time! Hahahaha
I would like to think of myself as an Ambassador. I would also like to think of myself as a friend to all my bipolar community; near and far! I accept you into my world Bradley, and I am proud of you!
OMG, Iggy. Such kind words. Reading your blog I know you are indeed an ambassador. Keep writing!
The nature of my meltdowns both at work and in my general life basically outed me whether I wanted to come out of the closet or not. Overall I had sympathetic and supportive reactions from people. Seemingly manic-depression is becoming to be seen social-stigma-wise more like depression is today. I’ve heard a lot of “my sister is bipolar” or “my boyfriend is struggling with bipolar disorder, too” Of course, there always people who just don’t get manic-depression (“just deal with it”), just as those who have distorted views of anxiety disorders.
You are correct, things have gotten better and I think it’s easier for someone to come out of the BP closet these days, whether they want to or not. There will always be those who view it as a weakness rather than a disease, but, as you said, just deal with it.
when I wrote “just deal with it,” I was thinking about how those who view it as a weakness articulate their view. Yet, while sounding a tad harsh, there is a truth to the fact that one does just have to deal with those with distorted understandings. It is usually impossible to educate or enlighten these folks in the here-and-now moment; but this doesn’t mean one should give them a free pass.
I read it both ways. I’ve seen a few naysayers come around, but agree it’s rare.
I was able to accept my OCD diagnosis, because I’ve been suffering from it for as far as I can remember. But with bipolar II… I didn’t accept it, until I saw myself going from depression to manic episodes and vise versa for a while. Then I realized that the meds actually were able to stabilized me. My family have taken it really nice, they didn’t judge me or treated me different, but I’m talking about my wife and kids only. It has never come up in a conversation with my 6 sisters, but I could be open with them, if they asked me about it. As to online, I am really vocal about it and some people have told me, that they really appreciate it, that I am open about it. In reality, it has been easy for me. It is sad to say it, but I know that the stigma still out there. That’s why we have to get the ball rolling.
I have to congratulate you on this excellent post my brother. Keep up the good work.
I’m happy you have such a loving and supportive family. You’re a lucky man
I think I came out in a way that was obvious to everyone but me. Eventually I had to acknowledge and accept it.
Not surprising. My husband, Maurice, can usually spot when I’m heading towards manic or depressive way before I do.
When I told others about my mental illness, I received two problematic responses: People argued with me (i.e. You’re okay; you’re not sick; etc.) or they claimed they’d always known (why didn’t they tell me?! I hadn’t).
I hope my daughter’s world is more open and accepting. No one should have to “confess” who they are. We should just be allowed to be it.
I share the same hope. It won’t be as fast as we’d like, but I’m confident that day will come.
Intriguing possible connection with seizure disorders, especially since many of us like me are stabilized on anti-seizure medication, such as valproic acid (Depakote).
I don’t know for sure, but I was told by an acquaintance that the UK has a better understanding of the link between seizures and bipolar disorder
Interesting about the seizures, since anti-seizure medications are used so often as mood stabilizers for bipolar. Things that make ya go, hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. 🙂
I “come out” with bipolar almost right away when it is a new relationship, but there are parts of my stepdad’s family that still don’t know even though I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago. There are other parts of family that know that I deal with some sort of mental health issue or something or other that keeps me from working, but they don’t know exactly what those issues might be.
When I was having the seizures and trying to find the correct meds that worked for me, my pdoc and neurologist worked together to find a med that would be a mood stabilizer and control my seizures. They both agreed they’d prefer that they didn’t want me to have to take bipolar meds and anti seizure meds at the same time. Fortunately we found the right mix that made them both happy (me too.) I’m grateful they worked as a team.
I’m completely open about it. It just makes my life less complicated. My father’s reaction… well, he has never said the word ‘bipolar’ and the times I’ve been hospitalized he’s reasoned it’s because ‘I need to rest’ like a Victorian lady-in-waiting!! My ex-husband was abusive and used it against me and to his advantage. My friend is 100% supportive and understanding. Been dipping my toes in the dating pool and I “come out” on the first meeting/date. I prefer to be honest and upfront and am open to any manner of questions. I’ve often been passed over because of it, but hey, that’s life. Maybe I’m too hot to handle LMAO !!
I’m completely open about it too, Pieces. I think it has had a negative effect on being asked to do some volunteer work at my church and elsewhere. I think some believe it may be too much for me. I’ve told a couple of people that that should be my decision. If it’s going to be too much for me, let me tell you so.
I’m really glad I came across this post. My mom started having big seizures last year and her moods have changed drastically since then. I’ve had my suspicions that it is somehow related, but since she is in late life, its difficult to amateur diagnose. (Of course, I can’t speak to her about it). Any suggestions on what to look out for?
So sorry to read your mom has had a tough year. I was in my mid 40’s when I was finally diagnosed. I don’t have any suggestions on what to look out for, but my “Bipolar: What is it page may help. The button is above the polar bear picture. I wish you well.
I’m still debating on how or if I should come out to my family (parents, sister ) as having bipolar disorder. I’m sure it wouldn’t shock them but because of my sometimes toxic relationship with my parents, I hesitate. I’m already the lesbian sheep in our family;however, I fear thathat a bipolar label would make them use it against me in the future.
Do you have any advice?
That’s very much a personal decision. When I came out of the bipolar closet, I had no backlash. Not everyone understood, but I was never treated disrespectfully. I especially loved those that didn’t get it, but asked questions to help understand.
That all being said, in the support group I use to go to, many people experienced horrible reactions…and sometimes put themselves in a position to be abused. If you check more on other blogs, you’ll find both negative and positive situations.
Don’t think you have to jump into it. Take your time and weigh your options. I wish you well, whatever you choose.