“Well…I have um..you know I am uhhh…it’s not a big deal (awkward laugh) it’s just I have this thing…I swear I’m not crazy…um, okay I have fucking bipolar.”
This was me when I had my first epiphany, “Holy shit, the doctors weren’t joking, I really have bipolar disorder.”
The image we project to our friends, family, co workers and peers is just a portrayal of how we are expected to appear, and expected to behave; the mask created to blend into guidelines of normal behavior.
Revealing personal information about having any type of illness makes you vulnerable, and at risk for harsh judgment by those who surround you. In my life, the ‘mask’ I wore, prior to confronting the diagnosis, was a far cry from the one I wear today. If I could draw this mask, it would consist of a gleaming smile from ear to ear, a mouth wide open as if laughing hysterically, and minimal makeup to appear very gentle and calm. It only conveyed the parts of me that fit into what people ‘wanted me to be.’ The girl who is always happy, the funny girl, the athlete, the homecoming queen. Embracing flaws? Yeah right! Behind the mask I beat myself up for being taller and overweight. I am a blondish with brown eyes, and blend in with a crowd. Well in society, over a size 2 with big lips and hips, you might as well spend your extra curricular time in the gym.
In the community where I was raised, mental illness did not exist; it was for the people at the state mental institution, five minutes up the street. Mentally ill folk did NOT exist on the outside. The reason for keeping this quiet and hushed, in most cases; the moment you reveal you have a mental illness, you go from the person you are to the disease. It’s like you go from Kate Middleton to the mug shot version of Lindsay Lohan in the blink of an eye (love you Lindsay). All of the great accomplishments disappear when you utter those words “I have a mental illness” Gulp, faint, step away. We cannot allow the stigma of mental illness to dictate the extent to which we are honest with others, including ourselves. We cannot allow people in society to dress us in the costume, the mask, they see fit. We have to separate ourselves from our struggle. Our diagnosis, or inner struggle, is a part of you, it is NOT you.
How do we do this? Here are some personal strategies to help you gain confidence in the person you are, not the person others ‘see’ or want you to be.
Reveal Yourself…To Yourself.
It sounds silly, but it works. You have to embrace and acknowledge your illness and/or inner struggle before anyone else does. Look in the mirror & say it with me:
My illness does not define me, I will use those times of despair to embrace these emotions and find the light within a dark room. I cannot see the sun today, but tomorrow the clouds will go away. And if they don’t, I do not fear, life is beautiful, and its mine to share.
Write down the things you love about yourself. If you have trouble finding these in times of depression, write down any compliment a person and/or persons have given you. Mold your mask around positive words, not the words that costume you in darkness.
I am beautiful, smart and loving.
Express the Best.
The things you write, the positive is what you reveal to people. It is in the way you walk, speak and stand. Remember we are unique and creative individuals. Be the unique you.
I travel, blog, and try every new restaurant that comes into town. My goal is to read every book by Wally Lamb, and dance to every Justin Bieber song that comes on (Hair flip…exit).
The Botton Line.
Reveal the gifts that your uniquely crafted mind gave to you. “Blending In” is a rule for eye shadow, not for living.