disclosure, shame, and stigma

who knows you’re mad, if you see yourself as mad?

or, if it’s helpful for you to think of yourself as sick, how many people in your life know you are sick?

i have been thinking about disclosure and stigma.

i think of myself as a person who actively tries to fight against stigma re: mental health issues, and i am trying to learn a radical mental health perspective so i can be kinder to myself, and yet i totally rarely disclose my issues to people who they may seriously affect when those people are connected to me professionally. i thought about this a lot recently, and then i couldn’t stop thinking about polarized: life from both sides entry about “the differences between secrets and lies”.

this person, like me, feels like being out as bipolar would negatively impact peoples’ opinions of our abilities.

in that sense, i think that shame is a much larger part of my life than i tend to think it is. i think in some ways, some people like us are controlled by shame.

i realized i am completely terrified of coming out of the closet about most of my issues to the people it affects the most. it isn’t politically correct to hate gay people, but it’s expected that people will exclude “crazy people” from their inner circles of friendship. i can say i’ve dated different genders before with no hesitation, and yet i’m terrified to come out as a nutcase to people i don’t know well, people i know professionally, and yes – even friends.

at what point do you tell the person you’re sweet on about your issues?
do you wait for them to like you for who you are, and then hope they don’t run once you both like each other? at what point is it a blatant lie to omit this information? how many dates can you have before you mention just how different it is to know you long-term?
“i seem eccentric but otherwise pretty normal on our dates, right? haha fooled you! because as soon as you leave my house, i cry for hours/talk to voices/throw up/cut myself/get wasted/sleep for two days/freak out completely/get sad for a week.”

is it ethical to withhold that information from a potential housemate, a potential employer, a new friend, a drinking buddy, or a new lover?

what if you know for a fact that someone doesn’t respect a radical perspective on mental health, and you know that they would try to encourage you to ruin your life with electro-shock, or toxic medications, if you’re a person who chooses to live without them? what if you know they will lose respect for you, or begin to walk on eggshells around you, or break up with you, or fire you? or just treat you a little differently from then on, like all of a sudden they pity you?

on the other hand, as adults, we have the luxury of autonomy in many parts of our lives. will stigma ever lift if nobody’s “out of the closet” about our experiences? how will people know to treat me with kindness if they do not know about my abusive childhood? perhaps, paradoxically, ‘normal’ people are -less- inclined to write off my behaviors as ‘crazy’ if they know not to take them personally. maybe it would give people empathy and perspective. perhaps coming out would fling open a door to a community of others like me.
…or perhaps it would leave me even lonelier, cut off from “normal people”… whose world i don’t fit into, anyhow.

mad pride is such an incredible movement. i would like to think that i am working towards a point where i can feel proud of myself as a creative, resourceful, wild, compassionate, rad, somewhat not-the-stupidest, messy and magickal little moodmonster and not feel like a gigantic fucking mess, like a person imprisoned by a broken mind. like it could be okay to be a little sadlet sadding along some days because i am not my sadness – i am a writer, i am a body, i am a cooker of foods and a brightener of days. and i should be proud of who i am – mental health hiccups and all – and you should, too.

because, overall, you are pretty fucking amazing.

so, what about you? are you “out” to everyone? what do you think about stigma and disclosure?

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for the mention and the post. I suppose I should write about all of my “coming out” moments this past semester now that it’s over. You completely verbalized my fears of not fitting into a world I never belonged in anyway and it being ok for people to reject me because of my mental illness. Am I completely out? No, and I don’t think I ever will be. Quite simply, it’s not some people’s business. Professionally, I probably won’t be out – but I will probably sit in a bathroom crying at least once or twice, pull myself together, and go back out there because, even though my emotions are giants compared to people without bi or uni polar illnesses, I don’t have to let them control me. Again, thank you, and good luck – you’re not alone.

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