Coming Out with Bipolar Disorder
I am a psychiatric nurse. I work with patients every day who are in the hospital with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, among other conditions. I do my best to help them put the pieces back together, so they can go home to their families and attempt to function in their lives again. I can relate as I’ve been there myself.
I have been managing my own bipolar disorder for years now, which is what allows me to successfully hold my job, have a family and go after what I want in life. However, that management has not been without setbacks, hardship, sacrifice and determination. I have certain limitations I’ve come to accept and there have been times the veil between me and my patients has been thin.
I don’t disclose my mental health information to my patients. I’ve been tempted over the years, but ultimately it would not be therapeutic for them. The separation between nurse and patient must remain intact in order to provide the best care possible. Disclosing personal information would blur those very important boundaries.
However, I have “come out” to everyone else in my life about my bipolar. Making that decision was like a smoldering ember that just kept burning until the heat became distracting. It started at work, when I grew more confident and comfortable around my coworkers, and I felt like I was living a lie.
On the surface, I was calm, quiet and pulled together, but that was only a sliver of the truth. I began to feel the daily burden of keeping quiet about my life as a heavy weight on my chest. This is when I knew I had to reveal who I really was. I wrote about my experiences and published it online, for all the world to see.
If you’re going to disclose something deeply personal about your life, you need to be sure you’re at a point of unconditional self-acceptance. This was a long journey for me. I denied my bipolar disorder for well over a decade and only recently came to accept its existence. I was finally able to look back at all my struggles with a clarity and wisdom that had been lacking in me for a long time.
When I saw the hardship, isolation and grief I went through, I wanted to give to others what I never had: another person to say, “I see you. You’re not alone.” That’s what drives me forward. It’s the fuel for everything I do.
Self-disclosure cannot be undone. There’s no saying, “You know what — never mind.” Even after deciding to move forward with it, I panicked thinking I had made a terrible mistake. I published my post at night with the idea that I could always delete it in the morning if I changed my mind. But when I awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and decided I had changed my mind, I was already flooded with messages of love and support. I felt like people were really finally seeing me — the real me.
That ended the uncertainty for me. I knew I had lit a spark that might, just might, reach the person who needed to hear what I was saying and feel seen as well.
Elizabeth Horner is a psychiatric nurse, writer and bipolar champion. Her greatest hope is to cut through stigma and normalize mental health awareness through her writing. She lives in Texas with her husband and four sons.