When I was diagnosed at the age of 25 I was indifferent, and initially felt it was okay to tell people about the fact that I had bipolar disorder. As I was released from the hospital I called up many people that I previously had hung around with and told them about the diagnosis and one by one they fell to the wayside. They acted awkward, judgmental, and steered clear of all my calls indefinitely. I was soon silent and depressed and became isolated for quite some time, I met new friends but never spoke of the disorder in fear that I would be judged again.
As I headed back to BC I joined a seminar and at the end of it I had the opportunity to speak in front of 500 people and they asked me "What did you get out of this seminar?" It dawned on me like a lightning bolt! I said "My name is Andrea and I have bipolar disorder. I realized that I am not my illness and that I have an illness. I am not bipolar, I have bipolar!" It felt like a ray of sunshine had come over me and I was finally free of the stigma and shame that had clouded me for years of remaining silent.
I soon dreamt up the t-shirt 'Bipolar Babe' which I wanted to wear proudly in a grocery store or some other place to prove I was not ashamed. It later grew into postcards, speaking gigs, stickers, more t-shirts and eventually the beautiful birth of a non-profit society. I now blog at www.bipolarbabe.com and proudly share my personal story speaking at various venues but most notably at schools to youth.
Should you become public with your story? It worked for me but only at the most opportune time. It was when I was the most comfortable with having it and it wasn't until I had an epiphany that I knew it was simply okay to do so. This realization took 5 years to culminate and can never be something that is rushed, but I do wish it for everyone because it is both freeing and wonderful. I do hope you find yours.