I saw an interesting topic on a few blogs recently: Who do you tell about your depression?
Some people recommend being fully honest with every consistent figure in your life, one step short of wearing a name-tag that says, “Hi! My name is Manic Depression.” Others recommend keeping it a secret between you, your psychiatrist, and your pharmacist.
Personally, I’m a bit on the name-tag wearing side (not recommended for everyone). I’ve joked often and loudly about being bipolar since starting to identify the symptoms at age 14. The only people who knew the real extent of my depression were family, friends, and teachers who also suffered from some degree of depression.
Nowadays, considerably few people who know, but not because I’m shy about or ashamed of it. It’s actually because I don’t keep a lot of people around. I cycle through friends quickly, gaining and shedding every couple of years. I’m on the shedding end of an extended 4-year cycle, since I don’t have the energy nor the emotion to invest in maintaining their company. (And, in large part, because I’m not leaving the house much while my lost friend is in the same state.)
When people do ask me, either because of something they’ve noticed or because of something I said in passing, I’m honest. I only tell people who notice an issue, which is the only thing that divides me from the name-tag wearing types. I don’t have a Facebook page or a well-marketed Twitter account, but anyone who Googles me will come across this blog.
Outside of the blog, who really knows about me? It’s a short list. My therapist, psychiatrist, and pharmacist. My family–Mom, KaLynne, Taylor. My lost friend and his mom. One intermittent friend from high school. Cutter, who suddenly reappeared in my life after 17 years. Steph, whose wedding I stood up in six months ago. Three people at work who pulled me aside and said, “Okay, what the hell is going on with you?”
The work one is what blows people away. “But what if things go horribly wrong and you get shamed into resigning, or fired?”
Here’s the thing: in a closely observed professional environment like American Airlines, it’s nice to have people in my corner. On the occasions that I’m a hot mess, they find their own ways to help. One finds a way to engage my mind and distract from the bad thoughts. One lets me sit on the floor of her office and bawl. One suggests we go for a walk and get out of the restrictive office environment.
Telling the people at work actually led to positive outcomes for them. Two have on-going issues with loved ones suffering from some sort of major depressive disorder. Those two now talk freely to me about their struggles as the caretaker who doesn’t 100% understand what’s happening in their loved ones’ minds.
(The third coworker has never struggled with or cared for someone struggling with depression. One day I brought my teddy bear to work. She asked about my depression [I think she thought depression was a myth, or only present in obviously dysfunctional people] and I said, “Over the last three weeks, getting out of bed has been the hardest thing to do.” I must have had a tone when I said it, because she’s been very good to me since then. She’s the one that allows me to lock myself in the office and cry.)
I think the important thing is that I’m very matter-of-fact when I discuss my bipolar disorder with others. Sometimes I’ll explain the effect it’s had on my personal and professional lives. Mostly, I talk about specific instances, like the time I added 56,000 words to my novel in 6 days.
Professionally, I don’t blame my failures on my depression, and I don’t credit my successes to my mania. I do work my ass off as much as possible so that I can have leeway when one or the other strikes in a seriously unproductive manner.
I know that I am lucky to not have suffered serious consequences by letting those people in, but I’m still young. There are a lot more bumps ahead, but hopefully people like me can help rewrite the stereotypes of people with these disorders. I think my generation may have what it takes to help people like me, people like you, find ways to contribute to bettering our society. I own up to my disorder, my responsibilities, and my actions. Balancing them just takes a pinch of creativity and a dash of courage.