Ever since I started my blog in October of 2010, I have struggled somewhat with what it should be about. A lot of bloggers have themes like reducing debt or chronic illness or parenting. My blog talks a little bit about everything that goes on in my life. A big part of my life has been my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and so I write about that on a fairly regular basis.
When Marybeth said I could come on board here to AaB, I was very excited and proud that my writing would get even more exposure. My husband has been extremely supportive of my desire to try to raise awareness of mental illness and to erase the stigma surrounding it. As I am coming to grips with what kind of writer I want to be and how I want to use that talent. My husband acts as my barometer, my censor, and my editor. I am extremely fortunate to have a spouse who loves me for exactly who I am and who has been by my side fighting this disease with me for 23 years.
Now that my children are getting to an age where they can understand what mental illness is, I have spent some time recently talking with them about the fact that I have bipolar disorder and what that means. They know that before I was diagnosed, part of the disease manifested in behavior of which I am now extremely ashamed. It doesn’t matter that I know the behavior was the result of my illness. I look back at the things that I did and I feel as if I do not know the person who did those things. Even years later, I still judge myself. Though I am working very hard to forgive myself, I can’t say that I actually have done that yet. I am a completely different person now that I am on medication and have been working extremely hard in therapy for many years, but that does not erase the embarrassment I still have about the things that I did that hurt the people closest to me. And there are still times that I find the illness making itself known and that I do things I maybe will later regret or say things that I later wish I hadn’t said. Part of controlling this disease, for me, is having some kind of filter for my mouth and trying to think decisions through rationally before acting. Since I have trouble with impulse control, sometimes I need help from my family and friends as to how to behave.
As I get more involved in writing about my illness and sharing it with the online world, I realize I am making myself vulnerable. The internet can be a place of support, but it can also be a hostile place. I have been the victim of negative comments on my blog and they caused me great agony. Knowing the source did not make it any easier to “take it” and I had some pretty bad moments when I wondered whether I wanted to continue writing. I’ve heard that if you are a writer and want to be published, you need to be able to handle negative reviews. On the internet, those reviews can be instantaneous and horribly hurtful. There are some days that I think I can “take it” and some days that I don’t. One thing I have realized is that I seem to be much more sensitive to criticism than the people around me. I have also heard this from other people who have bipolar disorder, so I am wondering if that is a part of the disease.
Not only am I making myself vulnerable by the things that I share online, but I am also making my children vulnerable. I am sharing who I really am out of the desire to let people know that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Having bipolar disorder does not make me less of a person or a bad parent or someone who can’t accomplish great things. But by writing about the things I have done in the past and putting them online, am I creating a potential problem for my kids? How much of my behavior do I really want my children to know about? Are the things I am writing about things that might cause them pain?
I would never want anything I do to hurt my children and my duty as a parent is to protect them. One of the ways I am working to protect my children is by having my husband read everything I write that I think might have the potential to harm them in any way. I believe with all of my heart that he will put their well being ahead of my desire to get information out there, so if he believes it is okay for me to publish something I have written, I feel confident about putting it out there.
I may make some mistakes as I travel this road of learning how to write about my illness. I’m pretty sure that writing nasty things about my former employers and putting them on my blog was a bad idea. I can’t change the fact that I did that, but I did pull the posts down and send an apology that was never acknowledged. I’m okay with the fact that the email was ignored, because I clearly had stepped over the line with those posts. I am trying to learn from that mistake and be careful with what I put on the internet. But I am balancing being careful and protecting my family with my need to be a part in erasing the stigma that is still so prevalent regarding mental illness.
I recently saw a statistic that said one in six people has a mental illness. That means that of the next six people you see, one of them will likely have a diagnosed or diagnosable mental disease. Some of these people will realize that help is out there and that they can manage their disease. Some of these people will not, because they are ashamed. People who are ashamed of their symptoms and not reaching out for help are at extreme risk for suicide. Knowing that, I cannot remain quiet about my illness. I believe that if I had not gotten help when I did, I would not be here now. I think it is a greater service to my children for them to have a mother who is an advocate for mental health awareness and is willing to talk about what this disease is all about than for them to have a mother who is dead and have to live with the fact that their mom committed suicide.