I’m not who I say I am. That’s because my family would prefer I not use my given name.
Many of them don’t believe in bipolar disorder.
They think my difficulties were created by using street stimulants during my halcyon Hollywood years, struggling to stay slender for the cameras. Taking mood stabilizers, antidepressants? Just more drug abuse. The challenging side effects of tardive dyskinesia and Metabolic syndrome? My fault.
After reading a story in the Washington Post called “Unwell and Unashamed," I’m considering “coming out”: using my legal name rather than Allison “Strong.”
“Unwell and Unashamed” featured several mental health publications banning the use of pen names like mine. I write for three bipolar disorder communities, including this one. The daily papers I write for won’t consider an Op-Ed (Opinion Editorial) from someone with a pseudonym. That ‘last name’ decision has been made for me.
As a bipolar blogger, I’ve written as Allison “Strong,” my on-air handle as a disc jockey. As a music critic, I used Allison “Strong” in my daily column and while freelancing. Seventeen years later, it’s followed me into health and mental health journalism.
I don’t know what to do. It’s complicated. Maybe I could hyphenate!
Allison “Strong” sure isn’t the name on my Medicare card, nor is it what I sign checks or pay traffic tickets with.
That name is “Biszantz.” So it could be Allison Biszantz aka “Strong,” or the reverse. I don’t know what to do.
I don’t want to hurt my family, who have done everything in their power to help me, despite their inability to equate bipolar disorder with chronic physical illnesses like diabetes. After 25 years, a family can only take so much. They think I should be all ‘fixed.’
This door swings both ways.
Without their help I wouldn’t have a car, a house or front teeth. Tardive dyskinesia has been hell on my smile. There are so many aspects to overcoming this syndrome, this side effect. I want to help people who have this movement disorder as a side effect of mood stabilizing antipsychotics. I think I can, in a positive, non-alarmist way.
With regards to tardive dyskinesia advocacy, I want to use my last name so badly I burn. This rare but real side effect can happen to anyone, even Allison A. Biszantz. A real person with a real name.
Still, here I sit, undecided.
It’s highly inflammatory — I’m tiptoeing around land mines. They’d much rather me be “Strong.” Another consideration is this: In a violent, unpredictable world, using my legal name could put a target on my family’s back. It’s not as if my last name is “Smith” or “Jones.” Their safety and privacy is a valid concern.
However, I’m proud of being a Biszantz, and proud of my family even if the feeling isn’t reciprocated. I’m one of the tribe whether they like it or not.
I’m disinvited to family functions — reunions, weddings — clearly, I am the black sheep, the dark horse who still may come from behind. They just don’t know it yet.
While I consider their feelings vs. my commitment to tardive dyskinesia advocacy, I can’t let this conflict consume me from within. I have to take care of Allison, no matter what her last name is.
Then can I steer my recovery raft, steadfast as a mindful, modern day Captain Ahab, obsessed, if you will, on making this world a better place for people with bipolar disorder; helping them overcome challenging side effects.
This world is full of surprises. I might even find my white whale. I kinda doubt it though.
I think the hunt for the unattainable is part of the human condition.
Read the rest of Allison's posts for IBPF here. Allison has also written for NAMI Not Alone and has personal blogs on Wordpress and Tumblr. You can find her on Facebook where she has a closed group to share coping strategies for living with bipolar disorder.