Being Bipolar Brave

Author: Willa Goodfellow

Oh, I thought I was already, bipolar brave.

As a lesbian who came out in my early forties, I understood how this stigma thing works and also how this overcoming of stigma thing works, too. I wasn’t weird or scary. People liked me. When I came out and they got this new piece of information about me, it nudged the needle on what they thought about gay and lesbian people. And instead of taking everybody around me as potential enemies, I found many allies and a few people who needed more education. The experience gave me courage to speak my truth.

So after I got sick, I was a step ahead on coming out as a person with bipolar. I knew that if I didn’t try to hide it or behave as though I were ashamed of it, others who already liked me and knew I wasn’t weird or scary would continue to think well of me and expand their understanding of bipolar. Most would, anyway. And I would survive the rest.

I also understood that as a public person I was in a position to influence a wider circle, and I felt the responsibility to do so. The one who can—should.

I am a priest. Some priests and their parishioners place on them the expectation of “having it all together.” But that’s not necessarily how it works out. When I talk about mental illness using first person pronouns, I am not rejected. Invariably somebody will later tell me their own story, their diagnosis, or their concerns for a loved one. My openness gives support to others and provides opportunity to do some education. My mental illness is an asset to my ministry! (Sort of.)

But then I wrote a book, a memoir about my mental illness. Preparing for publication and building an author’s platform has brought this “being bipolar brave” thing to a new level.

First there were the dealings with the publisher and staff. It turns out all this microscopic evaluation of my work (should it read “round” or “around”?), all the decisions, all the deadlines activated my anxiety disorder. Who knew? I found myself explaining myself and my anxiety driven reactions to these people who are in charge of the future of my book. I mean, it’s a memoir of mental illness, but somehow, I had been trying to not be mentally ill while publishing it. Being honest with the publisher about what I was going through was another step in practicing “bipolar brave”.

Then there’s all the increased exposure. While I have been a public person all my life, the internet is a different level of public. I wrote a promo for the book that was intended to startle. But it went online with slightly different wording. The result wasn’t startling. It was shocking. It suggested I was crazy! And not in a good way. Even my therapist cringed. It got fixed after a few stomach-churning weeks. But now I second guess even the merely startling version.

The public readings are yet to come. At the launch party, in front of people I have known all my life I will read the opening scene recounting a very weird mental experience in my doctor’s reception area. They have not heard this story before. Even those who know I have bipolar do not know some of the strange places my mind has been.

I will gulp. I will take a deep breath. I will remember the people I am trying to help by telling my story.

And I will be bipolar brave.

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