Disclosing Bipolar Disorder

Author: Lee Formella


I am extremely lucky. On the day that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I knew I had at least 5 calls to make, receiving nothing but empathy and support on the other end of the phone. Beyond that though, who do you tell? When do you tell them? Should you disclose at work, in a relationship, or publicly? The first people that I shared my diagnosis with were my parents and my siblings. They were very supportive from day one. None of us really knew what it meant, but they didn’t question the diagnosis or blame me for it, which is an amazing start.

The only “negative” for me was that I don’t think it was taken very seriously at first.. Over time, and with more knowledge, sharing the process with them resulted in a much closer and honest circle of support.

Disclosing to my friends was pretty easy for me as well. Probably due to living with bipolar disorder, I really only had three or four close friends left. They had all been with me through multiple rock bottoms and thankfully my trust in them only solidified after they all took time to understand what I was going through. It also allowed me to provide them more perspective on our shared past; this is important as they often dealt with me during and after episodes and provided nothing but love and support. This only drew us closer together as a result as well.

Now for one of the most difficult disclosure locations. Work. I don’t have any advice on this one as it has gone multiple ways for me. Full disclosure: If I were younger and beginning a career, I don’t think I would tell anyone right away. I’m not saying this is right; what I am saying is, before disclosing that you live with bipolar disorder publicly, there are some things to consider.

After sharing my diagnosis at work, I received a lot of responses, some welcome, others not so much. There was plenty of support from a couple of people who either lived with mental illness or were more empathetic people by nature.

However, other people just saw it as an impediment to my abilities and as a reason to dismiss my immediate needs. I also truly believe that the stigma associated with bipolar disorder, “he must just be depressed”, “he’s just a loose cannon”, “is something really wrong or is it in his head”, do cause some people to dismiss our concerns, causing reduced promotion rate and a higher rate of dismissal.

For a lot of people, the hardest decision is when you are starting a new relationship. This one was pretty easy for me. I tried to go out or date a little after my diagnosis and the combination of my lack of confidence and immediately revealing my diagnosis resulted in only disappointment. However, I was sure of one thing; that I would continue to divulge my diagnosis very quickly when considering whether or not to start a relationship.

The reason is simple; I live with bipolar disorder, that isn’t changing. It’s going to come up eventually, it is a central part of my life and I need a partner who is okay with this. Again, I am lucky. I told my girlfriend on our third date and we are soon to celebrate three years together. AND she is an integral part of my support system and stability. She’s amazing. Lastly, making your diagnosis public. Whew. This is tough and something that should be considered fully, talked about with your support team, then considered some more.

I made my first video one year before I ever released one publicly. At the time, I was still trying to use my degree to get a full time day job. It didn’t work, so I went for it. Importantly, I have zero regrets about this. My support network has grown, I’ve learned a lot from others, and have met some really cool people along the way.

However, I did not get one single call back from an employer after adding my volunteer work related to bipolar disorder on my resume. I have a large gap in my resume due to living with bipolar disorder and my best work is that which I have done for IBPF and NAMI as a public speaker. My resume is stronger than the last time. I went from multiple interviews to none. I would still publicly disclose my diagnosis today, it has made me a better person and grown my support network. Just be sure to carefully consider what is best for you before you share with anyone else. It is your life. It is your story

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