When I first became ill with bipolar disorder I stopped talking with many of my friends and family. I also hid my diagnosis in the workplace. I isolated myself in embarrassment. I was filled with shame. I was grieving the person I thought I had lost to bipolar disorder.
When I actively hide the truth from the people around me, I suffered with incredible anxiety and the fear of being found out. I was always uncomfortable living a lie.
The truth is I stigmatized my mental illness more than anyone else. I projected my judgment as if it was coming from the outside.
The first step to de-stigmatizing mental illness is to stop criticizing yourself for being mentally ill. In time, I accepted my mental illness and embraced the strength it gave me. When you are in a constant battle with your own mind, life’s other challenges are minimized.
As I learned my diagnosis didn’t steal who I was. It didn’t change my strengths or weaknesses. I slowly opened up to one friend at a time. I disclosed my diagnosis carefully in the workplace. Starting with people who I knew either struggled with their own mental illness or had openly discussed loved ones who did.
For the last few years, I have been very open. I tell almost everyone that I live with bipolar
disorder. I have seen my acceptance of my illness propel those around me to accept their own mental illnesses. My life is an example that bipolar disorder is treatable and manageable.
My open and transparent approach fosters a supportive environment for my family, friends and colleagues to be open about their own struggles with mental illness.
Successfully working and overcoming periods of mania, sleepless nights, and battles with dark, debilitating depression without inpatient psychiatric treatment strengthened my resolve. I became stronger and able to identify and weather rough patches without defeat. I grew more confident in my abilities despite my mental illness. I accepted that I am not my diagnosis. A patient may HAVE cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure or bipolar disorder. A person is not cancer. A human being is not diabetes. Your friend is not high blood pressure. You and I are not bipolar.
A patient living and thriving with bipolar disorder is loving, kindness, joy, generosity, brilliance
and light. They are filled with goodness, faith, hard work, dedication and strength. We live with bipolar disorder and are also filled with hope, dreams, fears, goals and ideas.
At times our positive qualities are eclipsed by the symptoms of our disorder. They are never
De-stigmatizing mental illness starts inside the patient. Individuals surrounded by loving and
accepting networks of families, friends, and employers can be themselves honestly and
unapologetically the way a cancer patient receiving treatment for their illness is openly
embraced and supported by their network and community.
Honesty may not always be the right policy in a judgmental or hate filled group. I encourage
anyone who cannot be honest and authentic in every area of their life to create a new circle of loved ones and find a caring employer where you can feel comfortable authentically being
yourself including openly articulating any mental illness diagnosis and challenges.
Ending stigma will take time. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Yet in 2021, racism still exists and there are more diverse people in the world than there are patients living with bipolar disorder.
Stigma will end when we the patients are open and live our lives with transparent authenticity.
When people see our humanity and can relate to it, we can change their minds and open their hearts.
Dayna was 27 years old when she first experienced a two year spiral of mixed manic and depressive episodes, including six inpatient hospitalizations, a suicide attempt, and the threat of a three year commitment if she did not become medically compliant. Today, Dayna maintains a close relationship with her psychiatrist and is thriving in her career and home life with the help of prescribed medications. Dayna lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her partner of 18 years. Together they share their home with two cats, Latte and Donut, and Butters, their corgi. They love to travel the world and have spent time exploring three continents and over two dozen countries.
Dayna writes about her bipolar journey and story on her website,
Connect with Dayna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaylightandDarknessDayna
and Instagram: https://instagram.com/Day.lightandDarkness