Author: Lexie Manion
Disclaimer: Mentions of attempted suicide
I am newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder as of 2019 and newly out as bisexual as of 2021. Interestingly enough though, these are two intricate parts of my identity that I have been familiar with my entire life — whether or not they have been fully known or brought to light.
With my identity in the LGBTQ+ community, I have always been attracted to all genders growing up. It wasn’t fully in my awareness until my teenage years. My generation also lacked having many out LGBTQ+ role models to look up to, as do many previous generations. I see proper representation of us in the media is slowly but surely improving us finding the strength to live openly. It’s a wonderful thing to look at a TV show or an advertisement and see someone who looks like you portrayed in an empowering light, just as it is important for disabled kids or kids living in larger bodies seeing themselves uplifted, too.
I knew I liked girls in addition to boys as a child, but I did not see that as socially acceptable, so I silenced and denied that part of me, not thinking much of it for many years. As I grew up, the attractions became more apparent that I couldn’t ignore them. At this point in time, I began to experience deep shame because I felt like something was wrong with me. The few out LGBTQ+ kids I saw at school seemed to be mostly accepted, but I also watched them have bigger spotlights cast on them. I was terrified of being rejected further, as my mental health struggles painted a red flag on my forehead already. There were adults in my life who labeled me as an “attention seeker” for my struggles I did not choose. In addition to my identity in the mental health community, I was an ally before I came out as bisexual, so watching classmates and the occasional public figure be open about who they are helped me feel less alone. It gave me a hope I could be open one day, too. I hold myself to a higher standard of perfectionism and “normality” (whatever that is) than my peers, so while I fully accepted who they are, I stayed behind, lost in the shadows.
Growing up with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, my previous providers were primarily treating my anxiety and depression. I believe the diagnosis was missed for a multitude of reasons, one being that I didn’t have the vocabulary or terminology to explain what I was experiencing. I was not properly educated on this mental illness; I only knew stigmatizing assumptions and projections, like, “She’s so bipolar”. I have experienced high highs and low lows my entire life. Some of it could be explained by trauma or hormonal changes, but I didn’t know until I was older that I could experience this beautiful state of euthymia, which is known as living that middle ground between highs and lows with no mood disturbances; this place is the ideal, and truly where I have built the foundation of my healing. I am in this good place today with the support of my psychiatrist, therapist and my loved ones.
For many people with bipolar disorder, it can take eight years to be properly diagnosed. There are many other diagnoses and aspects of life that can conceal the symptoms or make it unclear what is truly happening under the surface in our brains. Being in recovery from my mental health struggles has given me a new perspective of wellness, as well as a new lease on life. I wholeheartedly believe that being in solid recovery and free from mania has aided me in my journey to being open about who I am. I was entrapped in bottomless shame after my final severe manic episodes passed in 2019 that I did not open up about my diagnosis to anyone for an entire year. My last hospitalization that year destroyed my confidence and numbed my bubbly, lighthearted personality. I didn’t feel like myself until later that year, and even then, I had to build myself back up and find my footing again. Today I feel like I am who I am meant to be.
I am indebted to my team, close friends, family and bosses for helping me slowly open up in time as I discovered who I am again. The shame took over my identity and I knew who I was, but I felt terrified to be myself. My body was on edge, too — worried sick I’d fall back into another episode and lose my sense of self all over again. I’ve felt pure relief to be on this better path today. I no longer experience manic episodes. Bouts of depression linger into my existence a couple times a year, but I am able to pull myself out of the darkness each time and get back on my path. As time has gone on, my healing has strengthened.
The shame between these important pieces of my identity is undeniable, but I am finding the shame becomes more and more distant in the shadows as I step into the light. My advocacy work is to dispel stigma, and I am content sharing the full story with just the trusted people in my life. It’s been freeing for me to live openly, and cathartic to let down my guard completely with safe people. I feel so loved for who I am today. I encourage you to seek out those safe spaces if you, too, are living at this intersection. It is a difficult place to be here at times, but getting into recovery and rediscovering ourselves is worth it.
Coming to a place of acceptance with my identity has been possible with the support of others, as well as my own strength and fighting back against stigma. As I said, watching my peers be open about themselves made me feel less alone. In therapy the past few years, we have done work on normalizing my thoughts and emotions, as well as work on trauma work, which I have only been able to do in recent years as therapists do not want to unravel that kind of work when the client is still relying on maladaptive coping, like an eating disorder or self harm. I have been waiting a decade to do this trauma work. It was excruciatingly painful at times and I did not think I would survive revisiting those past pains. In finding I am strong enough to not only survive revisiting deep trauma, but now can verbalize it while maintaining feelings of safety in my body, this is where I have built my foundation of inner acceptance.
In addition to facing traumas, a lot of my shame stems from outsiders judging me and not knowing who I am at heart — I took on what they unfairly placed on my shoulders. I am learning to let go of those judgments and stay close to people who care about me and trust my light. In therapy, we have been working on instilling self-compassion into my everyday practices. When I make a mistake or experience a trigger for a deep shame related to trauma, I am quick to judge myself and beat myself up. Today my mind may still go there; however, after those initial judgmental thoughts, I slow down and pause. I ask myself, “If your close friend was going through this, what would you tell her?” and I am intentional with my grace and understanding, “It is ok you feel overwhelmed right now. You are doing the best you can” and then finally, I redirect myself, “Let’s paint for a while or watch your favorite TV show”. I enjoy talking to myself as if I’m talking to both my inner child and my present day self in moments like this; my mind may already be stuck in the past, so acknowledging that hurting child and helping her feel safe is such an important part of my process. I may feel ashamed at times for needing support or needing to be gently handled by others in hard moments, but I never feel ashamed anymore for being gentle with myself. This past of my processing feels most natural to me after practicing it for some time now. When a child grows up in survival mode, the present day adult has to step up and be the adult they needed all those years ago. Feeling safe in my body again has helped me embrace who I am — in all parts of my identity.
The more we can fight back against the shame brought on by stigma, the more our hope can take flight and instill safety into our present and future. Studies have found that “LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers” and “between 25% and 60% of individuals living with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their lives”. There is a dire need for people at these intersections to be believed, validated, and supported in their realities. No one should feel so alone in who they are that they feel suicide is the only option left. When I attempted suicide ten years ago, I felt I could no longer survive the deep, aching pain. I also felt like such a burden. Being supported through it helped me find my self worth in time so I could get into recovery. I now have a fight within me to want to be alive. It can take time for people like us to heal, and we are worth the time it takes to heal.
It is not shameful to be who we are, nor is it shameful to struggle. I did not choose these parts of my identity; they’re born from my genetics, environment and more. Being bipolar and bisexual are parts of my identity, and also, I am so much more. I only ever speak up about these parts of who I am to normalize the journey and help people suffering in silence. There is a wonderful saying that we must be the type of person we needed when we were younger. Today, I have people of all ages and backgrounds reach out to me from time to time to receive support, ask for resources or thank me for speaking up. I take my role in this community seriously. I thrive when I am provided with safe spaces, so it’s truly been my intention to be those safe spaces for others in return. As Ann Voskamp has said, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces”. The Trevor Project found that youth having just one accepting adult in their lives can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40%. Knowing this, it is our responsibility in our communities to be sources of support for children navigating various pieces of their identity.
The mental health and LGBTQ+ communities are loud today because they are single-handedly saving lives and igniting hope. My younger self seldom saw LGBTQ+ people or people in recovery from mental illness growing up. My hope is that today’s youth see how authentically we are living so they choose to speak up and get help. I want to see you grow old and thrive. I want you to know that it’s not your fault to struggle and that it’s absolutely beautiful and freeing to be who you are.
Lexie Manion is a published writer, passionate artist, psychology and fine arts student and mental health advocate from New Jersey. She writes about mental illness and body acceptance topics while sharing her personal story of recovery. Lexie is currently studying to become an art therapist, and she strongly believes art and writing are pillars of healing. You can find more of her work at lexiemanion.com or follow her on Instagram.