My chest is tight, my fingers and toes are tingling. There’s a lump in my throat and a brick in my belly.
I’m afraid, but it’s not my fear of flying or snakes that is terrifying me. I’m scared because I’m about to publicly admit to something that only a privileged few know about me – and most of them don’t know half of what I have been through.
So here it goes…
I have a mental illness. I have Bipolar II Disorder. For the past ten years, I have been on some sort of medication to manage my mood. I have left a university, transferred to another school, and successfully completed two degrees – all while managing my Bipolar Disorder. I have experienced inpatient and outpatient therapy programs. I have been hospitalized three times. I have been misdiagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety. I have self-harmed and I have seriously considered suicide.
Oddly, I’ve never had a bad encounter sharing my mental health experience that would prompt my fear. Actually, it’s always been overwhelmingly positive. Sharing my story has typically encouraged others to share their stories with me, which has allowed me to be more honest with them and that has alleviated stress in my own life. But I have felt guilt and shame because of my mental illness.
This is guilt and shame I have because of my own actions, thoughts, and frailty. This is guilt and shame I felt while watching my parents and husband worry about me. This is guilt and shame that I experienced while doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists made insinuations about my mental health. It is guilt and shame that friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers have unwittingly inflicted as they share their opinions on medication, suicide, cutting, and all those “crazy people” out there.
So, why now? Why bother fessing up at all?
One reason is that I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite anymore. I’m a mental health advocate fighting against stigma, but how can I encourage people to speak out while being reticent to share my own story?
But the more important reason is that I’ve been inspired. I was very active this year in the mental health community. This year I have heard, watched and read countless stories of depression, self-harm, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. They spoke of triumphs and failures, and of recovery and relapse. I have heard families and friends speak for those who no longer can. I was impressed by teens that rallied to promote suicide awareness in honour of their friend who took his own life. I was stunned by the incredible poetry written by a man who is homeless and schizophrenic. Each and every one of these stories inspired me.
So, I’m harnessing this inspiration to stoke my own courage. I’m stepping up to the plate and putting my money where my mouth is. This blog will be the confession of my experiences, past and present. It will be the place for me to own the thing that simultaneously makes me different and the same as everyone else. It will be the place for me to share, educate and hopefully help eradicate the stigma of mental illness. And maybe, I will be lucky enough to inspire someone else the way others have inspired me.
About Marisa Lancione
Marisa Lancione is a mental health advocate who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II 8 years ago. Despite being stable for the past 4 years, she still struggles to find balance in life while managing a mental illness. Marisa is a media relations professional and when she isn’t fighting stigma, she can usually be found reading, writing or tweeting. You can follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds blog here, and additionally you can follow Marisa through Twitter and her own website.