Coming Out of the Closet

No, not that closet

(not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

AYRYW1 Hand of a child opening a cupboard door

It’s my sixty-sixth birthday today and it’s finally time to be free.

I’ve been in the closet for too long because I’ve been gripped by stigma and shame. Only two friends and a small number of bloggers know about my illness because I am careful with my trust. Because I know we are still in a society that heavily judges and and condemns and ostracizes.

I remember first considering suicide at the age of ten.

I look back on my childhood with a wisdom, forgiveness and peace that comes from being yoked to Jesus, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in me. I recollect it with a love, grace and compassion that have come with experience, research and a diagnosis that came long overdue.

As far back as I can remember, my life and perspective have been affected by bipolar disorder (or manic depression, as some still call it) and depressive disorder. My father, who was never diagnosed, was doubtlessly bipolar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was fifty-two. Fortunately, I was diagnosed at fifty-two. Since then, I have received appropriate medication and conducted enough research to understand the bipolar II (2) and persistent depressive disorder illnesses I live with.

I remember first considering suicide at the age of ten. Several factors contributed, and you can read more about that on my About Page, Part I. Bipolar disorder is due to a combination of physical, mental and environmental factors. Genetics plays a part in over 60% of bipolar cases. Environmental stressors, called risk factors, can add to and are seen more often in people who already have that genetic link.

People with bipolar I experience depression three times as often as mania. For bipolar II the ratio of time spent in depression vs. hypomania is a whopping 40:1. (Donna Jackel, bp Magazine, October 2010, citing a 2002 study by UCSD in the Archives of General Psychiatry)

The adult hypomania side of bipolar II – at least for me prior to medication – looked like intense spurts of energy, productivity, impatience and irritability, shopping splurges that lasted until the high wore off and landed me deep in debt, and reckless and immoral sexual choices that took me years to forgive myself for.

Those of us with bipolar II have likely inherited the illness from an immediate family member. We have symptoms which can cause either insomnia or too much sleep; loss of appetite; a severe aversion to being around more than one person at a time; memory loss; uncertainty about our place in the world; and a general feeling of incongruity. We also have many more depressive episodes than hypomania episodes. For those of us with bipolar II, it is 40 times more likely for us to experience depression than it is to experience a hypomania episode.

As I began to conduct my own research, I found several blogs that helped me learn more about my illness and how to manage my own particular symptoms. I found myself in the company of people like former Olympian Amy Gamble; politician Patrick Kennedy; actors Stephen Fry, Robin Williams, and Richard Dreyfuss; singer Demi Lovato; and anchorwoman Jane Pauley.

Folks who have bipolar are generally not the people portrayed on T.V. or in movies: serial killers or other off-the-bend caricatures of real people. Those caricatures continue to feed the shame and stigma of those of us who have a physical brain illness we work hard to manage every day. That is why coming out and saying, “I have bipolar,” still has such a negative stigma attached to it. That is why it is still scary to say out loud or write in black and white.

Folks who have bipolar are generally not the people portrayed on T.V. or in movies: serial killers or other off-the-bend caricatures of real people. Those caricatures continue to feed the shame and stigma of those of us who have an illness we work hard to manage every day.

Before medication, I attempted suicide twice. Since medication, all thoughts of suicide have disappeared and I have only experienced two hypomania episodes that have presented as overspending. The only other symptoms of hypomania are rare feelings of irritability.

However, I still have a strong aversion to being around more than one person at a time. I still have memory loss. I sleep too much and sometimes experience insomnia.  And I do experience a general feeling of incongruity, of not fitting in, of always being a little out of harmony with my surroundings. In addition, because I have bipolar and depressive disorder, I experience a chronic ache – from a disturbing sense of physical pain to an incessant feeling of loss – all the time. I want to put up barriers so I don’t experience additional, external distress. When I remove those barriers, I feel vulnerable and naked – yet another reason to avoid being around people.

One thing people mistake about depression is that people experiencing depression always feel sad. That’s not necessarily true. My depression shows up as exhaustion and deadness. It is exhausting, particularly when coupled with bipolar because I use coping skills nearly every minute of every day and it is fatiguing. As Natasha Tracy, in Lost Marbles: Insights Into My Life With Depression and Bipolar says, “This is beyond fatiguing. This is soul-suckingly, bone-grindingly exhausting.”

The biggest factor in managing my symptoms aside from life-saving, daily medication is my walk with God. I know He is the biggest reason for the eradication of any thoughts of suicide. I am thankful for His healing hand. I am humbled that I have been forgiven for my previous unchecked behavior and brought into my Father’s arms by the grace of Jesus. I feel safe as I abide in the guiding heart of the Spirit. And I have hope because in His unconditional love there is no shame.

I will give thanks to You, for I am beautifully and wonderfully made. Miraculous is Your workmanship, and I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. (Psalm 139:14)  

Below I’ve listed resources and websites I have used in my research and education about bipolar illness. I hope these links will help and inform you if you manage, or know someone who suffers from bipolar. These links are now added permanently to my right-hand sidebar.

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness

bp Magazine

The Bipolar Burble

Shedding Light on Mental Illness

Kitt O’Malley – Live with Bipolar Disorder

Stephen Fry’s The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Part 1

Stephen Fry’s The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Part 2

 

60 comments

  1. […] This month marks ten years since I chose to follow Christ. Ten years since I walked into the embrace of my Father’s arms. Ten years since I have learned to listen to the Spirit abiding inside me. And almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with bipolar II (2). […]

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  2. God bless you, Susan. Thank you for sharing your story. Love how you share your wisdom, knowledge, and faith. I’m beyond flattered that you included a link to my site as a resource.

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    1. Oh, that was a while ago; I couldn’t NOT share your site, Kitt. You’ve been a true blessing to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Susan. You are a blessing to me and many others.

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  3. Susan, you have described not only the soul-sucking experience of having bipolar, but also the life-giving Spirit who lifts us up when we fall. I would love to interview you for my blog, particularly on the role faith and the faith community has played in your journey. If this would be something you would be open to, please e-mail and we can set something up.

    Thanks so much, Tony.

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    1. Tony, I’d be honored. I’ll email you later today. ❤

      Like

  4. […] and wrapping can make us feel separate, off balance and uncertain about our place in it all. I previously wrote about our symptoms of insomnia, loss of appetite and a severe aversion to being around more than […]

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  5. Bipolar has touched our family too. Ah, life’s a journey and, yes, I wouldn’t want to take it without God either. Bless you, Susan!

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    1. Thank you, Mitch.

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  6. Love you Sonshine! You bring us peace and joy no matter what they say. I’ve been on depression meds for years. It really does help. Sometimes these bodies just need a little help – God made it all anyway. Lift up your head beautiful. I hear we get a new body soon!

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    1. Won’t that be lovely to have a wonderful new body and lovely arms to embrace us? Thank you, Diana. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t wait!!!

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  7. Susan, I think I understand how much courage it took for you to share this part of yourself. And I admire you all the more for it. As you know, I’ve shared about my eating disorder days. I felt led to talk about it and have been blessed for my obedience in revealing a part of me that was once my deepest and darkest secret. Hugs & happy birthday, beautiful friend. ❤
    Blessings ~ Wendy

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    1. Thank you, Wendy. Those of us who reveal those secrets are able to do three things, I think. We leave behind the shame we’ve carried. We take a stand against the stigma that shadows all of us with these disorders. And we encourage – even just a little – those who remain closeted due to their own shame to be lifted up and to shake off their own shame.

      I’m only sorry it took me so long. Thank you for your encouragement and love, and birthday wishes. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] What is the cost of revealing who I am? […]

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  9. Good for you to find the courage to share such a personal thing in your life! I understand as one who suffers from depression myself. I have never considered bringing my life to an end, but many who experience depression in some form have. You are not alone, Susan.

    I am so glad to be able to wish you a happy birthday! Mine is coming up in a week…I’ll be 63! Continue to be the wonderful person you are…loving in so many ways!

    Steve

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    1. Thank you so much, Steve, for you love and encouragement. It means a lot. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are here for each other. We carry one another’s burdens. We hope and pray for the ones who want and need it, and they for us…

        Take care and talk to me about your worries and concerns whenever you like.

        Steve

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  10. A belated happy birthday to you. Susan! And blessings to you for being vulnerable, disclosing your life-long battle. I know this will help many others with the same struggle, giving them hope. We don’t always have a choice about what this life throws at us, but we can overcome in spite of it because of Jesus (my paraphrase of John 16:33). You are a testament of that fact!
    Oceans of love.

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    1. Thank you, Mel. Hope is the reason I decided to finally open up.

      Jesus walked with me through breast cancer – 9 years cancer free this month – and he has walked with me every step of the way through this, even before I came to Him. I owe my life to Him, and cannot express my praise for Him enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awesome. Praise God!

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  11. First let me say Happy Birthday. I hope it has been a splendid day for you. And oh Susan, what a timely message this was and I’m so glad you shared it not only for me but for others who have dealt with this kind of thing or those that are now. My oldest grandson who will be 15 in a few days has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and possibly is bi-polar. He has been and still is in a hospital and they are trying to get things under control. He has tried several times to kill himself and he’s been cutting himself. He was adopted at birth from a woman in Guatemala. We know nothing at all about his birth father and little to nothing about the health of the birth mom other than she felt like she had to give Alex up for adoption because she couldn’t care for him. It’s breaking all of our hearts to see this wonderful and intelligent boy who was such a happy child now so very broken. On top of all that there’s even a chance according to the pyschological testing they’ve done that sometime when all the other began to surface there are red flags that he may have been sexually abused between the ages of 6 and 10. This is stunned us all because he never attended any schools except private Christian schools and of course he was well cared for and protected as much as possible by all of us. He knows the Lord but he’s denouncing him now and he is so very lost. He can’t see the light any more and he sinks deeper and deeper into the darkness every day. So please pray for him. Love and hugs, Natalie 🙂 ❤

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    1. Oh, Natalie, this is so tragic. I certainly am praying for him and ask that anyone who reads this please pray for him as well – both for his health and mind, and for his heart to open once again to God who will walk beside Him to help him in his journey. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much Susan. My daughter would probably not have wanted me to go
        Into such detail but it’s just almost overwhelming all of us and especially her, her husband, and Alex’s younger brother. But our Alex needs all the prayers he can get! Love and hugs, Natalie ❣️😘

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  12. Melissa Presser (still Esquire) · ·

    Happy Birthday my beautiful sister. Love you!!!

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  13. Happy Birthday beautiful, and congratulations on coming out of the closet. I know there is a stigma surrounding many illnesses and I applaud your bravery for number one, managing your disorder and number two, for sharing from your heart. Many blessings, Susan!! ♡

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    1. Blessings to you, Lorrie. Your positive outlook and journey have helped me at times when I could not see because of the fog. Thank you so very much. ❤

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      1. Ah! You just made my heart sing. And please know that you have been there, patiently leading me with your faith and your strength. Happy HAPPY Birthday! ♡

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  14. Susan, you are braver than you know. Thank you for your courage to share with all of us. I am blessed by your friendship. Thank you for all the great resources you have listed. Our daughter’s Dr. gives seminars through NAMI. If you would like to look at his website and add to your resource list please let me know. The Happiest of Birthday’s to you my sweet Friend! ❤

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    1. Oh, thank you Terese. And yes, please email his website to me. I’d be very interested and would gladly add him to the resource list.

      And thank you again for your love and prayers, and your compassionate support. It means more than you know. ❤

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  15. Happy birthday, dear Susan. I’m so, so proud of you for coming out, and I know you won’t regret it! Sending you love and light always, Dyane

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    1. Thank you, Dyane. It was a big step, but I think it was a good one. Love to you, too.

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  16. Happy birthday Ta-Ta to you happy birthday to you happy birthdayyyyyyy sweet Susannan! Happy birthday to you 💃💃💃💖🎂🎂🎂🎈🎈🎈🎉🎉🎊🎊🎂🎂🎂

    Blessings to you

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    1. Lol! THANK YOU, TOM! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I know this is a big deal to you. Not much I could say except any thing your dealing with. I will walk with you. I am here for you and will always lift you up. I will always think the best of you and always give you the benefit of the doubt. You are a sister in Christ and deserve my upmost honor and respect.

    Much love Tom

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    1. I love you, my sweet brother. Thank you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Happy Birthday to a beautiful, brave lady!! Thank you for sharing–it is a shame that there is such a stigma associated with mental health issues

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  19. Thank you for sharing that. I will be mulling this over.

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    1. Hey, Susan. I have been meaning to email. I will connect with you today, and pray you are doing well. Love to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. Peace to you, my friend.

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  20. Happy Birthday Susan! Thanks for sharing your heart here! Blessings!

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    1. Andy, thank you for the blessings. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Susan,

    I’m glad to see that God’s love has given you the courage to “come out of the closet” to not only provide information and resources but to also provide hope and encourage others with your testimony.

    I have first hand experience of mental illness, depression being one of those. You are so on point that depression doesn’t always present in the manner most people would expect. Mental health disorders are increasingly on the rise and still not given the attention and resources they merit. I also suspect there is a huge percentage of “undiagnosed” cases in our society as well.

    God doesn’t always “heal” us but HE is there to get us through, ever at our side. I pray the stigma associated with mental illness will eventually fade away and become a thing of the past.

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    1. Thank you, Lilka, for your prayers, love and understanding.
      I think we all have preconceived notions about mental illness (as we do other things) and that’s what creates the stigma. And I believe those undiagnosed cases you refer to has a lot to do with people afraid to come forward due to that stigma of being labeled.

      I agree about God’s decision to heal or not heal, yet if He can use me as a messenger, I will be blessed as His vessel. And I know He always walks with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. What a brave woman you are, Susan! God bless you for coming out of the closet. May you find His Peace this day!!! (((HUGS))) Amy ❤

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    1. Thank you, Amy. It has begun as a peaceful and loving day. I appreciate your comment so very much. My heron is watching over me today. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now that I know your story, Susan, I am just so moved and humbled. You are a lot stronger then you know. 🙂 ❤

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      2. Oh, bless you my friend, and thank you. You have moved me to tears. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      3. ❤ (((HUGS))) ❤ Some of us are given crosses others could never carry, Susan. I understand. By the Grace of God we can and do anything!!! ❤

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  23. Insights into this mental illness helps us realize that our moods and emotions may not be because of “us” but because of “it”. Helps me to just get stubborn sometimes and not let “it” immobilize me.

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    1. Absolutely right, Carl, and great insight. It does take that resolve, that “stubbornness” to get us through sometimes. It’s a daily struggle, one most people don’t know about because it doesn’t show itself like a broken leg, but we still must carry it like a heavy cast.

      I hope this post informs family members and friends about these hidden illnesses.

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  24. BRAVE – And loving – And totally normal! More than normal – “considered and thought through normal”. Which is way more normal than my “normal”!

    And thank you – I am forwarding this to someone very special. Someone in whom I see al lot of this list – but someone who is my normal and just “struggles” unsuccessfully.

    ((hugs))

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    1. Oh, Paul, thank you so much.
      There are times when people hear the words “mental illness” and think weird and awful thoughts. Our disorder stems from a dysfunction of the brain – not simply a psychological or environmental disorder. If people understood it as an illness first, I think the stigma would be lessened, and lessons would be learned. We are not so different – and as you said, everyone has their own “normal.”
      Thank you again, and ((hugs)) back.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. happy birthday to you, i am so happy that you are still here, and finding your way through life. thank you for this gift that you’ve given us all today.

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    1. Bless you, Beth. Thank you for this supportive and loving comment. I am hoping it will help others who struggle with this illness.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Hello! I am bipolar two too and a believer. I find it difficult to put the two together but it seems you’ve made progress on that area. I’ve enjoyed your post a lot and see myself in it. I’m only 30, but it’s been a tough road. I’m glad I found you, it is so hard to find Christians who are willing to talk about their mental health issues. In fact you are one og two that I know of. To many more posts!

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    1. Charlotte, I’m glad you found me, too. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile mental health issues and being a believer because the church doesn’t often do a great job of addressing the issue.

      It’s extremely important to continue to develop your own, personal relationship with God. Spend time with Him every morning or evening and journal if you can. Definitely check into the links I’ve provided. And be sure you’re on the right medication and stay on it – it’s a lifelong journey. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Susan for your advice and encouragement.

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  27. Thank you, Susan, for making opening up and being vulnerable. I learned a lot from this blog. I have a friend who is bipolar, and he has a hard time explaining things to me. I am glad you have some control over this condition. I love your testimony about the how this blogging community has been a help to you.

    God has gifted you with the ability to write some beautiful things, and a heart for people. I am so glad we have connected here, and will most certainly keep you in my prayers. What an awesome God we serve!

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    1. Thank you so much, Pete. This is my community, my church, my family. It has taken me years to have the courage to reveal this. I have had the support and love from many; this and God’s unconditional love have allowed me to reveal this today.

      Liked by 1 person

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