Written by Caroline Sarkozi.
Art by Kaia Naadira.
Writing this article, and writing it truthfully, means putting my reputation on the line.
Luckily, I’ve always inhabited environments where disclosing I’m queer is safe. At my liberal arts college, I would even go as far as to say it was almost a status booster in certain crowds, coming out to my family happened swiftly and early, and in the professional projects I tend to occupy (read: working with artists), I knew I’d never have anything to worry about. Quite frankly, at the end of the day, who I date and/or am sexually involved with doesn’t need to come up if I don’t want it to.
The label hangs over my head in every new interaction.
Disclosing that I’m Bipolar is another story.
The label hangs over my head in every new interaction. On first dates, I’d either try to slide it into the conversation naturally when telling a funny tale of my mishaps with SSRIs — relatable to the men I was usually seeing — or I’d wait until we were intoxicated and nervously bring it up, feeling like a full-on liability.
When searching for a new roommate, I feared disclosing this information, worrying it would make me an unsuitable cohabitant. In new friendships, I worry about having to explain how I can throw myself out there and be the “wild” friend for months, someone who can endlessly give, and then transform into someone unrecognizable. And as I apply for a new job, five or so tabs are open right now on my computer, I worry about ultimately having to disclose this information to a new employer.
This isn’t unfounded. I reflect on my most “conventional job experience” and the conversation where my supervisor forced me to disclose my diagnosis as an explanation for why I had so much energy when they hired me, but when the schedule became less regular, my zest disappeared. The “I knew it” look of accomplishment on his face stuck with me, as if he had outsmarted the rest of the team when they were talking about me. Now, I can be dialectal about the experience, honestly, and see why that was confusing for them. It was confusing for me, but like any new experience with Bipolar, I often don’t realize it is a symptom until it happens. I can also say, and rightfully so, that no one should be forced to disclose their mental health diagnosis.
My eyes widened and my heart spilled out for her, how tough it must be to have a mother who has that.
People make judgments when they hear someone is Bipolar and I know this because, at one point, I was one of those people. I so vividly remember hanging out with a girl in early high school and asking her about her mother, who lived separately and in Europe. The girl told me that her mother struggled with Bipolar. My eyes widened and my heart spilled out for her, how tough it must be to have a mother who has that.
We can thank movies like Midsommar for this. We can also thank the news coverage of Kanye’s twitter rants, most high school’s “Health Class”, and the drunk girls at the party calling a friend “Bipolar” when they actually mean “unpredictable,” while we’re at it. Love it when my mental illness is villainized, romanticized, and sensationalized to a plot point.
And I didn’t feel this way about my mental health back when my diagnosis was simply “Anxiety and Depression”. Nor did I feel this way when I swiftly exited an abusive relationship and was diagnosed with short-term PTSD. I shared the information plain and simple, others easily empathized and comforted me with similar experiences. I wrote a lot of bad poetry about all this for my advanced poetry class in college.
My diagnosis came to me as a celebration; a gift of finally understanding myself.
If my ex-coworkers’ Millennial pink “Even My Anxiety Has Anxiety” sticker has taught me anything, it is that there is some distance between how we view someone with Bipolar and how we view someone with anxiety. Imagine having a sticker that said “Even My Bipolar Has Bipolar.” I can guarantee there is no Millennial pink sticker like that available. Upon Googling, my favorite sticker has been “ :): Bipolar” in the most boring font, and obviously in black and white. Let me tell you, there is definitely some different energy behind that sticker.
So obviously we know why there is this lapse in empathy, but what if there wasn’t?
Besides the obvious benefit of me not having to have this heavy weight on my shoulders, worrying about having to reveal this aspect of myself to everyone, it would truly be beneficial for everyone else as well.
I will always be a better friend, a better employee, a better roommate, if I can be transparent about what is going on.
My diagnosis came to me personally as a celebration; a gift of finally understanding myself and why things have been how they are. I felt so much comfort from the label and the paradigm shift that came along with it. I want others to join in with this celebration.
There are things I’m capable of because I am Bipolar: my relentless dedication in friendships, the nuances of my creative projects, the level stamina and energy I can reach when I’m dedicated to a task. I want to play to these strengths without worrying they will be overshadowed by the possibility of more negative symptoms. At the end of the day, I will always be a better friend, a better employee, a better roommate, if I can be transparent about what is going on, without fear of repercussions.
How do we get there? To quote the name of the bar in Bojack Horseman, “Eliphino” (Read: “Hell, if I know”). But perhaps questioning this lapse and realizing biases, we can somehow come to a more dialectical stance on a Bipolar diagnosis.
About the Author
Caroline Sarkozi (she/her) is a freelance writer, theater director, and tarot reader living in Brooklyn. She loves advocating for DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and presenting powerpoint in non-professional environments. She recently threw her cat, Apollo, a “Cat Mitzvah”. Read more at www.carolinesarkozi.com.