It’s Week 7 of the Blogger Idol Play-at-Home links. I have not participated every week, primarily because no one would partner up with me for the interviews (yeah – that’s me, the lousy uncoordinated kid who was always picked last for gym class). At any rate, this week the assignment was to write about a secret you have that your readers don’t know about you yet. Blogger Idol is asking for a lot from its contestants this week, and most contestants are likely damning their bad luck that they don’t blog anonymously. This was challenging for me only because I’m not a terribly private person. I don’t keep a lot secret because I believe it’s incredibly important to share our stories. Through sharing, we help others to feel less alone, more courageous, more empathetic, and more self-accepting. Such are the aims of this post.
“So, tell me about your bipolar disorder,” she said, sitting there in her grey, swivel desk chair as I sat across from her in a plush, muted green armchair. It was such a vague question, and I simply didn’t know where to begin. How does one explain more than a decade of manic-depression to her new psychiatrist?
“Well …” I began, “I was first diagnosed about fifteen years ago. Initially, I was misdiagnosed with clinical depression. I was then placed on Prozac, which propelled me into a full manic episode.”
“Okay,” she nodded, while typing furiously away, attempting to document and diagnose my life all within the frame of one fifty minute session. It was a ludicrous practice in my opinion – this trying to fit people into little, labeled boxes and treat them as their illnesses, rather than individuals. “Well, what makes you say that? What were your symptoms?”
“It was textbook mania,” I stated, expecting her to accept my answer and move forward with her next inquiry.
“How do you mean?” she asked.
It was this question that resulted in the generation of my frustration, and my aggravation was further cultivated as the session proceeded. I then internally suspected her own education and training if she had indeed misunderstood my meaning. I had presumed she would most certainly be familiar with the classic textbook symptoms of mania, and thus clearly have understood without need for further uninvited probing.
“The most classic, common textbook indicators of mania, you know,” I replied, now silently praying please move on, please move on, please move on.
“Such as?” she urged me.
“Well …” I began rather reluctantly, “I had trouble sleeping. I had long bouts of insomnia. I was a binge drinker – a rather severe one. I had ulcers and I was taken to detox.” She nodded her head, typing even more rapidly as I continued speaking. Her physical presence and non-verbal cues prompted me to continue citing my symptoms. “I thought I was brilliant, sexy, and utterly indestructible. I skipped my courses, started failing, and convinced myself I didn’t give a damn because I was better than everyone around me anyway. I also lacked financial responsibility. I was purchasing items I already owned, and then just passing them out to my friends when I realized the error in duplicity.”
“Yes, yes,” she uttered, as though I were correctly confirming the questions to some exam about manic warning signs, as opposed to revealing shameful secrets of my past. I acknowledged that I ought not feel this shame. Does the asthmatic feel shame when he wheezes while running? Does the diabetic feel shame when her insulin levels go off course? Likewise, this information I now provided was akin to the arthritic suffering joint pain; my recklessness was directly correlated to a chronic condition.
I had said enough already, hadn’t I? She must most certainly be content with my admissions. Then she asked, “And?”
I said I was textbook manic. I had accurately confirmed a host of symptoms that the scholarly psychiatric world would most surely categorize as true to textbook mania. So, why was she yet prodding me? I’m sure she knew just what I wasn’t now saying, and I couldn’t understand why she was so insistent that I spill all my secrets. I’m manic depressive; I know my illness and I know my symptoms, and I also know that she was never going to “save me.” So, what was the point in saying it now?
“And … and I was highly promiscuous.” There was no one else in that room but the two of us, but I wanted to hide my face in mortifying disgrace as I added this one additional symptom to an already substantial list of perceived discrediting transgressions.
She then stopped typing and looked up at me, “Ah yes, you’re correct. That is textbook mania.”
What had she made me say those words for? Was it merely to confirm what I had already told her? I used those exact two words – textbook mania -- when she made her initial inquiry. Was admitting to every single symptom necessary simply to confirm that I too had a strong knowledge of her medical field? Did she desire assurance that I would provide her with my every confidence?
I couldn’t find the point in her making me say it. I was now married with two small children. I was monogamous and faithful to my spouse, and I had a strong support system surrounding me. I had informed my friends and family of all my personal indications of mania. We already had a plan, and I couldn’t understand how this admittance was critical to that plan. Perhaps she had me say this aloud so that I could have acknowledged what should have next come from her mouth – instead of this current frustration and silence.
She should have said that I shouldn’t be ashamed. She should have said that I am strong and courageous and those manic symptoms don’t have to define me. She should have told me that they’re not skeletons rattling around in my closet; rather, they’re true indicators of an illness as so recorded in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. She should have told me that I was never a slut; I was just sick. She should have told me that it was important to acknowledge all my symptoms out loud and that I should release the self-loathing associated with such words as they simultaneously fall from my mouth.
She didn’t say any of this though. That’s why, despite the intense indignity I felt in the small behavioral health office that day, I spill these secrets now. I want to tell each and every one of you what she failed to tell me then. Your supposed shameful secrets are actually medical symptoms. You are not a failure or a disappointment; you are not ignorant or irresponsible. You are strong and you are brave; you are fighting a battle that cannot be seen and is most often misunderstood. Stop your self-loathing right this very minute so that you can begin your healing. You are so much more than a set of textbook symptoms, so believe in the brilliant shine of your resilient spirit.