The other day I saw the new People magazine with Catherine Zeta-Jones on the cover, with the caption "I'm not ashamed, battling bipolar disorder" I was completely taken aback, Catherine Zeta-Jones has bipolar disorder?! But she's so pretty and put together! Then I had to quickly snap at myself, you of all people should not be judging people's struggles based on their appearance or facade of "looking put together" and my tone quickly changed to, "Catherine Zeta-Jones has bipolar disorder." But this time, with relief; Catherine Zeta-Jones, beautiful and put together, also struggles with something. I felt compelled to buy the magazine to read the article. I don't have bipolar disorder, nor do I know what it's like to have bipolar disorder, but I do know what it's like to live with a very debilitating condition. If you read some posts back you know that I have panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Now I know one is a mental illness (bipolar) and one is a behavioral condition (anxiety), though some could argue anxiety is a mental illness as well, but both are similar in the sense that they can both be life-altering and they both come with negative stigmas attached to them.
I was talking to one of my co-workers about Zeta-Jones' condition, and he hesitatingly goes, "...yeah, I don't know..." You know those times when people know exactly what they want to say but don't know IF they should say it so they end up just saying, "yeah....I don't know..." for 5 minutes? Finally I asked, "what? you don't think she has it?" He responds, "yeah, not really... I mean, anyone can say 'oh yeah I killed a bunch of people because I have bipolar disorder,' I think it's a scam, I think it's for publicity." and I stood there thinking, 'why on earth would anyone do this for publicity when it has such a negative connotation attached to it?' I didn't say anything back to him, I just did one of those, "hmm, maybe" type responses and dropped it. It's kind of like talking about a sunset to a blind person, you just can't explain it unless they've experienced it.
Then I realized that it's people like him, and people that have those sort of reactions, that made me so terrified to write out that post about my disorders, and why I kept it a secret for so long. I was so scared that someone was going to tell me I was making it up, or exaggerating, or doing it for attention, or that what I had didn't really exist. To people who have never experienced it, or had someone close to them experience it, you really don't understand. And it's easy to dismiss it and say they're just using it as an excuse, or exaggerating. In one sense, it's disheartening that they have such an unsympathetic view towards others' conditions, but on another, thank God they've never had to live through it. Good for them that they've never had to struggle with just living their day-to-day life and never had to worry when their next "episode" was going to be.
But while reading the article, Catherine was so positive and blunt about everything. The way she openly admitted to needing help, and then seeking it because she no longer wanted to "silently suffer" is brave and inspiring. But the best part of the whole article was when she says,
"'This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them,' she tells People in a statement. 'If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.' ...'She felt like, 'Why wouldn't I say it? It's the truth,' says a close friend... 'There is some weird taboo about this. But she's like, 'If I had diabetes, I would say I had diabetes and I would get treatment for it.'"
I love that. I love that she proudly says there is no shame in seeking help and why wouldn't she say it? If it were anything else, it would be accepted, but since it's a mental illness, it should be kept a secret. Why? There is no reason to be ashamed. We have come so far with medicine and science and understanding illnesses and disorders, why is it so hard to accept that people HAVE these disorders? We aren't living in the ages where people with mental and behavioral disorders get treated with lobotomies and electro-shock therapy and get sent off to mental institutions never to be seen again because there condition wasn't understood. There is medicine and therapy and successful treatment where people who suffer from this can live a normal life just like everyone else.
I just felt compelled to write this post and share my feelings on the subject. I think my co-worker just kind of put things in perspective of how "outsiders" see mental and behavioral disorders. And how people who are dealing with those things shouldn't let people invalidate the realness and magnitude of their condition. Not everyone in this world is going to be accepting and supportive of things, but just know that there ARE accepting and supportive people out there and to not be discouraged to seek help and to get treatment. Everyone's battle is different. That's my two cents. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.