For World Mental Health Day (WHMD) and as part of our Men’s Wellbeing Matters campaign, Chris, one of our clients, supporters and regular blog contributors, shares his journey of acceptance of his Bipolar Disorder and fighting self-stigma.
“I’ve just come from recording a wellbeing podcast where I was the guest talking about my lived experience of mental health, bipolar and anxiety specifically which will soon by published internally where I work. I’ve now also recorded two interviews for the Mary Frances Trust Wellbeing Hour on Surrey Hills Community Radio (one for the Men’s Wellbeing Matters campaign, and the other on my practice of journaling). And, this is my fourth blog for the news section of the website. All of these things are massive deals on my journey towards internal and external acceptance of mental health being part of my life and no longer wishing to hide from it. I don’t think that I could have ever imagined that I would have been able to have achieved this a year ago. It’s one thing being open and honest with friends and colleagues on a one-to-one basis when you know and trust who you’re talking to, can see the reaction and adjust the storytelling to suit. With blogs, I’ve been able to keep a low profile by publishing under my first name only, but with an audio recording there’s no way of escaping who I am, particularly with people I know who will simply be able to recognise my voice.
Even after living with a diagnosis of Bipolar for 18 years, I’ve always struggled to accept it. I remember after my first episode I just went back to living as I did before, trying to ignore my past. It was no surprise that I had another incident two years later and other three years after that. It hit home that I was stuck with this condition and I realised I needed to live sympathetically with it and I made some adjustments to my life. This worked well and I had 11 years with only a few blips but without significant issue. However, I still held significant internalised stigma. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, ask for help when I needed it or accept the condition as part of me. I had felt before that I would be judged by opening up about my condition.
Acceptance is not passive resignation to how life is. It’s the recognition that the only way to positively impact the future is to face the truth of what is here right now – Cory Muscara
Following my illness in 2020, I was determined that this time some ‘good’ would come from my experience. The coronavirus pandemic has opened up a big conversation about mental health with more people being affected than ever before. I’ve now decided that I want to be part of that conversation and furthermore be proud of doing so. I also decided I wasn’t going to lie to anyone about what had happened over the year and be open with my colleagues about why I’d taken a prolonged period off work. This was quite scary at first, but I did it on a one-to-one basis starting with colleagues I knew well and trusted. Yet, despite my fears the conversations went well and my colleagues were curious, supportive and grateful that I’d chosen to open up to them.
My conversations with colleagues inspired me to share my experience more widely and I started writing a series of blogs for Mary Frances Trust. Writing these blogs has felt like a coming out experience. I have used writing through journaling for some time to get my thoughts together, to process them and make sense of my life experience. Doing this has helped me ‘make my mind up’ about how I feel about my experiences and has made me much more comfortable about talking about my condition without feeling ‘shameful’ for who I am. Publishing some of my thinking as blogs was the natural next step. However, even after sharing my story in blogs online I was still holding back from complete internal and external acceptance. For example, I have been asking a colleague to share links to my blogs from my company’s Yammer site (like Facebook, but internal for big companies). I simply wasn’t comfortable in linking my full name with them, even just inside the company. But, by taking to podcasts and to the air this has all now changed.
Speaking openly about my mental health in the form of blogs, podcasts and also interviews on the radio has made me feel empowered over my condition. I feel that I’m no longer hiding from it, frightened by it and importantly I don’t feel weak or shameful for being someone who has experienced mental health difficulties. This has built my confidence and I’m no longer afraid to ask for help when I need it, set boundaries and prioritise ‘me’ when I need to. I feel, at last, that I can now be my true authentic self.
Having listened back to the radio and podcast recordings, I feel very proud of how I have spoken about my experiences. I hope by doing so that it may give others the confidence to get past their own fears from seeking help or opening up. Just like me, try to start with just one person at a time.
Being able to accept my diagnosis has been hugely powerful for me. My primary piece of advice for anyone struggling with their mental health is firstly to try to accept their diagnosis themselves – or at least recognise and accept that there’s ‘something’ that needs addressing for you to improve your state of wellbeing. I didn’t have this maturity when I was first diagnosed 18 years ago and hence I had subsequent relapses in quick succession. My long journey towards acceptance was made easier by learning from others that have gone before me. So why don’t you try sharing your mental health or wellbeing story with just one person, or try writing a blog about your own experience? It could be the start of a whole new you!”
You can read Chris’ blogs:
You can listen to Chris’ interviews on our radio show, The Wellbeing Hour:
Want to write a blog for us?
We’re always keen to share mental health stories or give a platform to anyone wanting to share thoughts and educate others about mental health or wellbeing. If you’d like to write a blog or create a video blog for us, you don’t have to be an expert at it, we can coach you through it! Just get in touch at email@example.com