Friday, June 30, 2006

The Kiss of Death

So, who do you tell about your disorder? And when?

I don't have a good answer for that because even though I tend to be quite up front about it, there are times when less is more and I don't disclose.

At least, not right away. And perhaps in dribs and drabs. Or maybe never.

When you've finally found out that you're bipolar, it's often such a relief to know that your behavior is to some degree quantifiable that you really want to tell everyone. "Hey, remember the time I spent $5,000 on diamond hairclips? Well, now I know why!"

I generally have a pretty good sense of who I can trust to understand. But I certainly don't wear my disorder on my sleeve for everyone to see.

For example, my boss, who is a wonderful person and someone who I consider a friend, knows, even though I've known her for a short time. She's a diabetic and understands that manic depression, like diabetes, is an imbalance. In the short time she's known me, she knows that I am a damned good editor and writer, that she can depend on me to get the job done, and that I never whine when the going gets tough.

My last boss, who was a clueless dork, never got it, even when I was grimly hanging onto my job during a particularly bad siege of side effects. He simply did not understand that medication could cause me to lose my sharpness and could not accept that I missed details due to a reaction to an increase in dosage. He just thought I didn't give a shit. When I finally explained to him that I took this medicine because I had a chemical imbalance and that I was manic depressive, all the good work I had done was worth nothing to him. He only cared that he wasn't getting what he wanted, not that I was struggling.

But bosses notwithstanding, there are other people with whom you may want to be careful. If you're single and dating, do you tell the boyfriend or girlfriend? That really depends on where you are in the relationship. If you've been dating only a very short time, say a couple of months, I'd say hold off until you know if it's solid enough.

Sooner or later, you have to say something, though. And it's taking a huge chance because you just don't know how people will react, really. My feeling has always been, if he doesn't like it, he wasn't worth it anyway.

However, understand this--people who do not have any mental health problems often do not know how to handle us when we're careening over the edge, be it with mania or depression. Erratic behavior, constant crises, anger issues and all the other baggage that comes with manic depression can be extraordinarily wearing on the other person. I know that in the 32 years I was married, I often drove my late husband, the epitome of patience, right to the brink before I was diagnosed and medicated. But we worked through it together and he developed an amazing understanding of the disorder for someone who never had a screwy day in his life. But he was the exception rather than the rule.

So weigh your odds carefully. Be honest when you can but don't spill the beans before you know the terrain.

1 comment:

Christina said...

I have attended a Catholic university for five years, and for the past two years struggled with major depression; I've been hospitalized twice. Now that I am finally getting my disease under control and my life back in order, I was told by my dean that I am to be dismissed from the Education programme because a person with depression is not fit to teach because I could endanger children.