Having an invisible disability is both a blessing and a curse. I like the fact that on the outside I appear "normal', so for the most part I get all the opportunities that any other 27 year old white woman would be granted. I consider it a curse because 1)my disorder can cause me to totally screw up said opportunities, like the great college disaster of 2000, and 2) the "oh" factor.
Although I am not ashamed of my bipolar diagnosis, I tend not to wave it around like a flag because...I just don't see the point. I've never been one to rush up to a group of strangers and say "Hi, I'm Sandi, AND BIPOLAR!!!" - because really, what sort of weirdo acts like that? Unless mental illness comes up in conversation, or a situation presents itself where I feel the need to disclose, I just keep it to myself. The "Oh" factor is what I call the reaction when people find out that me, the 27 year old "normal gir,l" has bipolar disorder.
I used to find it almost funny, but it has become more and more annoying lately. One of the most infuriating times was during my pregnancy with my oldest daughter. Early on in my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with "hyperemesis", which is a fancy term for "you puke all the fucking time and hope for death." All day, every day, I was curled up on the bathroom floor vomiting out my mouth and nose or too nauseated to function. As this is extremely unhealthy, I brought it up at my first OB appointment. Rather, I TRIED to bring it up at my appointment...
During the list of intrusive health questions the nurse was asking me, I discolsed I was bipolar as she asked me if I had any mental health history. The second "bipolar" came out of my mouth she sad "Oh", and then looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted wings and was flying around the room breathing fire. The rest of our conversation turned into her dramatically explaining the importance of psychiatric care, and hammering into me how important it was that I informed my OB about my diagnosis. I agreed, and waited until I was called in to see the Dr.
I was in with the Dr just long enough to change into my lovely paper gown and introduce myself when the door comes flying open and the nurse announces "DID SHE TELL YOU SHE'S BIPOLAR?!?" No, I hadn't, but I hadn't actually made it through my "hello." I then got the "Oh!" response from my doctor, who also began to look at me like I had just eaten a puppy. It was obvious from here on in that nobody was going to give a shit about my constant vomiting. And I was right!
Fast forward two days, and I'm in the ER, totally dehydrated from *drumroll*...vomiting. Nobody saw this coming, right? LUCKY FOR ME, the nosy nurse was working that night, so the first question I got to answer was "DID YOU KEEP YOUR PSYCH APPOINTMENT?!" Here I am, shaking and about to pass out while throwing up blood everywhere, and she is concerned with a psych appointment. Oh, ok... And I vomiting because I'm insane? Is it hallucinated puke? Fun stuff, let me tell you.
It also happens with friends and in relationships. You get annoyed? IT'S BECAUSE YOU ARE INSANE. You are crying? INSANE. You raise your voice? INSANE. Getting annoyed that your fiance just dumped a Coke in the center of the brand new bedroom carpeting has nothing to do with the fact that he is a slob, and everything to do with the fact that you are INSAAAAAAAAAANE!! Bipolar disorder seems to give other people license to act however they want, and treat you however they want, because if anything happens or if you don't like it, they can just call you crazy and they are miraculously absolved from any personal responsibility. The best part is that if *I* blamed everyone else for my issues, they'd call THAT "insane," too. Ya just can't win!
I am currently dealing with the "oh!" factor at work, which has me seeing a new job. Due to medication issues I needed time off, and I disclosed my bipolar diagnosis to my boss because I wanted to be honest and as she is a recovering addict I thought she'd be sympathetic. I THOUGHT WRONG! Every issue I have with anything, from misplacing a stapler to misunderstanding a question is now met with "I don't know if it's your medication or something but..." and "I don't know if this is something you need to talk to your doctor about, but"...
Lovely. Just lovely. My stressful job is now OH SO MUCH BETTER when I'm being talked to like an insane infant.
It's a hard thing to deal with. Disclose your diagnosis and get treated like Godzilla, or keep it to yourself and feel alone.