Making the decision to disclose your diagnosis can be quite challenging. There are lots of things to consider. Can I trust this person to keep this information private? Will they be disappointed? Will they be supportive? Will they treat me differently? This decision can be made even more difficult when it is made about professional relationships. On one hand being honest and open about your diagnosis can make work a safer place to be…If you are surrounded by the right people. On the other hand being open about your diagnosis in the workplace can lead to discrimination when it comes to employment and promotions.
In one of my older posts I discussed how I left a job largely because it was not a good environment for my mental health. The hours were crap, the job stressful, but above all else I was put in a position were my boss did not take my diagnosis or mental illness seriously (and wouldn’t give me paid leave for my mental illness). So I left. In other circumstances I have missed out on jobs because of my mental illness. I remember once, it was down to myself and one other person for a job, and they asked about health problems that might be relevant (something they actually are not allowed to ask I’ve since found out). I tend to be a pretty straight shooter. I regard myself as an open book. So I disclosed. I saw the panels faces change immediately. They went from polite smiles to revulsion and terror at the very second I uttered the word ‘Bipolar’. It felt awful and I wasn’t at all surprised when I didn’t get the job.
You might be wondering why I am such an open book despite these shitty experiences. True, I have lost both personal relationships and professional opportunities due to negative reactions to my diagnoses. But I try to put a positive spin on things. On my Instagram I have talked about disclosing my diagnosis as a litmus test. Your reaction to my disclosure gives me a clear idea of whether or not you are the kind of person I want to associate with. For instance, when I saw that interview panel freak out when I said I was Bipolar, as much as it hurt, I instantly knew I didn’t want to work for them. They weren’t people I wanted to permit in my circle. It goes the same in personal relationships. If you have an averse reaction when you hear about my mental illness, you’ll start hearing from me less. I wont attack you or declare our relationship over but it will be (you just might not notice straight away).
The other reason I pursue being open with my diagnosis despite stigmatising reactions is that I genuinely believe if it important for my safety. With my history of anorexia I can still sometimes succumb to the temptation of skipping meals. The more people who know about this the better. If my friends or coworkers are aware I have struggled with an eating disorder in the past they make sure to encourage me to eat (gently) in times of stress and know to avoid making comments about my body. In the case of my Bipolar and PTSD I can act quite erratically and can have sudden shifts in moods. If people are aware of my diagnoses they can look out for my triggers and check in on me to make sure everything is square. Disclosing my diagnosis to those around me makes me feel less alone in managing my condition. As though it is a team effort.
Overall I feel the benefits of disclosing my diagnosis have far outweighed the negatives. Yes, it can be challenging but there is serious value in learning who you can rely on and allowing those people to help. Being open and honest with my diagnosis has also lead me to many positive changes in my life. My advocacy roles would never have emerged if I hadn’t been my true authentic self around the people who had the power and structures behind them to lift my voice up. I think that is the most awesome part about being open with your diagnosis, being able to relax and be your full self around the people you care about.
With all this being said, don’t feel pressure to disclose just because of what I have said. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and it is perfectly okay to struggle in trusting others and opening up. Sometimes we just don’t have the energy or the spoons to have that conversation. And it doesn’t make you a bad or dishonest person. Only disclose to people if you are good and ready. For me, I’m often criticised for talking about my mental illnesses too much. For you, that might look like telling just one person you really trust and value. Or anything in the middle. I can only speak from my experience and in my experience disclosure has generally been an extremely positive force in my life.