Sharing your bipolar diagnosis can be emotional and challenging. However, bipolar disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you are proactive about starting the conversation, you will set a positive tone, whether you are breaking the news to a family member, your boss, or even a new love interest. There are many reasons you should be open about bipolar disorder. “If patients carry their diagnosis around as a secret, it becomes a burden and they may feel even worried and alarmed that people are going to find out,” says psychiatrist Daniel Wilson, MD. Sharing can lighten your emotional load. Once you have decided that it is time to tell others about your bipolar disorder, planning the conversation can be challenging. Here is a step by step guide to help:
- Pick a calm moment: Many times, this conversation is forced by a crisis. “It’s better to have the conversation when the person is feeling well,” Wilson says. Share your diagnosis before another episode requires your immediate response. If you are able to choose the location, pick a place where you feel comfortable and one that gives you and everyone involved privacy.
- Practice: Make a trial run of your conversation by practicing it with your therapist or a friend who already knows.
- Fine-tune for your audience: Your exact words will be different if you are talking to a family member, a co-worker or a romantic partner, so make sure to plan accordingly.
- Be a teacher: There is a very good chance that the person you are talking to doesn’t know much about bipolar disorder. Come prepared with helpful information for them. Bring some pamphlets or contact information for a support group that you think would help them.
- Shut out stigma: You may be able to help your loved one better understand the implications of your diagnosis if you use a disease analogy. “I like to compare it to an overactive thyroid,” says Wilson. “Clearly you want to treat that condition.”
- Make Amends: If it is appropriate, you may want to acknowledge damage done by any past behavior that was caused by your bipolar symptoms.
- Give them time: People handle situations differently. Some are very open and flexible, while others can have a hard time digesting your news. “It’s often helpful to have a cooling-off period, letting people go their own way for a while,” says Wilson.
- Accept their responses: Sharing your diagnosis may leave you feeling vulnerable and unfortunately, not everyone will respond the way you wish they would. If you are upset about the response that your sharing received, talk with your therapist.