A tale of two diseases
I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). I am also bipolar.
Now which of the above statements shocked/ surprised you more? If I am guessing correctly the latter statement about my being bipolar came across as more of a shock/ surprise/ concern. Now what does that say about your own reactions to mental illness and your own involvement in perpetuating the stigma against mental illness?
Both of the above are chronic diseases to an extent. My OSA (snoring in popular parlance) cannot be treated by surgery, so the only viable option I have is to use a CPAP machine while sleeping to get a good night’s sleep. Bipolar disorder as we all know can only be contained, and I take my medicines regularly to ensure that there are no relapse into either a manic or a depressive episode.
Both, if un-diagnosed and untreated can cause havoc. OSA which was un-diagnosed/ untreated for about a couple of years or so in my case led to excessive daytime drowsiness, less alertness and lowered productively etc; if untreated OSA can cause increased risk of injury to self and others while driving as you may actually get into micro sleeps while driving. Even if not that dramatic, on a daily basis the quality of your sleep and waking life can become very diminished. The downsides of having a manic or depressive episodes are well known- at least to readers of this blog. However, what may be less well known is that even in the throes of psychotic extremes, the risk to others from violence by bipolar people is very little and if anything they may be subjected to violence than otherwise.
When treated, that is when I use my CPAP machine regularly I have no problems at all due to my OSA either in my work life or in my personal life – I am as refreshed in morning as ever. Rather I believe I might be getting better sleep than the average person. When treated, that is when I regularly use medicine, and take other precautions like having regular sleep cycles etc for my bipolar, I am totally episode free- rather I believe I have an advantage when it comes to managing my energy and mood.
However, given all the above, which disclosure do you think has drastically lowered my chances of employment (if I was seeking employment, which I am thankfully not:-)); which disclosure would have led to discrimination in the workplace or at least got me some amused and funny looks? About which of these are my friends and acquaintances likely to gossip more? Why as a society we are still not that accepting of mental illness and stigmatize those who have it?
Some immediate consequences I can think of:
- readers of The Mouse Trap will no longer take my interest in psychology as non-partisan. They will think of me as being interested in psychology only due to my being bipolar (to set the record straight I became interested in psychology in 1996 during my IIT delhi days, while my first episode happened while I worked with Hughes in 2001). Also when I take a position like association of biploar with creativity, I will be considered biased; however nobody will say that a ‘normal’ person advocating otherwise is biased due to his being ‘normal’.
- Some will start to see signs of craziness in my old/ new posts and wonder whether when I was writing them I was in a normal frame of mind or episodic. Its usually my style to try and combine seemingly disparate research ideas and that is especially prone to this analysis.
- I will start getting sympathy, but like anyone living with say OSA or diabetes etc I think one should just ignore the fact about my being bipolar and not let it redefine my relationship with you. I am much more than a person with bipolar or OSA, and I prefer it that way.
- there will be some embarrassment for my near and dear ones.
Why did I not disclose for so many years?
- because I feared discrimination (and funny looks) at the workplace. It might have been imaginary but I was not strong enough to experiment. Now that I am self employed the stakes are much lower and I don’t care.
- I myself was grappling with my being bipolar. For initial some years it was hard to accept; later I struggled with accepting medication as necessary ; but now for quite some years I am at peace and thankfully episode free.
- As I believe it never affected adversely my performance at work , I did not deemed it necessary to inform my employers etc as I thought ,and still think, its none of their business.
Why did I decide to disclose publicly about this?
- I have no delusions (pun intended) that I am Deepika Padukone that my talking about a mental health issue is going to raise awareness drastically; still I want to do my bit to fight stigma and the journey starts with oneself. I had a decent career in software despite my being biploar and being biploar hasn’t stopped me from taking risks and experimenting with a second career; hopefully that can inspire or provide mental support to a person or two.
- Some immediate triggers- a mouse trap reader on facebook privately messaged me asking if I only have theoretical knowledge about psychosis etc or if I had some personal experiences too. I think it was a legitimate question that deserves a legitimate answer.
- Another immediate trigger- I came across a tweet by https://twitter.com/akhileshlinky about his year end ‘confession’ about being bipolar and I though heck why not ‘come out’ yourself.
- but really, it doesn’t matter to me one way or other – the only upside of sharing more publicly is that it can help combat stigma.
What I expect from you?
- don’t define me exclusively as being biploar.
- reflect on your own attitudes about mental illness and try to overcome that implicit bias
- resist discrimination and stigma
Lastly, thanks are due to my family and friends who have been prone to this ‘secret’ over the years and who have provided the necessary support and encouragement.
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