To be or not to be: professional or consumer?

**there is now a page with a collection of posts on: About having been both a mental health professional and a psych patient

To be or not to be: professional or consumer?

This post started as a comment in the last thread, so some of you may have read the beginning of it, but I go much deeper into the issues it touched for me here.

I had a sobering experience the other day which makes me wonder about how I will proceed when I move on with my career. I was not “out” when I practiced social work and I was highly regarded and respected in general. The one instance where I did out myself I was treated like crap and badly.

The other day I made a comment on a blog of someones who is very well known in the internet world as a “bipolar expert” but this person themselves is a consumer who is also pro-pharma and in general in tight with the pharma hos that control this world.

Without forethought I left a comment on a post I took umbrage with. I chose not to use my pseudonym, but used my real name instead. I had never left a comment there so I was not doing anything to intentionally mislead and I didn’t even know when I started the conversation that I was going to pull the “professional” card which I do from time to time in any case under my pseudonym, but that is generally overshadowed by my identification as a consumer.

In the first comment made to this blog author I did not mention my professional history nor my “consumer” status. We got into a discussion with me arguing my point.

At one point I told this person, “in my experience as professional social worker…blah blah blah…” I might add we were talking about a population of “consumer’ of which I am not a part, so in essence I could only speak about the people the person was talking about as a professional as I don’t have personal experience with the issue that was at hand. So in that regard I would have presented myself in this manner, in any context, with or without my pseudonym or my consumer status.

Do you know what this person did?? They went back and CHANGED their post based on my speaking as a professional…had I had my pseudonym and my website attached to my name no such thing would have occurred.

It sickened and saddened me profoundly. I am so tired of putting my heart out on the line and being ignored as the expert consumer that I am.

And it frightened me too because it dawned on me for my own sense of sanity it would be much easier to speak from the closet with my knowledge of being a consumer, but AS the professional that I also am.

Part of doing this blog was about reclaiming myself. I spent 12 years as a social worker who did not reveal to most of the people I worked with my diagnosis. I was actually highly respected and my knowledge, collected mostly by personal experience was recognized, though not understood. They simply thought I was a thorough social worker with a passion for psychiatry. I never got a masters, so I dealt with a bit of an insecurity, but it was only mine. I was never hired for BA level jobs. From the very beginning (after doing volunteer work in the field) I figured out how to write a cover letter and ace an interview and get the coveted MA level jobs. All my colleagues were MSWs and LCSWs and licensed psychologists and psychiatrists. Once I got the job, people forgot about my formal education and instead saw how I contributed and how much I knew—most often a lot more then they did.

Oh, most interestingly, I had the ears of psychiatrists at my last job. They used to ask me for advice on treatment!! I was not as skeptical about the role of drugs as I am now, but I certainly advocated hard for my clients when they had bad side-effects and often got their cocktails changed accordingly and the docs realized I actually knew their patients better then they did. I spent hours with them after all to each 15 minutes they spent with them. I also supported people who refused meds and helped them manage to get what they want. Docs fucking listened to me and took my advice about treatment strategies…but again, they thought me unlabeled and therefore, clean.

Frankly I don’t know how I will reenter the professional world…I’m sick of not being taken seriously, but up until recently I assumed I would reenter identified as a consumer along with my professional experience.  At this moment I don’t know if I have what it takes to deal with the bigotry in mental health circles no matter how enlightened.

I’m also now part of various “professional” email groups with the name Gianna Kali and my consumer status written into my signature in my emails.  The holistic psychiatry group is horrifyingly silent when I share. They still suffer from much of the same crap the ordinary psychiatrists suffer from…not every one of them, but a large number and they, through their silence discredit me routinely—clearly showing they place no value on my knowledge and insight. It’s a constant reminder that if I go out into the world as I’ve done on this blog but instead be among professionals I will be judged in the workplace.

Mind you, I am not a different person. I WAS respected when I was in the closet, and now out of the closet wearing my consumer badge, I’m routinely NOT respected.

The other professional group is much more welcoming and they are mostly psychologists and in fact published me in their journal…but they have a lot of people like us in their ranks…labeled people who have recovered and gotten professional degrees.

Anyway…I’ve thought about reverting to my real name in some circles on the internet and starting to post as a professional, but that may also screw with my head too much. I truly am that professional but my personal experience informs my judgment in large part and damn it, I don’t want to hide again, but I’m also tired of being hurt and ignored by people who think they treat us like real human beings….and are completely blind to their hypocrisy when they blithely dismiss what we say and don’t even realize it or so easily rationalize their poor judgment that it’s not even noticed.

When I spoke as a professional on that blog I spoke with the same voice I use every day in my writing. The only thing that was different was the persons perception of who was behind the words.

Fuck prejudice and bigotry and that is what we are up against when we present as expert consumers.

My husband was kind of rough on me when I told him I thought I would go back in the closet for professional reasons. He said that does nothing to help dispel the stigma. And in some ways he is right. But is it my job to take an emotional beating each time I’m not taken seriously because I have a label? Can I not take the “consumer” point of view and nail it into people’s heads with my “professional” hat on?

I know that I will have to resolve this issue and most likely I wouldn’t be able to live in the closet again. But being that I’m tired of being bruised and beaten I can’t help but fantasize about being in a position of power and authority again where people don’t hesitate to listen to my point of view because as far as they know I’m a “sane” person. And gosh, if I’m one of them slamming their ugly attitudes about the people they treat, might I not accomplish something more? I don’t know.

Have at it in the comments. Tell me I’m full of shit to even consider going back in the closet.

I realize I may be thinking to much inside the box. Perhaps there is a place for me helping those of us that are labeled, but far, far away from the myriads of hypocrites in the field.

**there is now a page with a collection of posts on: About having been both a mental health professional and a psych patient

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

46 Responses

  1. Gianna,

    As I see it…..in its simplest terms, you’re in this dilemma for one reason –

    The mental health field (at-large) does not believe in recovery…..

    There are some exceptions….But, if there was a real knowledge and understanding of recovery, you would not be struggling with this….

    Symptoms of the past would be seen and recognized as “symptoms of the past”….

    Whether you decided to go into the closet, come out of the closet….stay in, or stay out….would be moot –

    Who would care? You would be seen for who you are today….and, taken for who you are today….

    ….We have ave a long way to go, huh?

    Duane

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  2. Gianna,

    If it were me…i would not tell anyone…should you decide to get back into social work…really….

    I have my real name on my site…..and comments everywhere…..it weighs heavy on me –

    As a dad….as a professional…in lots of ways….

    In many way, it’s not worth it –

    Duane

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  3. Gianna,

    It SHOULD not make a difference. But it does. I have lost a number of jobs for being an out-front Pagan, even some that hired me KNOWING that fact. I am currently supposed to be signed up for a class on Peer Support Tech, but everyone knows how I feel about drugs, and I have not heard back from them. The classes start in January, I should know soon whether I’m welcome or not.

    Still, you can’t do anything without being true to yourself. I’d rather miss an opportunity than be scandalized later.

    Hugs,
    Moss

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  4. I am a member of Icarus and caught your post there that led me to here. I just finished with many posts about being bipolar and the work place. I too am a professional in the mental health field as a therapist for special needs kids.

    Here’s the thing for me- I have always started out in jobs with people knowing nothing…I would prove my knowledge and skill first and then people would find out about my disorder (I’m bipolar and adhd). I was not able to keep it secret because eventually for a number of years my illness impacted me as I took time off to go to hospitals about every six months.

    Eventually I got too sick to work and was down and out for about a year and a half. I even moved away to live with a parent. When I finally moved back to Virginia…my career was in shambles. I had worked for several agencies that serviced kids with autism and most knew about my break down and I knew that I could not work there anymore. Eventually I broke out and moved across the country to Arizona so I could start fresh where no one knew my name or my past. People on the east coast could also more easily find out about me because I had been interviewed for TV a few times and was a rising star in the advocacy field (before my break down).

    In Arizona things changed- I got off all the meds and changed my life style habits. I worked an easy day care job the first few months and then finally worked my way back to treating kids with autism. I did not tell my job about my past- they were happy to have me (thanks to a great resume and kick ass interview and a few references that were still good). I proved myself first- within the first month I became a star at the company- I am still a few credits shy of my bachelors, yet I had master level speech therapists and occupational therapists plus the clinical directors coming to me for advice- I was known as the child whisperer for taking the hardest children and literally transforming them in weeks.

    Then the time came that I had to reveal parts of my past because they caught up to me here (that’s a longer story). Things changed a little bit. I know they saw me in a somewhat different light- I wasn’t just the therapist who had unlimited energy but then they wondered if my moods were changing blah blah blah. My boss found out I wasn’t exactly going the medication route and we talked about it, so I took that as an opportunity to inform her- I copied the Icarus mission statement and other educaitonal information to educate her. Sometimes I opened up about my past.

    But still, it really sucked to constantly think of them thinking that I was somehow less because I had this illness. Was I professional or consumer and how can you merge both. Certianly part of the reason I was so damn good was because I understood these kids in a way that someone who is not touched by madness never could. I get it, I get that world.

    And then the time came when I became a little manic and it was apparent to management- hence my string of posts on icarus. It was good and bad that management knew of my bipolar before hand. I was a bitch for a month and it was because I was manic. And when I came down from the mania and talked to them and apologized and took responsibility it was okay. But I know it’s hard for them to understand my moods and my productivity changes as a result. But they are working with me to understand my limits.

    There have been times I wish they hadn’t known, but I have to say…overall it’s been good because I did prove myself first. And most people now at the center who know me, know that I have bipolar and that hasn’t changed their opinion of me. But that’s also because of where I work- it truly is an amazing place and most people are not that judgmental. My boss took me to an ER one day personally when a medication I took had terrible physical and mental side effects (long story, but that was the last time I took medication period). And she was okay with the whole situation. The place I work is called L.I.F.E so the name kinda says it all lol.

    But I guess what it came down to was that I was helping the children in incredible ways and helping train the staff too to understand my perspective and how it helps the children. And at my work it comes down to the kids and what is best for them, so as long as my bipolar illness does not interfere with the overall benefit of the kids, then it’s okay. I think it helps that I am damn good at what I do lol. I know it would probably be a whole different story if I was just medicore at my job or not very good.

    That sucks on another level- I know people started out liking me because of what I could do with the kids and people are more likely to put up with any mood I may find myself in. But at the same time, I am not that moody anymore…i am for the most part very recovered. I just celebrated a years worth of goodness (I’ve been in Arizona for a year now- which is when I started to get better (strangely at the same time I stopped meds ;-)).

    Sorry this is so long- this issue has just come up for me recently. I think because I am somewhat recovered and I am not cycling violently, I do not appear to be manic or depressed (except for a little oops last month), so to them I’m actually a sucess case- someone who is breaking the stereotype that they ‘ve all heard of. So in that way, I am proud. Proud that I’ve broken the mold and been able to educate them on this disorder and what people can accomplish…even off meds. And that makes me smile because there were days, weeks, years when I thought I’d never be off meds and that I was going to live fast and die young…but here I am happy, healthy, loving life and med free.

    So yeah that’s my two cents worth 😉 Or maybe that was five bucks worth lol. Good reading your blog- keep writing!!!

    🙂
    Erin

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  5. So far, I’ve put a lot of energy into constantly trying to be listened to and be taken seriously. Through my blogs and numerous comments on newspaper articles and stuff. The only people who do listen and take me seriously are those who share my viewpoints in advance… Well, and a couple of professionals (social worker/psychologist), who’ve let me know that they appreciate my efforts, and regard my blog a source of information “from the inside” that helps them understand. That alone maybe makes it worth while.

    But when I look at the history of psychiatry – as the driving force and the defining power in the mental health system – it is a history of silencing people, not one of listening to them. And I wonder, if this ever can change. Actually, I doubt it. At the risk of – also – getting labelled “anti-psychiatry”, this institution has been established only and solely out of society’s need to do something about the disturbing presence of madness. It has been established to get rid of and silence madness. Not, as many want to have it, to help mad people. This still applies today as it did 250 years ago. And unfortunately, I don’t see a change coming but outside the system.

    People like Rufus May or Ron Bassman are tolerated. While the system is gnashing its teeth at them being around. And for each tiny victory they achieve in favour of their clients, there are at least ten great big atrocities introduced to oppose them. Nevertheless, “to redeem one person is to redeem the world”. So, their efforts certainly are worth while, if it’s only that they are a support to those, who already share their views.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be able to work inside this system. I would simply not be able to witness people’s lives getting destroyed, and, if not keep my (big) mouth shut, at least have to weigh every word I say. Instead, I would try to create and/or support alternatives outside of the system. Just as I lately have come to the conclusion, that constantly taking on the system won’t change much, and it maybe is a better idea to put some effort into presenting alternatives (doing a thorough presentation of Soteria and Loren Mosher for my Danish blog was actually quite a rewarding experience). – But this is a personal problem I still have, some unresolved issues with trauma and triggers.

    There’s no doubt, that you have a far greater chance to get listened to and be taken seriously only as a professional. But I also see your husbands point, which corresponds to my own view, that we will never get anyone to listen to us as consumers/ex-consumers/survivors as long as we stay in the closet with this part of our identity. It won’t change the public’s perception of us. In addition, I myself feel a strong dislike of both situations where I can’t be who I am, and people who don’t accept me as who I am. IMO, it is just another way of oppressing people, making them hide (part of) their past/present by using it against them as soon as they choose to be honest and disclose it. And I don’t feel too comfortable around oppressors.

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  6. P.S.: Now that I read Erin’s comment: to prove your knowledge and skills before revealing your consumer-past seems to me a good way to do it. This was what people like Rufus May and Ron Bassman did, too. And, even if working with horses hasn’t got much to do with the mh system, it was also what I did.

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  7. P.S – Now that I read Marian’s comment –

    “IMO, it is just another way of oppressing people, making them hide (part of) their past/present by using it against them as soon as they choose to be honest and disclose it. And I don’t feel too comfortable around oppressors.”

    I’d just like to say – “Thank You” to Marian….

    Duane

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  8. I like Marian’s quote too. This whole situation is a double edged sword. The people like us in recovery have a huge decision to make- to be out of the closet so we can stand up and break the mold…but at the same time, we risk our recovery- that people may use our openness against us and we become stigmatized which can damage the recovery that we’ve made. Yet if we don’t stand up and become the model…how is the stereotype ever to be broken? Seems like a huge burden sometimes.

    I spoke at a mental health conference once about this issue (Active Minds- I was a co-founder of one of the chapters and was pretty active in college). I had decided to do two interviews, one national and one local. One on depression/bipolar and one on self injury. My decision caused a backlash in my family that caused a rift for many months. They were upset that I let out the “secret” because most people in our community had not know about what I went through. But I wanted to be “out” and to stand up and be heard and talk about recovery and break the mold. But it came at a high price- losing my family for a long time and causing a rift that took a lot to repair. Which meant I didn’t see or talk to my little brothers (little as in under 12) for a while.

    I think it’s a very personal thing and you have to do what is best for YOU. It’s all well and good to stand up and take on that burden, but not if it comes at too much of a cost to you and your wellness.

    But at the same time, I feel like if more people stood up and said I have bipolar (or whatever illness) and I’m successful, then the better the movement will be to be less stigmatized- not only that but there is a growing number of people who use Alternative healing and are successful and that story needs to get out.

    I think too, it helps when you find the right company…where you won’t take an emotional beating for letting out your secret. That’s where I think I’m lucky. But I deal with two sets of people to tell- the management and co-workers and the families whose children I treat- I am racked with nerves every time I reveal to a family that I have bipolar disorder- and I don’t tell every family- not all of them know. But with telling a family, there always has to be a reason for it coming up- generally it happens when I’m tryin to explain something about the way the child is acting and how I understand it.

    But each time I’m out of the closet…I feel like I have helped this movement in a meaningful way…to present a success case to people when they are few and far in between at least in main stream media. And though I take person hits sometimes…for me the benefit has outweighed the cost and overall I feel better because when I keep it a secret, I feel like I’m lying. And I lived with secrets all my life (thanks to a traumatic childhood) and so the less lies for me, the better I feel.

    Okay there was another dollar worth 😉 Sorry, this issue has been huge for me!!

    🙂
    Erin

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  9. Gianna – I don’t work in the mental health field, and it’s so discouraging to hear about the stigma that prevails there as well. Marian’s comment about the psychiatry profession as an institution not set up to recognize recovery, only to silence the “labeled” is worse still – though on an individual level I’ve worked with psychiatrists who had a lot invested in helping me get better. Perhaps better, though, means always under care, never quite able to do without it, never recovered. That’s a powerful point. It reminds me of Dowdy’s post a while back about his hearing from his pdoc that bipolar was a lifetime diagnosis – he would never be free of it, no matter how fully recovered he might appear to be.

    As to your question about going back in the closet to practice your profession – I’m trying to answer a similar question for myself. The context is different, but I’m starting a blog and training site in my own professional field and have to decide whether to use my name freely and stop being an anonymous blogger on depression. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while – I’m just uncomfortable not being open about what I do and who I am. I’ve already left enough indications elsewhere on the web that anyone interested could put two and two together. But then I started thinking about someone going to my training site and checking me out on google and having a look at Storied Mind. I know many individuals who wouldn’t care or would even be interested in that side of my life. But many would stop right there – especially officials in public agencies. As disgusting as it is to acknowledge, I might be undermining my new business before it gets started. What you and Erin describe is exactly what I’m worried about – professional stigma is there in every field. Mental illness, impaired performance, instability etc are a few of the labels people start to see in looking at me. They can be completely sympathetic personally, but they don’t want to take a chance or they just have an underlying prejudice – oh, you know all this better than I do!

    I would want you, as I want myself, to stand out there in the full truth of who we are and the idiots be damned. But we know realistically there is a cost we’ll pay for that honesty. So I’m trying to figure out what that cost would be and whether that is more important than – being me! Melinda Taylor (if that is her real name) at Melindaville appears to be right out there and also to practice in the mental health field. I think if we’re going to open about being consumers, we should probably flaunt our experience as doubling our value. I’m not going to be able to live with the stress of being outed – I’ve come too far to worry about that.

    As you can see, I’m going around in circles on this. I’ll let you know when I stop moving and just where it is that I’ve landed. And remember I wouldn’t think ill of you no matter what choice you made. You’re a great blogger who has helped me get on a better path to recovery – and that’s the important thing. The crappy choice is forced upon you, and I’ll respect whatever you need to do to make the best of it.

    All the best to you,

    John (at least that name is my own!)

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  10. Gianna,

    As I think more about my intitial comment, I’d like to clarify…
    I think it would depend on the agency you worked with….its goals and direction…its values…

    I’ve been in the rehabilitation field for about 15 years…Rehab is different than traditional psychotherapy, or psychiatry….with a long-standing history of inclusion….Actually, in the purest sense…it’s all about inclusion….Diversity….and, in my mind it’s as much about helping people help themselves as anything – finding niches….adjusting worksites with adapative equipment….helping educate the public about what people with disabilities can do….

    Social work is an interesting field as well….and, I’ve met and worked with a number of very open-minded social workers….In fact, along the way, one of my supervisors was an LMSW – who underwent homepathy and some other alternative methods for depression…..

    So, I think it would really depend on the environment…..a county MH worker would be up against much more bureaucracy than a person who was working for a small, non-profit agency, where someone might be able to introduce new ways of thinking….ways of looking at MH in a unique way….out of the box so-to-speak….

    And, of course, there’s always starting your own non-profit….a recovery center….Once you get feeling well….really strong – you’ll know what to do….

    I tend to see the world through the eyes of a rehab counselor – in the purest sense of the word….and wonder why psychiatry/psychology is so far behind the curve….I am however quite impressed with what’s going on at Boston University – where they allow each “client” to decide whether or not to ever start taking meds….by reading the side-effects from the get-go….interesting approach, huh? And, where the word “compliance” is not allowed in the department….It’s a start…..And, in my mind – it will likely be models like Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation that turns this thing around (a little rehab prejudice shining through again…apologize)….

    Conventional psyciatry, and traditional psychology will likely not be the places where recovery begins to take front-and-center….In my opinion – it will likely be rehab, and perhaps some open-minded social workers that take things to the next level…..A place they should have gone years ago!

    Didn’t mean to back-track…on the previous comment….But, only wanted to add a few points here –

    My best,
    Duane

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  11. Doe

    I don’t really have the energy for a very eloquent post (tapering currently!), but I just want to thank everyone for sharing their experiences. This is a really important discussion.

    Not being a professional, or even wanting to be at this point, I don’t have much personal to offer on the topic, although I relate very much to being stigmatized and not taken seriously because of mental illness.

    The weird thing is, is that y’all are the ones with the most to give, the ones with the most real, authentic potential to reach and heal people in the compassionate way they need to be healed in order to move forward. It’s you. It’s us. It’s not them.

    Yet they are the ones (seemingly) who have the resources and power, and they stand in judgement of us. That’s just crazy. They don’t have what it takes for real change, in my opinion, at least not without our help. On some level maybe they even know that and are threatened by you/us.

    Now I hear myself talking in “us” and “them” terms, and that is probably not a good thing.

    I’m having a hard time expressing myself at this moment. But this is the stuff of revolution here. I feel very moved by the discussion.

    It seems so unjust, so wrong, that such deeply intelligent, wise people, people much, much wiser than the mainstream “experts” who have no personal experience with this stuff, are not being taken seriously. It’s wrong because we need you…the “experts” need you and your perspective and knowledge badly (and they don’t even know it).

    That’s all I’m trying to say.

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  12. Your comments seem to have struck a nerve in a lot of us. There are some interesting opinions that were written.

    The first thing that comes to my mind is that maybe you should first try to show what you can do for a while– establish credibility as a professional.

    There are reasons to come out of the closset and for not coming out of the closset.

    I came out of the closset with my alcoholism, but not my mental illness. I established myself as a decent teacher, then I went out to help kids suffering with drug addiction. Being a recovering alcoholic/addict I was able to achieve a lot. I started NA meetings druing the school day. Took a busload of kids to AA/NA meetings and other functions. On a yearly basis, I spoke to most of the student body about my experciences as an alcoholic/addict. I helped to start a teen center in our small town. I was given major awards by the PTSA, the school, and the community. Newspaper articles, even editorials were written about my efforts. The only problem was that in print I never said I was a member of AA/NA. We stay clean only one day at a time. We do not say to the general public of our afflication with 12-step programs. I wanted to write books and publize my efforts, but I’m not able to say I’m in AA/NA, so I would always be limited in what I say at a public level.

    I was able to do a lot, you can too. At any rate, good luck; I’m sure you will do many wonderful things before you die–you have already.
    Jim S

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  13. hey there gianna – i have to say this is a very tough call. Nobody outside of you can judge you or give you a hard time if you want to hide your psych label for professional reasons. I hide my psych label often depending on the circumstances. I always caution against a strict attitude of being out everywhere because the stigma and mistreatment is so heavy. Until people have lived with the second-class pariah status they have no idea how devastating it can be. So no one can judge you and I support whatever decision you make. Try to think things through pragmatically as well as from a personal development and gut feeling level. You might also come up with a long-range strategy, such as staying in the closet until you have a solid professional situation that is less vulnerable, then coming out. As far as the conflict with the other person on the blog goes, I would let the small stuff like that slide, you have much bigger fish to fry, figuring out your livelihood and way to live in the world. – will

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  14. My two cents worth on it is that you have to take care of you before you worry about anyone or anything else. You can’t help anyone at all if you don’t do that. So what takes care of you best? If the stress of continually being discredited because of being a consumer as well as a professional is more than you can handle, then I’d say get/stay in the closet. You can work there to reduce stigma until a time where you can get out of the closet without wearing yourself down so much and hurting yourself. In the end, Gianna, we can do what we can do and no more, and I keep finding for myself, as for many others, that pushing myself too far too fast does more harm than good.

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  15. k

    I used to be very open about everything until I figured out how much people judge. Now I only tell close friends, and if I do need to say something I only say depression, because a) thats all I ever really had, despite the “label” of bipolar I was diagnosed with and b) people are less afraid of it, therefore less judgmental. If no one NEEDS to know, then they don’t get to know. For you, I say keep it quiet while you are writing your book, then when its published, then you can come out with your book and let them judge! (I say when, because I think you need too. 🙂 )

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  16. Actually, I’ve sometimes hidden the fact that I am a clinical psychologist. I am not kidding. Although it would be worse if I were a psychiatrist, but many people don’t know the difference.

    I have always assumed that most people with good souls and brains in their heads — that doesn’t include the majority of mental health professionals — assume that most shrink professionals are screwed up — guilty until proven innocent (I actually sort of feel that way).

    I still cringe when people ask what I do, and now that I’ve written a few books, it’s easier for me to just say I am a writer. In 1994, David Oaks gave me “permission” to call myself a “dissident psychologist,” however, in the company of down-to-earth folks that can sound kind of pompous.

    As to advice for someone who is dealing with bigotry for once being diagnosed with a mental illness, I agree with others who have commented that it is very situational as to what makes sense to do.

    In the world of the the insecure, uncool, control-freak assholes, it certainly scores me more points to say that I am a psychologist, and for people who have been labeled with mental illness to keep that to themselves if they want to have any credibility. So, I suppose the answer is to stay away, as much as possible, from the world of uncool assholes.

    Bruce

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  17. Carol Scholar

    Hi Giannakali,

    Lots of great ideas here and every one with a “label” faces this issue although the psych labels are definitely more stigmatizing and yet they can be hidden better than say having to use a wheelchair. I’d have to say there are few employment settings where any disability is an asset unless employers are looking to fill their diversity quota. But there are jobs where having a “label” is an asset such as state vocational rehabilitation agencies and Independent Living Centers. At state vocational agencies one would most likely need a Masters in Rehabilitation. Consumer “professional” are the best of both worlds in these settings. They provide counseling to their clients, although at an ILC it is not necessarily deemed “professional” counseling but peer counseling. This is not to say some ILC’S wouldn’t hire a professional counselor and allow them to do professional counseling. Some ILC’S have BOTH professional counseling services and peer. If one got their Master’s from the Boston Psych program mentioned above they would have the best training and respect as a consumer/professional. I would never recommend telling any typical employer in an interview any label. In fact if one rolls into a fire station by WC and apply to be a fireman/person they would only be allowed to ask a question related to job duties. For example how would you be able to fulfill the job duties of climbing a fire ladder and carrying folks out a window. I think disclosure has to be after people know and value you as a person and as a competent professional.

    In terms of the outrage one feels in having to hide part of who they are to reduce stigma-it’s very upsetting and anger producing to say the least! Especially when one has so much to offer and would be an enormous asset to a MH employer and other consumers. I guess I would ask someone where they feel the most passion-in being considered an unlabeled professional or in being out and able to talk freely about both sides. We already know the mental heath field is full of people who have been really wounded one time or another-in fact they often make the very best counselors. Because out of strife comes growth.

    But if possible, if you want to get more edu maybe look into considering a voc rehab program concentrating in psych rehab.

    Otherwise consider the fact that you are helping many closet professionals and consumer’s alike with your blog. I don’t know what it takes to get money from your blog but I do know you won’t be taking on the drug pharm as advertisers.

    And if you wish to be hired by a MH agency I would suggest being discreet. The other thing is the health insurance issues. Employers shudder at certain words like cancer or fill in the blanks. Let’s hope Obama can help correct the insurance/health care mess!

    Blessings,

    Carol

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  18. Carol Scholar

    after I posted this and reread it I want to add there are certaining emplyers who do hire people with disabilities recogninzing their talents and abilities…but I still feel they are in the minority but getting better! It’s a slow education process and PWD’S (people with disabilities are recognized as giving 150% and make good employees).

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  19. Great blog. After I read your blog yesterday that touched on this subject, I went to a mental health alternative advocacy site which is extremely well known, and lo and behold, my therapist’s photo is on there, outing herself as a survivor of involuntary electroshock. My feelings were: sadness and sympathy towards her, and the feeling that it was kind of awesome at the same time that she is doing the kind of work she is doing, in “out” status, no less. Strangely, I didn’t bring it up with her in session yesterday. It definitely made me trust where she is coming from, as she recognizes such treatment as negative. We haven’t discussed her own experiences and a “client.” I think such a relationship would be ideal. So many differences between the ideal and the real. I think it made me feel more open in the context of our relationship. Anyway, IMO, it would enrich your relationships with your clientele if you share this with them, which SHOULD enrich your relationships with your employers. I still, however, have to figure out bosses, and how strange it is that they don’t always seem to want what is going to help the most. They are very “in the box” thinkers. In what sparse experience I do have with employers, they are quite frequently more comfortable with you after they have gotten to know you, and will open up their mind to your ideas more easily then.

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  20. Deborah

    Man did this topic ever press a hot button for me! I guess I am in the minority here. I have always kept very quiet about my mental health issues except with a very few people. Any exceptions to that rule have been painful reminders as to why I adopted the low profile that I attribute my employment and financial stability to.

    In fact, within the past six months, one of my dearest, oldest, most beloved friends, in the act of defending my low energy in an internet quilting group divulged that I was feeling lousy and “switching meds”. The group basically broke up over whether or not I should be allowed to participate anymore. And nobody except for my dear friend ever answered another email from me, or acknowledged my contributions to the online chatter.

    After being in block exchanges and quilting round robins with the group for five years, the experience was hurtful (but not a threat to my lifestyle or livelihood it might be if my mental health status got out in the small world of tech writers that I “have issues”. ) And I wouldn’t have described these women as uncool assholes at all.

    About work: I am not in the mental health field, but I am a professional. I do not EVER, EVER tell anybody (at work or in my quilt guild or church or my neighborhood) ANYTHING about my psychiatric history, my drugs, my therapist…I have been personally burned by divulging stuff like that to anybody but very close, trusted people.

    Maybe it is my own (admittedly vast) insecurity, not the reactions of other people, but my history is not information that I want spread around. And the more folks who know it, the more likely I will be to be discriminated against without recourse – especially in the workplace. At age 57, I am not picking up and moving to another state to start over because I need a fresh start.

    Would that it were different, but mental illness is stigmatized. As Bruce put it, there are way too many uncool assholes in the world and they are not all mental health professionals. Since it is not my goal to become an activist, but rather to recover and move on, there is no advantage and many disadvantages to exposing myself.

    Also, hell will freeze over before I will accept/identify myself as disabled. I’m not. I am as productive as the next person despite my lifelong depression and anxiety (for which I have been hospitalized, albeit not for 38 years).

    But Gianna, you are in a very different position than I am. You are a trained mental health professional – so your say would count for more among a certain audience than mine would anyway. I also feel that I am myself without making the label/disability/weakness/illness a topic.

    For the people around me, what they see is what they get. I do not lie, or dissemble, but i do not share these very personal facts about myself lightly or publicly at all…I observer very carefully (it’s probably a symptom of something) in social settings like the UU meeting that I attend. There are subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which those who are not identified as having mental health issues discriminate/separate themselves from those who are so identified. In the loveliest possible way. Just somehow the important committees, the interesting small groups just don’t work out for anybody too far from the norm. Again, it’s all so polite, respectful and chilling.

    Now I’m nervous that my email address contains my name!

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  21. Inside the system with my daughter and navigating mental health court behind doctor’s backs and gaining freedom for my daughter–I never talked about myself at all. My workplace doesn’t know either. I was once called “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” at a meeting re: my daughter and it was that day I understood the true meaning of being judged without merit or reason.

    Follow your gut instinct is all I can say to do, and then follow that up with WALK WHERE OTHERS HAVE DARED NOT TO…..

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  22. I thought I’d weigh in again lol. I think that if I was not in a mental health related job, I would not be very open about my personal life at all. If I was in business or what have you, then I can definitely see staying mum and I think it would be a lot easier because my specialized knowledge about the mental health system would not come up. It would be a total separate entity.

    I think I understand where gianna is coming from- where is that we get all of this knowledge and I think what Stephany said was true- we get judged any way even if we don’t say anything because people will think what they think. My current job though I was a little odd to begin with, but in a good way- just with my vivaciousness and enourmous energy and the way I was with the kids, the way I accumlated knowledge and learned quickly (I have a fast brain disorder!), so it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to them that there was a little more going on, plus I had an almost two year gap in work history which they did not ask me about.

    I think you said it best gianna: “which has made me think about how I will reenter the world of people when I’m ready to work again…it’s just dawned on me I really don’t have to go about it differently than before…just trust my gut as I go…”

    I had the same decison for me in March/April. I no longer wanted to work at the dead end day care job, but wanted to reenter working with kids with autism because that was where my heart was and that is what I was damn good at. But I had been burned in the past when I lost my marbles and even when I was sane there was still talk when people found out about me. I think my problem was that I was also going through therapy about my abusive childhood and suddenly I didn’t want anything to be a secret anymore because I was so sick of secrets. So I over compensated and I think I told way too many people far too many details about what was going on with me.

    So when I finally re-entered the work field, at first I was not really going to tell anyone. I was going to let my work speak for itself overwhelmingly. But then little by little, I opened up, first about having ADHD because for the most part it’s not that stigmatized. Then a few months passed and I think I opened up to one or two co-workers who were becoming my friend. So months passed and people saw how great I was at my job…and all of my knowledge gained from all of my years was being put to some great use.

    When I finally outed myself, it wasn’t this huge revelation, more like confirming what people already kinda suspected because of my energy and most people nodded their head and were basically like, ohhh. And people embraced me for the most part- I haven’t had a single backlash. The company I work for now…renewed my hope in the human race lol.

    There are some details of my life that I do not share because it doesn’t need to be shared. I don’t think most people at work know I was hospitalized (20 times!) or that I tried to kill myself twice. Most people know I self injured but that’s only because I have massive scarring all over my arms and you’d have to be blind to not know what it was from- though I have never really openly stated, but if people asked (only a few have) I don’t lie (but those people were also people I was close too). I have had a few families that asked and I answered. One in particular it was appropriate because they were seeking help for their son who was self injurying. I don’t think anyone except for maybe two of my best friends who happen to work with me know about the last year of my life when everything had fallen apart and the homelessness and how I haven’t seen my family in two and a half years.

    So sure, my work knows my “label” but I’ve actively sought to educate them on the fact that all these symptoms are just a part of who I am and are an asset to what I do (the energy and whatnot aspect that is). But the key thing is that they were OPEN to all of this. I can’t imagine how this would have gone down if I were any where else. I could have very likely not told a soul about my past. It just so happens that it fit where I am.

    So you are right Gianna- trust your gut with this. I think it was important for me to find a place where I could be me in all of my oddness. And I found such a place and thus I am in harmony with myself most days and it is absolutely amazing and I consider myself to be very, very, very, very lucky. I wish you much success in finding a place that you can be you and a place that is open minded to those of us that have unique experiences that can actually enhance what we do.

    🙂
    Erin

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  23. Personally, I’ve worked in the mental health and/or social work fields for the majority of my adult life. I was finally diagnosed as being Bipolar when I was 33 and I think properly so. Although I disagree with a lot of conclusions that folks jump to when they hear that diagnosis, so many of the classical symptoms fit me that it’s just easier to say that I’m bipolar.

    Therefore, the majority of my life was spent undiagnosed as I’m now 50 years wonderful. I’ve never been shy about stating my opinions and, although I’ve always been respected both for my mind and my excellent work, it hasn’t always made me the most popular employee and/or co-worker. However, I’ve rarely had serious interpersonal work relationship difficulties either.

    When I first moved to NC almost eleven years ago, I spent three or four years doing a lot of work “within the system” as a consumer advocate in several different ways with various groups and agencies. I worked very hard on the supposed “reform” of the NC mental health system which I can now see was a complete and total waste of my time, energy and talents.

    So, before you read my opinions on this topic, please take all that into consideration (e.g., I may not be the best person you could ask 😉

    I’ve given up on even attempting to work within or with our mental health system as it stands now. I think that the only reasonably sane thing to do is to create and/or join nontraditional organizations. That usually means, at this point anyway, the positions are either all-volunteer or have extremely low pay rates simply because the vast majority of new enterprises cannot afford to do anything else. Also, most of these organizations refuse to be associated in any way with Big Pharma or governmental agencies and do not want the strings which are required by most other large granting organizations. Therefore, unless something changes drastically, I don’t see these organizations as becoming “financially viable” in the foreseeable future.

    That is definitely NOT to say, however, that I think they are not worth working for and with…I just don’t Expect to be paid at all–let alone paid well.

    As far as how you make the decisions about whether to “come out” about your diagnosis and/or your professional qualifications, I’m afraid that I can’t answer those questions for you because they are SO Not An Issue with me. See, I’ve had this lifelong difficulty in remembering lies/untruths themselves, who I’m supposed to tell them to, why I’m doing it, etc.

    So I’ve learned simply not to bother with lying about myself at all–not that I was ever very into it anyway. That’s not me being brave or wise or noble or even really making a decision about it as much as that’s just the way I’m “built” so to speak. Whenever I’ve tried to function in any other way, it’s always failed sooner or later and left me with an even bigger mess to clean up than I ever could have possibly had originally if I told the truth instead. Thus, I do try VERY hard not to abuse myself in that way 😉

    I wish I could offer some profound insight into human nature that would help you make your decision. The closest that I can come, at this moment anyway, is to ask that you remember that old saying: “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” Perhaps if you apply that to the probable attitudes of strangers, it might help you see your way more clearly.

    If nothing else, being “out” about myself in every way (bipolar, bisexual, pagan, a solitary witch, spirit healer, still married after 22 years of separation, my refusal to shut my mouth about anything important to me, one kid who won’t talk with me, overweight, refuse to believe in The Beauty Myth or play stupid social games, activist and community organizer, a lousy but devoted singer, etc.) saves me a LOT of time, energy and heartache by automatically “screening” potential friends, colleagues, lovers–even entire agencies–for me quickly and efficiently!!!

    In closing, I love and respect you, honey. I am certain that whatever decisions you make will be The Right Ones For You. And remember, if they turn out wrong, you can always say “Screw it!” and do what your heart tells you to do and damn the consequences. Hell, -I- am still alive, so I figure it probably won’t kill ya 😉

    Love Always… Sky

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  24. I’m not going to read the other comments until I post mine, for fear of being influenced. 🙂

    I have another blogging friend who is a highly-respected trauma therapist and psychiatrist on the staff of a highly-regarded facility. She is also bipolar, but her colleagues do not know this.

    I actually think it isn’t necessarily appropriate for someone in the mental health field to be open about his or her own diagnosis, if you are interested in working in the field in any conventional way. There are a couple of reasons why I think so, but I’m going to mention the most important one.

    People deal with psychological and emotional struggles on a vast spectrum of responsibility and competence. Knowing you as I do from your blog, I have no doubt whatsoever that you would appropriately own and contain your own “stuff” while working with clients in your field. I believe that you operate from the highest possible levels of ethics and intelligence.

    But I know you pretty well from your writing. A stranger won’t know you, and will not necessarily have the opportunity to immediately understand who you are. There are plenty of people in the mental health field who shouldn’t be practicing because of their own problems … they use their clients to work out their own crap, and it’s hugely inappropriate.

    I know you’re not like that. But I know you. Ya know?

    So.

    I do think there is a place for being professional and disclosing your own history, but that it is not a conventional place in the mental health field — I think that wielding those weapons of professional expertise and personal experience would be far more useful in a deconstructionist role — in speaking, giving seminars and support groups for people who want to undiagnose, for joining the anti-meds crusade, all of those more marginalized roles … and I don’t mean “marginalized” in a pejorative sense; I’m an iconoclast myself, and know the value of it.

    I think there are valid reasons to go back in the closet. And I also think there’s a back door in that closet that leads out into a different neighborhood.

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  25. Some more thoughts from me, too – First of all: “uncool assholes”, thanks! That was actually what I meant, when I wrote “oppressors”…

    One of the first things my therapist did after I’d expressed my “insight”, was to warn me against telling people. Not that much because of “uncool asshole-discrimination”, but because people might react with pity, and, as she said: “Pity is the least you need.” I didn’t quite get it, before I experienced it. It maybe is even worse than open discrimination. Extremely disempowering. And in my world just another form of discrimination. One that allows the discriminator to feel good about themselves, as they haven’t acted openly as uncool assholes, have they?…

    Although I was rather anxious what his reaction would be like – I mean, how do you explain this kind of thing to a vet and horse breeder??? -I told my boss at that time, because I knew, I had acted “strange”, also towards him, and needed somehow to clarify why, as I had the impression, he thought it maybe was his fault. Right on. The conversation we had, was one of the best I’ve ever had with anyone about this. But: he had known me for almost three years at that point, and he highly appreciated my skills and performance.

    For similar reasons, because I was afraid of what might happen if I got into a crisis-situation again, and no one knew what was going on, and because I felt she could handle it, I told my current boss. This also turned out to be a wise decision. Not because the situation would have arisen, but because I feel a lot more safe and secure, knowing, that she knows about how I’d like her to handle a possible crisis-situation.

    I made a mistake in my private life once. That was when I experienced the pity-kind-of-discrimination. Cyberspace and activism is another story…

    BTW, and concerning Martha’s comment above: When I hear people tell about their therapists, I sometimes wonder what it could be, that “went wrong” during my therapists training, that caused her to become as competent as she is. I think, it might have got something to do with her being severely physically disabled.

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  26. One more thing – David: I think (fear) you’re absolutely right, many become professionals because of their own issues, because it is an opportunity for them to “use their clients to work out their own crap”. However, I also see a difference between being unaware of your own crap, which almost inevitably results in (ab-)using your clients, and being fully aware of your own issues – past or present – and having worked them out, as people like Rufus May are/have, which I think, can be a huge advantage.

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  27. (Ugh, this happens when I’m in a hurry: i forget about the most important. Sorry!) Of course I mean, that it can be an advantage to be open about it, as you can be a kind of role-model: recovery is possible.

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  28. alex black

    hi,Gianna,

    I read through your post and many of the replies. I come from a different background, and therefore a different perspective, than many of the people who replied, as I’m not in the profession, and I’ve never gotten a “mental illness” diagnosis. So my angle may be unique -whether that makes it useless or insightful, I have no idea.

    I”ll start with my conclusion – I think it’s best for you to do whatever is best for you and your clients. You’ve probably already thought the same thing, but may forget it from time to time as you wrestle with the complexities involved. Being open generally feels best, as authenticity always works better than its alternative, but I can see how others who you work with have their assessment of you altered when they get that info. My first thought is that perhaps their reaction and perception may come not from a “superior bias”, but from the fact that they simply have no reference point of empathy.

    If someone is known to be blind, everyone can close their eyes and feel exactly what it’s like to be blind. If someone suffers severe chronic back pain, most everyone has known severe pain at least briefly, and can understand what it must feel like. But someone who has never experienced what we dreadfully label “mental illness” simply has no way to empathize, no way to understand. To them, you are first and foremost, a mystery. An unknown. They have no idea what it is like to feel what you have felt. Anyone can imagine what it must be like to be deaf. Who can possibly imagine what it is like to be, say, schizophrenic, or psychotic? Or bipolar? Or whatever?

    Their first reaction is “I don’t understand” If their second reaction is to be dismissive of your intelligence or perspective, then they are simply idiots, and there is no reasoning with idiots.

    But we often have to deal with idiots in our day-to-day interactions. My first thought is to view them with the same non-understanding that they view you with. You’re not an idiot, and cannot possibly understand what it must be like to be an idiot. Treat them with sympathy. It must be a terrible plight. 😎

    I realize there is a whole other issue here – that idiots should not be allowed to play with sharp objects – or play with administering powerful psychotropic drugs of which they have no real understanding. But they’re allowed to, and you’re in a position in which you have to work with them. My thought is to see them as part-idiot, and part-intelligent professional. Demonstrate to them that you are at least if not more than, as professional and intelligent as them, and once that is established, perhaps when they learn of your experience, which they lack, and which may give you greater insight into what you are both trying to treat, they may begin to accept that there is a large reservoir of inexperience and ignorance in them. Acceptance is always the first step. If one can accept that they lack knowledge, there’s hope that they can evolve from idiocy into humble wisdom. If they can, you’ve got a good partner. If they can’t, try to find the ones who can, and spend lots more time with them.

    Hope there was something useful in there.
    best,
    alex

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  29. Dear Gianna:

    I believe you know some parts of my professional and personal experiences by reading my comments over at FS and on my blog. I know all about being discriminated against just because you have a so called label. I for one am never going back, if I get well enough and get recovered to the point where I can go back to work in the field; I don’t and won’t broadcast my label, but I certainly don’t hide from it either. It valuable experience and prospective I bring to the table, the many in the field cannot.

    Most of the professionals I have worked with including social workers and psychiatrist/aka Doctors; Have no idea what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence with the less than human, less than equal, less than deserving mind set projected upon them by so called professionals! (And let’s not forget that in the vast majority of mental health professional circles patients are exactly that “less than”).

    I have just gone down to many hard roads and experienced too much at the hands of the ignorant and uncaring to ever live in a denial state. My stance now is quite simple actually; I am who I am, if you don’t like it! Then go in not so polite terms and “screw yourself”.

    But that is my personal choice, and each of us has to make the judgment on what’s best for our own health, life, and peace of mind. I wish you all the best of luck, happiness, and success in whatever you decide to do with your life professionally and personally.

    Yours Truly,
    Stan

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  30. I thought I had posted, but I guess I have not.

    I would not tell until you have been in the field 5 years….and a success…at that point I would start a non-profit recover center.

    You will have earned respect…and maybe even get referrals.

    Also in regard to Jim S. and AA and alcoholism. For some reason recovering alcoholics are accepted…even preferred in the substance abuse field.

    But it does NOT transfer over to the other branches of mental health services.

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  31. Sweetie,

    I am so out about being bi-polar. In part, because I want people to know that mentally ill people exist, in part because my illness has been had such a huge impact on my life, in part because I can’t hide it and in part, because I just don’t want to.

    That said, your choice is so much harder. It is tragic that people your profession, so many of them quietly ill themselves, are so bigoted. I think that you may want to think of the people who you help. If being “out” hinders you from working with them, then you are not doing them any favours.

    Some one commented on the idea of getting the job, shining at it, and then disclosing your illness. That has some merit, but many people work with a medical issue that they don’t feel the need to disclose.

    Perhaps the conflict that you have lies in the unfairness of having to hide a major resource, your very self. It is an awful Catch-22.

    But I believe if you think how best to help your clients, some of the conflict may be resolved. Either way, I applaud you. Your grace and strength glows brightly and I wish you the very best.

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  32. I think a phrase that come to mind – people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – shows a certain light on the people that discriminate against mental illness.

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  33. Froscha

    Marian, I think pity is what’s going on with one of my friends. He won’t let me talk openly about my recent past/health, shuts that conversation right down when it veers in that direction. He is himself very guarded and coolly cynical, so I think he finds anything of a personal nature kind of ‘yucky’ even where others are concerned. Because he studied psychology, and because I sent him a bizarre email when I was manic, I believe he suspects and that’s why he especially doesn’t want to hear the gross details of my life. (We used to have a more open dialogue, back in the day.) I don’t know that he pities me, but I deeply suspect it.

    I think the proper attitude is respect for how I’ve managed to recover this far with very little support, and the insights I’ve gained, but I can’t even present that side. I think he just sees the fuck-ups: lost jobs, uncertain living situation for the past year (finally resolved as of last month), my neurotic behaviour when I come to the same social events… (only neurotic because I suspect his pity!) I am saddened by this limitation in our friendship, but I know I have to let it go. It’s also unfortunate that I can’t pick his brain about the psych (ugrad) program he did, what he learned, what kind of biases they had, etc. Plus, I find small talk so meaningless and the backwards direction in our relationship frustrating.

    I worry too about other people knowing something’s off and imagining the worst, or distrusting me because they know I’m not being completely straightforward with them.

    Gianna, I have no answers for you and no better advice than what’s been offered. It sounds like you are on the right track already; being open when it’s appropriate, and beneficial to clients, but discreet when it would be unhelpful to yourself in disclosing and therefore unhelpful to the people you have yet to reach if you face professional barriers as a result. I’m not at all concerned about your competence and judgement. : ) David really had the best line, about staying in the closet but one that has a back door to other neighbourhoods.

    I am going to apply that to my own life. I think the internet is a backdoor unto itself, though I’ve struggled about my pseudonym because I use it for two blogs: one that’s very self-revealing, and one with a more external focus that I would like to take some posts from as writing samples when I start approaching publications. I use a pseudonym for both because I don’t need potential employers for more conservative day jobs googling my opinions about religion and politics, let alone my psychological self-examinations. I link from the personal to the semi-professional blog, but not the reverse because I might want to direct some people’s attention to the semi-pro and not the other. I thought of using a different name for my semi-pro blog, but that’s getting too complicated for me, and I already have both listed on my pseudonym profile on facebook and the blogging network. I even want to bring the second blog onto WordPress because I like it better than Blogger, but then it might be easier for readers to put the two blogs together… What to do–or not do?!?!

    I hate all this secrecy and paranoia, having to accommodate for other people’s prejudices.

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  34. I think about this too. Started in mental health (working) without telling about my dx (had been burned on previous interviews for it by naively answering honestly the question about why I wanted to work in the field). After getting first job, disclosed, and it made people uncomfy. I lost credibility is some people’s eyes. A lot.

    But I was out, no taking it back. Then, when a peer support position came available at the agency where I was working, I took it–figured the damage had already been done, was already out–though I did think long and hard about whether it was good idea to have a peer position on my resume forever more.

    Now I’m HUGELY visible in the PA mental health world as an identified consumer, after leaving the peer support position and going to work for a consumer-run org at a statewide level, still involved with peer support but in a different (not direct “care”) role. Sometimes it’s scary. Each new step in my mental health career leads me to more visibility, and I sometimes think “God, what have I done?” Not sure how possible it even is for me to convert to purely “professional” anymore in PA, at least not in the public mental health system–still a chance for private, if I can somehow explain the resume…

    Anyway at this point I feel like it’s probably too far gone to even worry about anymore. PsyD programs still tug at my imagination and maybe someday I’ll want it enough to do it–if so, then the temptation to not disclose and maybe pack up and move to a different state will have some appeal. I’d like to believe that option is still open, but am not really sure whether it will be. So for now I just continue in the peer support world and hope for the best.

    My husband (works in IT world) also has a dx and doesn’t generally disclose. It’s strange, the dissodance in how far “out” we are. Sometimes I’m envious.

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  35. Froscha, without knowing him at all, your friend sounds like he exactly fits the category of those who enter professionalism because of their own unresolved issues, that they’re not even aware of. This seems to me the most plausible explanation why he’s so reluctant to talk about anything along the lines in private terms, where he can’t make the matter an object of his studies/professional observation, thus keeping it at arm’s length, and where he can’t make you his “client” (object of study), but has to see and treat you as an equal human being, and risks, that you treat him the same, not as irreproachably superior to you. Being guarded and coolly cynical usually serves as a (unconscious) defense mechanism when someone really is terrified. But in the end, all discrimination always is a result of fear, and a defense mechanism. Cool cynicism as well as pity really are signs of very uncool fear and insecurity. But, as mentioned, I don’t know your friend, so it’s just my own – somewhat categorizing and judgemental – impression.

    In general, that’s maybe why it can be even more tricky to be open about having been/being a consumer/survivor when you’re working inside the conventional mh system than anywhere else. You can’t be “on their side” at the same time as you are one of those, who the system tries to keep at arm’s length. It borders to high treason in what actually often is a bit of a war (against “the mentally ill”).

    Gianna: a lot of people think, it’s rubbish, I don’t: you can do whatever you want to do!

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  36. “Tell me I’m full of shit to even consider going back in the closet.”

    Okay, you’re full of shit. But I’m full of even more shit since I never came out. 😉 (Hope you know I’m kidding.)

    Seriously though, call me a pessimist but I just don’t think that you’ll be able to be taken seriously now that you have a “label.” However, I do think you can do more good out of the closet rather than in it. You’re no longer some anonymous person. You have a face. You have a name. It’s a significant risk to put your name out there and say, “Hey, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the meds associated with it fucked me up for 20+ years and now I’m trying to be honest and truthful with others about what it can do so it can be prevented.”

    People who get money from Big Pharma aren’t going to want to hear you and they’ll do everything they can to drown you out. Problem is, it’s easier to drown out the voice of an anonymous person (like me) than the voice of someone who’s got a face and a real name.

    Things like this are always a risk and there’s the possibility you could fall flat on your face while doing so. I often wonder if I should “come out” myself but I’m still young and feel as though I still have something to lose. (Like a decent professional career.) Give me another 15 years and I might not care so much anymore.

    Overall, I find that if I let people know that I suffer from bipolar disorder, especially professionals, I get taken less seriously and suddenly my opinion–that would have mattered before–no longer counts. It happens to me on a smaller scale so I can’t imagine what you must have went–and still go–through.

    xoxo
    M

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  37. Camile

    Dear Gianna,
    As your dear friend (using disguised name), a prominent health care practitioner in my community, and a sufferer of a physical ailment that is not yet understood and frequently perceived by the medical and lay communities as a psychiatric disorder, I am fully supportive of being in the closet. Speaking about my personal perspective only, I do not throw pearls before swine….In other words, I tell only my trusted friends what I am going through, as it is nobody else’s business. Sometimes I may even tell an aquaintance, if I see that their is some level of understanding, trust and compassion. Ever hear the phrase “Too much information!” This is an era of extremely open communication due to internet, blogs, texts, etc. Prior generations were extremely secretive–we probably all have heard of of family members who don’t even tell their close family that they have a serious medical disease, and of people who martyr themself in silent suffering of marital woes or what have you. Today however, I witness people who I think are innapropriately open. One of them, another good friend, has witnessed this tendency in herself via the teachings of a 12 step program. She tells me that just because some piece of information is not “forbidden” to share, she is learning about the “appropriateness” of sharing (i.e. the level of learning, empathy and positive outcome that could be attained by sharing). I think there ia a middle ground of communicating about personal issues that can be achieved. I find that, no one needs to know my business if that info may potentially harm my reputation at no serious betterment of humankind.

    Love u! –Camile

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