Five years ago, Beth “came out of the mental illness closet,” as she puts it. As a lawyer, she had been concerned about how clients and co-workers would treat her if they knew about her illness. Fourteen years earlier, she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Beth had the support of a few caring friends and family members, but she kept her illness secret beyond this closed circle. At work, she didn’t want to be alienated because of her mental health condition, or passed over by her bosses when it came to handling complex cases. And based on her family upbringing, she wasn’t one to openly share her personal problems. As a result, she found herself doubly stigmatized—by society and also by her own doing. In spite of everything, Beth was dealing well with her illness and was managing to live a relatively balanced life. But the burden of her secret weighed heavily on her every day.
Five years ago, a couple of her co-workers spoke with her, individually, about mental illness issues their family members were dealing with. Based on her personal experience, Beth knew she could provide some help by sharing her story and some information, however, it would mean confiding in her colleagues. This was the perfect opportunity to talk openly about her illness for the first time. So Beth took the plunge and told her story. She was astonished by the feeling of freedom and relief that washed over her. This was the first step. She began telling other co-workers and her superiors about her illness. Beth was overjoyed to discover that her colleagues were receptive and positive about her sharing her story. From there, Beth took further opportunities to raise awareness about mental health. She advocated being open-minded and proactive about mental illness.
At last, Beth was able to talk about her situation without fear of reprisal. Since then, she has even admitted she finds it hard to stop talking about it! She has written articles and made presentations to thousands of people including many in the legal profession. After feeling isolated and alone with her secret for 14 years, Beth now feels liberated, and she wants to help others achieve the same sense of freedom.