Broken Light: A Photography Collective

We are photographers living with or affected by mental illness; supporting each other one photograph at a time. Join our community, submit today!

Coming Out Of The Bipolar Closet

Photo taken by contributor Danielle, a woman in her thirties from New Jersey who has suffered from a variety of mental health challenges, including severe depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, as well as traits of BPD, OCD, and ADD. Danielle is a writer, photographer, photo editor and certified professional life coach. she is also a passionate mental health advocate and the founder and director of Broken Light Collective.

About this photo: “I took this self-portrait several years ago, in the midst of a two-year major depressive episode. I had become agoraphobic and spent almost all of my time in that bed. I ate there, I started Broken Light Collective from there, and I even did my therapy from there. This photo represents sadness, fear, isolation, and hopelessness.

I have since emerged from that particular darkness. I still have moments of sadness, fear, isolation and hopelessness, but I also have moments of joy, connection, and hope.

I have been open in the past about many of my mental health challenges, and yet, I had never publicly discussed the fact that I have bipolar disorder. I was helping so many other people though my advocacy and Broken Light, and yet I was still hiding. I was still afraid of stigma. A few weeks ago, I decided that I was done hiding. I published the following piece on the Huffington Post. A piece it took me over a year to gain the courage to publish. In the time since it was written, I have come to recognize that bipolar is just one piece of my complex mental puzzle, but in that moment, it felt like everything. I know many of our Collective family can empathize with parts, if not all of this piece, so I would like to share it here as well. Keep in mind that this piece represents my experience, and not necessarily everyone’s experience with mental illness. We are all individuals on our own twisting journeys to mental health and wellness. 

COMING OUT OF THE BIPOLAR CLOSET

You have a secret. A secret you’ve been keeping for years if not forever from your family, your friends, your boss, and maybe even yourself. A secret so secret that if people knew, it might change your relationships. They might judge you. They might hate you. They might even fear you. You’re different. You’re weird. You’re sick. You’ve tried to change it, but it’s just who you are, and you can’t keep it inside any more.

You’re bipolar.

Bipolar. Bi-polar. Manic Depressive. It doesn’t get easier the more you say it. You try to use “mood disorder” or “depressed” instead because you think it will have less stigma, but you know the truth. At the moment of diagnosis, you went from being that person — the eccentric-but-sometimes-sad creative — to that person: the crazy one. You know, the person on the subway who you avert your eyes from because you don’t want them to talk to you or get too close. You’re unpredictable. You’re freakish. You’re scary.

Pretty little cocktails of yellow, pink, and blue pills abound. One to bring you up, one to take you down, one to keep you in the middle. One to wake you and one to put you to sleep, because you sure as hell can’t sleep right. Sometimes you stay up all night shopping online, taking photos, or writing for hours on end, creative energy and ideas pulsing through your revved body and mind, and it feels great. Until it doesn’t.

Enter the inevitable crash. You’re suddenly knocked over by a massive wave of sadness, isolation, self-loathing, and hopelessness. You’re left on the floor of the shower trying to breathe through your tears. Sweating, trembling, heart palpitating.

You stop answering your phone, and eventually it stops ringing. Your friends are no longer your friends, except for those select few who won’t let you push them away no matter how hard you try. Your family is tired of dealing with it all, and you can’t blame them.

You stop going out. You stop taking care of yourself. Can you even remember when you last showered?

Soon you’re stuck in your room. Your computer and your TV are your only true friends, an ever-present distraction from reality. You Facebook. You Tweet. You blog. Pretending all the while that you are doing great. You smile for pictures, if you can remember how to smile. Or you use old pictures from times when you were thinner and happier, at least in appearance. If your Facebook world doesn’t know, perhaps it isn’t real. That’s the biggest closet of all these days. Perhaps you are still the smiling go-getter everyone else sees and thinks you are. Perhaps this bipolar thing is temporary or a joke. But you’re not laughing.

Things deteriorate. Not leaving the house turns into “a thing.” Anxiety, panic attacks, the whole deal. You stop working. You start making bad decisions and staying up through the night again. You’re erratic. Impulsive. Possibly even hallucinating or delusional. Are you really being followed?

You stop driving. You stop taking the train.

You stop caring about anything and everything.

You start to think everyone would be better off without you. You feel broken and unfixable, so why go through it all? Why? Things are hopeless. You begin to feel numb or dead inside, so you drink or take drugs, or hurt yourself just to feel something. You think you deserve to be scarred or bruised on the outside to match your damaged insides. You contemplate the ways in which you might find release from the torment of this life.

Then you see your perfect little daughter, your partner, your mother, or your friend, and you remember that you are not alone. You think of how screwed up their lives would be if you made your “great escape.” How much your actions affect others. You start to feel guilty for even having the thoughts, which only makes you feel worse.

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Then comes the psychoanalysis and everything else they throw at you — dietary changes, magnetic and shock therapy, hospitalizations, more meds… You see modest if any results. You’re ready to throw in the towel, until one day something happens — you’re listening to Pandora while feeding your kid or walking the dog, when Sam Cooke comes on and sings to you… “It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky. It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”

You feel a shift, and realize you can choose to live. Or at least try. It’s not easy. You’ve been flooded by emotional ups and downs, crying and then laughing maniacally, throwing things, feeling totally out of control. But in this moment, you finally realize that a change might possibly come. Not today, but some day. You were not given a death sentence. You can find a way to own your recovery, stop ignoring advice and stop hiding in that damn closet — take your meds, see your doctors, and be more self-aware — you can actually take some control, and start moving in a positive direction. One baby step at a time.

You look around you at the shambles that your life has become, and you see that there are still a few people in your life that find you worth fighting for, and that perhaps you should fight through this for them, and maybe one day you will even do it for yourself. You are strong. You are capable. You are talented. You are worthy of a life worth living. A change will come.

So you get your butt out of bed and make a sandwich. It’s a start.”

_____

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17 comments on “Coming Out Of The Bipolar Closet

  1. Moodphototeija
    July 15, 2014

    Danielle, you are such amazing and brave lady! And inspiration! And you truly are one the most helpful and caring people I know, even I have ever met you but you are!

    Liked by 1 person

    • spencersamalvin
      July 15, 2014

      Thank you so much, Danielle, for sharing this (and Hi, Teija!) . . . I, too, suffer from bipolar disorder, and yes, it is truly a roller coaster experience of suffering, in general, for me at this point. I thought I was unipolarly depressed for at least 18 years, but was diagnosed, and I’m sure that it’s accurate, several months ago with bipolar disorder. Since then, I have been switched to a mood stabilizing medication the doctor added to my antidepressant, but have been having an enormous amt. of trouble accessing both medications due to health insurance co. denials & restrictions . . . am doing my best, though, to hang in here one moment at a time . . . this is a great & wonderful site you’ve established- I’ve utilized it for my own inspiration & recovery for about one year now . . God bless you in your recovery & work, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this site! . .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. tamellu
    July 15, 2014

    Hi Danielle, I totally found myself in most sentences of your post and I really liked the way you wrote about being bipolar, you’re an excellent writer! I’m not bipolar (at least never diagnosed with that disorder), but I have almost all the rest – panic disorder with agoraphobia, GAD, PTSD, many phobias, I was depressed due to all my mental issues and the life I was forced to start leading but I never really reached the “manic” phase. It’s been almost 20 years on and off that I’m struggling to live, the last 7 have been particularly challenging. I tried everything under the sun, changed at least a dozen medications, tried numerous therapies and dietary changes but with truly modest results. I know the rock bottom of agoraphobia and sadness, but I also know that there is a way back, a compromise with life at some middle ground, on a semi-tolerable level where I appreciate what I have the best I can and feel happy for every “good” day. I lost everything I could – love life, job, money, all friends, I have no children, brothers or sisters… at some point it feels damn scary, but when I realized that I survived even like this, that was some sort of a turning point. Take care of yourself and I wish you to live your life to the fullest!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. imaginarytree
    July 15, 2014

    Thank you, Danielle, for your courage to come out of the bi polar closet with an expressive photograph and a personal statement, that describes places so many of us have been.

    Like

  4. Jonathan Suarez
    July 16, 2014

    This was absolutely incredible and you are an inspiration. Thank you for existing. You make the world a better place.

    Like

  5. benoverby
    July 16, 2014

    It never ceases to amaze me how similar the experiences are for those of us who live with bipolar disorder. Thank you for sharing. I think you have expressed the reality many of us endure.

    Like

  6. idoartkarenrobinson
    July 16, 2014

    Thank you for being brave enough to share your experience, your life…Karen

    Like

  7. Victoria
    July 16, 2014

    Exactly how I feel. After a 5 year remission from Bipolar, the most difficult thing for me has been that I cannot “un-know” the joy, stability and contentment that I’d experienced during that time. It’s almost as if I’m being doubly slammed right now, but knowing it exists, the reprieve, I’m at least hopeful that it can and will happen again.

    Like

  8. dvisionarypro
    July 17, 2014

    please do i can imagine what is is like in there

    Like

  9. Gary Bertnick
    July 17, 2014

    There is a kingdom of Light and a kingdom of darkness. The Lord stands waiting for any and all to come to Him for deliverance and healing. But how many are willing to make that humble turn?
    http://www.silvercordspirit.com GaryB.

    Liked by 1 person

    • autisticaplanet
      July 21, 2014

      It has been so very worth it to join the Kingdom of Light. I would not be where I am today without God. When I started realizing it was all God, my life drastically improved. I began to go outside again, to cope with the world as it was, not how I wished it could be. It is scary to have a bad time without God. Knowing He is & that he cares about me personally has enabled me to survive my mom’s passing. I know He will see me through the rest of my time here on earth.
      I would also like to add that I am so glad I found Broken Light in 2012.

      Like

  10. spencersamalvin
    July 17, 2014

    Though I am going through a very rough time right now, because in addition to experiencing bipolar & attendant difficulties accessing helpful medication, I’m also going to go through a divorce soon, it looks like, unless there’s a huge change in “that picture,” I truly am inspired by all of the responses & remarks here . . . everyone here is truly full of courage . . . Tamellu, I’m especially inspired by what you’ve shared here . . . Sam

    Like

  11. spencersamalvin
    July 17, 2014

    Let me add that though not everyone who responded/remarked here shared their own experience here, that I’m assuming that because you’re here on this page responding that you are personally acquainted with & full of the courage to which I refer as being your own! . .

    Like

  12. spencersamalvin
    July 17, 2014

    And that is the courage “to be” in spite of all kinds of challenges be they mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical . . .

    Like

  13. guestpeaker
    July 17, 2014

    Reblogged this on From guestwriters and commented:
    We like to introduce the online photography gallery for people affected by mental illness and share this witness which can help many people.
    Every person should know that it is most importatn always to be and stay your own self, loving your self and loving the others like they are.
    To free yourself from the chains and boundaries it is necessary to get rid of secrets and to dare to be open to others. They either may accept you or leave you for what you are. But in this world there are enough people and you can not be befriended with everybody, so it is better you concentrate to become befriended with those who are willing to take you as you are.
    br>Let yourself be known, come out of the dark and let others also come out the closet.

    Like

  14. luro97
    July 18, 2014

    Your bravery and openness regarding your own situation is only equaled by the beauty of your soul and need to help others. I am so incredibly honored and grateful to be a part of Broken Light.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. autisticaplanet
    July 21, 2014

    Thank you, Danielle, for sharing so candidly your personal story. Nobody should have to hide who they are. In my own case, I could scarcely hide my autisticly quirky ways, but had no words to describe my disorder until I was 19. I can sympathize though with the dark periods and being agoraphobic due to being so out of control & unpredictable and having no help. It is amazing to me that you were able to begin BL from that place…but God reaches into the depth of darkness. Sometimes it seems otherwise, but it has proved true in my life. Jesus is the Way…to eternal salvation and a better life while here. ♥autisticaplanet

    Like

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