Why I hide my name
Every time I write about mental health — I use a pseudonym. Why? Fear, anxiety and dread that I will be labelled ‘mad’, ‘loony’ or ‘crazy’. Crazy has to be the worst word, and I have been told I am crazy many, many times. And unfortunately, most times it is true. When I set off to hike 60km at 3am to find a pet duck — I am crazy. When I dress all in blue and tell my brother I am an astronaut — I am crazy. When I put on a Russian hat and head out into the frigid night because I have been summoned to a UN conference in Sweden — I am definitely crazy.
Friends — good ones — and family, are mostly understanding. I am lucky in that my manias are not particularly dangerous — more childish and strange and whimsical. I am never violent and I am never aggressive — I just get absurd, fanciful ideas that I think are real.
The primary reason I use a pseudonym is to protect my career. When I first succumbed to manic-depression (Bipolar Type One), my company tried to get rid of me, and it was only my very faithful Editor, who himself suffers from depression, who fought to keep me on.
Since then I have told some employers — after trust has developed — but at more ‘straight’ jobs (ie: not the media), I keep very quiet. It is stating the obvious to say that stigma still exists, and for conditions as severe as mine, stigma means people can be very scared of you. And they routinely expect that your work will be below par.
At my last job, I told my boss after about three months. She cried, and then, if occasionally I didn’t come into work, she asked no questions. This is unusual. At the same company, my best friend was my colleague, and she would alert me if I began to act a little strange. One afternoon I was heading towards a manic episode, and had begun stamping books frantically. 20, 30, then 40 stamps per page. Quietly she came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Might be time to take some meds, eh?”. I took some benzodiazepines and calmed down.
Another afternoon I started pacing frantically around the office, getting higher and more agitated with every passing minute. Go, said my colleague, I’ll cover you. I raced to the Pharmacy, where I harangued them into giving me my medication. I returned to work slightly drugged, but not so drugged that it affected my job. There are so many reasons people can be distracted at work — a mental health condition is only one of them.
I have been manic-depressive for four years now, and I am still not ready to tell people. People don’t understand the disease, and when they don’t understand they can’t empathise or accept it. It’s hard to explain that I make bad decisions because I am desperate for stimulation. It’s hard to explain my romantic relationships are rubbish because I push them to be too intense — otherwise I get bored. It is hard to explain I drink because it is the only thing (apart from drugs), that calms me. My bad behaviour is almost all bipolar — but no one will believe me if I tell them that.
One of my editors of a glossy magazine said something amusing recently when I told her I was bipolar. “Ah well,” she said, philosophically. “It doesn’t matter. I’d have no writers left if I didn’t use those with mental health issues”. She was right, and it was encouraging, and attitudes like that are what will one day make me use my real name.
Originally published at attitudelive.com on June 18, 2015.