The scariest part of having bipolar disorder — other than the constant fear you’re depressed or manic– is someone finding about your diagnosis. There are a variety of reactions. Some people are supportive, some people, not so much. Telling someone about your deepest, darkest secret is revealing your most vulnerable self. It puts you in a position to become infinitely closer with someone… and it also puts you in the position to get hurt.
Roommates, specifically, are a difficult breed to read. To tell or not to tell? They live with you, they dine with you, they see you at your most hungover and in your flyest outfit. In my opinion, they deserve to know something that is such a huge part of your life. They can even be assets, after all they would be the first to observe symptoms like not sleeping or sleeping too much.
The first step in telling your roommates about your bipolar disorder is telling your roommates about your bipolar disorder. I advise you do in the most authentic way. My roommate had seen my treasure trove of medicines, so I jokingly referenced a pharmaceutical commercial for Latuda and said “so you know I take that, right?” My best advice to you is to make a joke out of it, because I know all too well how serious the disorder can be. The lighter side is far more digestible for the average person.
Now before you go do your one-woman act for your roommates to explain your mental illness you need to consider one thing: will this person support you or will they use this against you. In my case, I was unlucky enough to have roommates who used my disorder against me. Even though I’m relatively stable and under the very watchful eye of both a psychiatrist and therapist, my roommates would have powwows about my unwashed dishes and what they implicated about my mental instability. At the time I was reduced to nothing.
How could someone I called my best friend be speculating if I was insane, when she barely asked me how I was doing that day. Ultimately, it was her inability to communicate that led to the downfall of our friendship and roommate arrangement. After hearing the cattiness in their voices, I knew the way a woman knows they were feigning concern for my well-being in order to gossip about my mental health.
Lena Dunham recently said she deleted her twitter app because she felt emotionally unsafe. I felt emotionally unsafe in my house. I felt that my every move, from cooking pasta to doing my homework was being evaluated. Breaking the lease is not an option, but renting a one room apartment in a couple months is realistic. I am so thankful that my parents have the financial means to get me out of a situation where I am not supported and I’m hopeful that I have the strength to endure these women for the duration of my lease.
Ultimately, revealing to someone that you suffer from bipolar disorder is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And while I think your roommates can be a huge source of support, you have to be careful. One day, mental illness won’t have this stigma that led to my ignorant roommates gossiping about me in the next room.
No one can tell you for sure how to tell someone or if you should tell someone, ultimately that is up to you. A wise person once told me “if you can name it, you can tame it” and I think the reverse is true for anyone you confide in. If you give them a name, they have the power to control you. I feel as though these columns always end with advice to trust people and be open to everyone, but in this case, trust no one except your best judgement.