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Bipolar Men: How Successful Businessmen Hide Mental Illness

About 2.6 % of the U.S. adult population is affected by bipolar disorder, according to National Institute of Mental Health. The condition can be very challenging to deal with and carries a heavy stigma in today’s society. For bipolar men hoping to be successful in the world of business, this stigma creates pressure to keep the condition secret. But how can you hide a mental illness like bipolar disorder? And is it worth it to try?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling episodes of depression and “mania” — which basically means excitability or a type of energetic, take-on-the-world giddiness. Typical symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Racing thoughts
  • Recklessness
  • Being in a very positive mood
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Being easily irritated
  • Increased energy

Typical symptoms of a depressed episode include:

  • Sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in eating patterns (e.g. loss of appetite)
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

This is a basic overview of the types of symptoms that cycle with manic and depressive episodes. However, the episodes can last differing lengths of time, and people with different types of bipolar disorder have different experiences. For example, people with bipolar II don’t experience “full” mania, but hypomania, which is a less extreme version of the same symptoms.

How Bipolar Men Hide Their Condition From Colleagues and Employers

The serious symptoms of bipolar disorder may make you wonder how bipolar men and women manage to hide them in the workplace. How can you perform well enough at work to avoid arousing suspicion when you’re so depressed you’re considering ending it all? And can you really hide mania? It might seem hard, but it’s entirely possible. One example comes from a post on Bipolar Village, which talks about “presenting well” with bipolar disorder. The bipolar author describes it like improvisation in his high school theater classes. By “playing a part” in social situations, he is able to hide the less severe episodes of mania and depression, and was even encouraged to do so by his psychiatrist. Other stories from bipolar men and women might not be so explicit about the intention to “present well,” but the overall idea is the same. Hiding their conditions isn’t easy, but it’s seen as better than letting people know what they often perceive as “weakness.” Generally, sufferers simply go to extra effort to conceal their true emotions and ensure their work is the same quality as ever, take medications in the bathroom and wait to let their emotions out in the privacy of their homes.

Why Bipolar Men Hide Their Mental Illness

Although how people hide their mental health condition is an important topic, the question of “why” is much more informative. The stories told by employees with bipolar disorder speak to the stigma associated with mental illness. Some describe the stigma as “suffocating,” and others simply worry about how they would be treated if people knew about their condition. One sufferer explains: “I was terrified. Terrified that it would set me back in my career – that people wouldn’t trust me, or would babysit me, holding my hand for the simplest tasks.” The picture bipolar men and women paint isn’t pleasant. People actively looking down on somebody with mental health issues is bad enough, but mollycoddling is an issue, too. Most people with bipolar disorder just want to be treated like everybody else, and it can seem like the best way to accomplish that is to behave like everybody else.

Ending the Loneliness and Stigma

One consistent thread in the stories from people who hide their condition at work is that it’s a lonely experience. Because you don’t feel comfortable sharing your true feelings and behaving “authentically,” you can feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people who like and care about you. This is why ending the stigma surrounding mental health is so important. Bipolar men shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to hide their condition. They should know they’ll be both understood and supported. Resources “Why I Keep My Bipolar Disorder Secret at Work” by CJ Laymon “I kept my bipolar disorder hidden, but it’s time to talk about it” by “Sarah” at Time to Change “Working with bipolar is a life of ‘secrecy and shame’” by Shadi-Sade Sarreshtehdarzadeh “The Fine Art of Hiding Bipolar Disorder and Why It Kinda Sucks” by Daniel Bader

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