Wow. Just wow.
When I wrote about having bipolar disorder last week, I expected a few people might read it. To be honest, I hoped some people would relate to it. However, I never would’ve expected it to make the impression it did!
My posts about my bipolar disorder were read by more than 250,000 people and still going. I received thousands of likes and comments, all hugely positive. I want to say thank you to everyone who read it, liked it, shared it and commented. I feel incredibly humbled and blessed.
I’ve shared some of the comments throughout this post:
"I don’t even know you but I'm so proud of you for speaking your truth so publicly! We need more men like you to encourage others to realise that it's ok to talk about their mental health and that so many hide in plain sight struggling alone unnecessarily. Thank you!"
One more time
If you haven’t read my original post, and you can read it here if you like, here’s a brief recap. Ten years ago, while I was at university, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic depression. It’s something I’ve learned to live with over the years, and I’ve built a pretty successful life while dealing with it. However, due to the stigma that society places on mental illness, and pressure I’ve put on myself, I rarely tell anyone about it. I want to cast off that stigma and put everything out there in the world, with the hope that it will make a positive impact, perhaps encouraging others to do the same.
"Me too James! Good on ya, I'm out now too ;)"
As I read through all the comments that people had made on my posts, one word came into my head, compassion.
Compassion isn’t a word you hear much in business. Certainly, I had rarely used it. Working at LinkedIn changed all that, however. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Wiener, is a strong advocate for the compassionate leadership approach and he has written about it at length in the past.
I’m thrilled that my thoughts have reached so many other compassionate people.
"The reality is a lot of people face some form of mental health issue and if we learn to adapt and embrace, realising the individuals' talents and abilities, we and our businesses will all be the more successful for it."
Speaking out in business
While I’m thrilled to have shared my thoughts on having bipolar and reaching so many compassionate people, I don’t want to stop there. It’s not over.
Talking about my bipolar disorder is something I’ve always wanted to do, and deep down I always knew it would be OK. I’ve always been a dreamer and an optimist, even before I was diagnosed with bipolar. However, one of the things that has stopped me opening up about it in the past is worry about how it would impact my professional career. While of course, my family and close friends know about my condition, telling people at work has always been a different matter.
10 years ago when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there wasn’t much positive information around about mental health. As I was starting out in employment, I made a judgement call not to mention it to my employers in the first instance.
Every time I did this I was putting serious pressure on myself. I felt that my bipolar disorder was a secret that people could use against me if they found out about it. In the sales profession, where I’ve always worked, positive perception, high performance and high standards are expected at all times.
Any sign of weakness could be used against me. Or that’s what I felt, anyway. No one ever said it out loud, of course, but that’s what was going through my mind. Of course, I was contributing to the stigma around mental health. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I felt it was the only way to look after myself.
"We need more people in the world like you that are willing to admit that it’s ok to not be ok!"
In all of my jobs, once I had proved myself as a high-performer, then I would go to my Manager and HR and tell them about having bipolar disorder. Every single time it was accepted. Not always understood, but always accepted.
However, I still wonder, what would their responses be if I wasn’t a high-performer and an asset to the team? What if I was just average? Alternatively, what would they say if I wasn’t performing? Would they use this information against me?
I see a difference between the way business treats mental illness, especially compared to other conditions.
Broken leg? No problem!
Cancer? I really hope you recover.
Mental health issue? Hmmm, we need to talk about your future with this company.
Today, senior business leaders talk openly about their issues. This is great news, and there is now a movement towards talking positively about mental health. However, these individuals answer to shareholders, employees and teams. I often wonder what their views are when someone whose judgement they rely on goes public about their struggles with mental health. Do they always respond positively?
"Thank you. This is such an important message to get out. It is far healthier to acknowledge and work on dealing with than spending energy trying to hide it. In my mind it really is no different than diabetes. It is a health issue to be managed."
Since opening up publicly about my bipolar disorder I’ve received hundreds of messages from people I don’t know, all wishing me well, some even revealing their own struggles with mental health.
It thrills me to read these messages, and once again, I want to thank everyone who engaged with my last article. All I want to do it portray mental health in a more positive light, and if I can, help other people with their struggles that is only a think in my mind.
Remember to listen to what your mind is telling you. If things aren’t going well, talk to somebody.