“Get help, move on”, the words on Twitter from the editor of a fairly well known running publication. A friend pointed it out to me several weeks after it was written. I get words of hate and ignorance sent to me fairly often, so ordinarily, no big deal. I’ve developed pretty thick skin, and even keep most negative comments up on my social media just to show the hate and ignorance that’s out there. But this particular “tweet” caught my eye since I previously worked with the group that owns the publication and the fact that a Senior VP at that group had been pleading with me for weeks to do an exclusive for them regarding my then upcoming memoir release. I told him I couldn’t as my publisher had chosen to provide the exclusive joint rights to Sports Illustrated and People Magazine, and much of that end of things was in the publisher’s hands, not mine.
So on September 11, a couple days before my memoir release, but after SI & People had done their thing, there was the tweet from this publication’s editor-in-chief, “Turns my stomach to see Suzy Favor Hamilton getting attention & making $$$ off her long history of troubles. Get help, move on”.
Fortunately, I saw his tweet was met with resistance and “unfollows” from a majority of folks, but it was retweeted and “favorited” by the publication itself, so when I saw it, I have to admit, my blood boiled a little bit. It’s one thing when someone states his opinion, and he certainly has his right, ignorant or not, but when the publication endorses it, hmmm. Was this a retaliatory result of me saying “no” to their interview request I thought? So they are criticizing me for getting attention, but that’s exactly what they wanted to give me in the lead up to all of this? I don’t know, never will know, but what I do know is that it now provides me with an excellent opportunity to point out exactly why I speak out about my bipolar disorder, why I wrote the memoir in the first place, and why I believe we have such a long way to go.
You’ll hear me talk about breaking stigma as one of my primary motivations for speaking out, sharing my story, etc. I’ve never thought the word “stigma” provides the greatest effect though really. What is stigma? To me, a better word is “shame”. My goal, and the goal of so many others who are doing all they can to speak about mental illness, raise awareness, etc. is to eliminate the shame that unfortunately goes along with the illness. Many are ashamed to have mental illness in the first place. Many are ashamed of the bizarre or damaging behaviors that may come largely as a result of the illness (you have to understand bipolar, mania, etc. to get it). I speak out and wrote my memoir with the intention of doing my part to perhaps help others afflicted feel not so alone, to perhaps have regret, but not feel shame, and therefore, to be more likely to reach out for help. I know it’s made a difference for many.
The whole getting attention and making $$$ comment didn’t really bother me, though. I knew attention would come with the book. But while there has been some attention from all of this that’s been enjoyable, I would ask, do you think it’s a kick to tell my story to the world? To have to try to explain to people why I might have done what I did. To try to make sense of behaviors that really make no sense (that’s what can happen with bipolar)? To tell the world (most who have little clue about bipolar / mania, etc.) basically how screwed up I’ve been. How selfish I was in my manic state? To revisit my past over and over? Fun? It would have been much easier to just fade into the sunset. But the book received attention. It provided me with a large platform on which to spread my message, and for that, I’m grateful and feel it was worth it. But for those who may believe I wanted attention, just for kicks, for ego, go ahead and think that, but you’re wrong, 100%.
And making money? Fair enough, in that we never like to see people profit from what are perceived my most as misdeeds. But consider though that my livelihood was largely taken away once I was outed. I was let go by anyone and everyone, including this particular group (I get why they had to do it as my activities didn’t live up to the moral code of most, so don’t bother going there. I was the Olympian who became an escort in Vegas. I know. I screwed up royally. Engaged in destructive behavior. I’ve tried to make amends to those I hurt, but I did not intend to hurt a soul. Some have forgiven me, some apparently never will). So I’ll make some money on this, and more importantly, be able to get a life back. For that, I’m grateful and undoubtedly, fortunate.
But really, it’s the last part of that tweet that is the most troublesome to me. “Get help, move on”. Well, I have been getting help. How many hours have I spent getting help? How many dollars have I spent getting help? How much of my life is now devoted to getting help? Management of my illness is a full time job. The past three years have been so indescribably challenging for my family and I. I wonder how many understand how difficult it has been to get to where I am today, to gather the strength to get back out there, to rehab the relationship with my husband, the therapy, the pain, the living with this disorder on a daily basis? I HAVE been getting help, I will continue to get help the rest of my life, because bipolar does not go away. I’ll live with it the rest of my life. Medication and therapy, and triggers, and mania and depression, and good days and bad days, and fulfilling days & lifeless days, & judgment & lack of understanding the rest of my life. And there are so many people out there, suffering with bipolar much more than me, who don’t have the resources I have. Should they just “Get help, move on” as well?
I got help, and by speaking out, I want to make it more likely that others will get help. The stigma / shame that a tweet like this gives off is still out there in abundance. It’s that sentiment that prevents good people from getting the help they need. They are ashamed, embarrassed & resistant to get help because they fear the reactions of others. Will they be shunned, lose a job? For many, it’s easier to just put it under the table, try to live with it, deal with the pain and the behaviors. Could you imagine someone saying, “Get help, move on” to someone suffering with cancer?
And “move on?” No, I will not move on. If I want to speak out, in the public eye, I have every damn right to do so. If I want to try to make a difference, I have the right to do so. If I want to try to provide hope to others, I have every right to do so. And if “move on” means just snap out of it, get well and stop being all “bipolar” and stuff, well guess what. That’s not quite how this works.
To be fair, after receiving flak, the editor backpedaled with another tweet, “Glad she’s better. Story should be told, hopefully she donates every $$$ to women/girls charity.” That’s nice, but why women & girls? Why not mental health organizations like the International Bipolar Foundation? One of several I donate my time to. I’m running for them & Stigma Busters at the Carlsbad Marathon & Half Marathon in January trying to generate funds and raise awareness. Through a 3rd party, I invited this editor to run side by side with me so I could spend a couple hours educating him more about bipolar disorder & other forms of mental illness. I could introduce him to others living with this disorder, and to their families who live along side it as well. Perhaps he might think differently after a leisurely run in Carlsbad. Unfortunately, he declined my invitation.
But this is me today, using my voice when I see an opportunity to make a statement. Some will say, let it go, move on. I get that, and 99.9% of the time, I would. But under this particular circumstance, it’s just too valuable an example / lesson to ignore.