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Coming Out. Wednesday March 11, 2015

"Firstly, can I assure you all that I am completely normal and totally sane. It's just that, like twenty-five percent of us, I have a Mental Health condition."

That was the way I began my talk tonight. For the first time, I was talking about my bi-polar officially and in public. And it was scary.

It wasn't the public speaking that was scary: a lot of my job involves giving presentations around the county to various groups. Very few speaking engagements worry me now (apart from speaking to children: nine year olds are the hardest audience ever!) I'm happy speaking to twenty people or two hundred people and I honestly think twenty thousand would be a piece of cake – just as long as I was speaking with my Image Consultant hat on.

Because I'm pretty darn good at my job. And I know I'm pretty darn good at speaking about it too. I'm educational, engaging, informative and entertaining: when I'm talking about Clothes and Personal Style.

Speaking from the heart, with raw honesty, about the bi-polar I have lived with since I was seven years old; now this was something new.

I was so glad that the group of women I was talking to tonight had previously booked me (several times) to talk to them in my professional capacity. They know me as reliable, prepared, competent, consistent and – yes – professional. Tonight I was showing them the other Mary: the side they will never see normally, because only my family and closest friends see me when I'm going through the bad times. Oh – and you guys, of course!

And they were lovely! They were warm, accepting, understanding, compassionate….

They also asked some very challenging questions. They asked about what professional healthcare is available (very little beyond GPs and private therapists charging £100 plus an hour). They wanted to know how my condition affects my family (it still bothers me that my (now) twelve year old has been my intermittent caregiver since she was two and that my husband has had rather more than his share of the "in sickness" part of the marriage vows). They wanted to know if I watch my children for signs of mental health problems (like a hawk, my dears: like a hawk wearing infra-red goggles and through telescopic sights)!

So I've come home and immediately poured myself a very large glass of Chardonnay. And yes – I know I should be doing my EFT/tapping/mediation – but you know what: that glass of wine is both immediate and delicious. The second glass is even better.

Part of me wants to develop this talk; to polish it and to put myself on the speaker circuit with it – so that I can educate more people about depression, bipolar and to let them know about Moodscope, which has been a lifeline and more over the last three years and which would benefit so many more people if only they knew about it.

The other part is relieved that my husband and mother (who would infinitely prefer that this whole business is kept discreetly quiet and never mentioned) give me an excuse to wimp out of taking myself public.

I'd value your opinions and comments. Let me know what you think.

A Moodscope member.

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Leah Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 5:21am


Thanks for your blog. I have done over 50 speeches over the last 8 years speaking to groups about depression and bipolar as a volunteer. In Australia , people are trained by organisations to go around schools, community groups, and service clubs as volunteers.

I am unsure if you will be paid or a volunteer.
If there are are organisations you can work with, this maybe very helpful. I found the training and support extremely helpful and supportive.

I think you would find it very helpful in your own recovery as helping others makes one feel very worthwhile. For many years I felt ashamed because I had bipolar but by giving speeches I felt important and knew that I was making a difference in educating the community. I wish you all the best
Cheers Leah
Let me know if I can help in anyway

Nigel Harper Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 5:22am

Well done, sounds like a fabulous talk.

My partner (also bipolar) recently did something similar for a national meeting organised by her employer, talking about her condition, how it effects her at work and the ways she and her managers and colleagues have adapted to handle it. It was, I think, tremendously rewarding for her but also hard work and stressful.

Being an advocate is incredibly important but it's also hard work and draining of both time and energy, physical and emotional. Just as there should be no shame in talking about your condition there is also no shame in deciding that you want to keep it private.

It's also worth remembering that the decision is not irrevocable. Neither your condition nor your speaking skills are going anywhere anytime soon. Going public may not be the right thing for you today, but that may change tomorrow, next week, next year. And the need for advocates isn't going anywhere either, so if and when you're ready there will be a niche for you to fill.

Hopeful One Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 7:02am

Hi Mary- thanks for that .Your blog is thoughtful ,insightful,and above all educational for me-someone who had no idea about the bipolar world.Since you mention about"coming out" look what happened to another misunderstood group of humans.From being a criminal offence they now can get married and have a family.I believe the same will happen to mental health conditions ,if it is not already happening.We owe this to pioneering individuals like yourself.Congratulations!

Sarah Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 7:38am

Hi Mary I felt really pleased when you included us moodscopers in your trust group. When I first read your blogs I thought you were honest and brave, I feel I know you and going through your ups and downs has been educational. So you are already helping people through Moodscope and thank you for that.

Judith Elbling Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 8:34am

Hi Mary, if I 've learnt one thing in life - its do what you want - especially if you are not going to hurt anyone. And who will be hurt by you "going public" so to speak. (pardon the puns). And you may well help someone else who has the problem and cannot speak about it or get help!! So go for it -see how it works - you can always stop again!

Rupert Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 8:35am

Interesting blog Mary. I agree with Nigel in a way in that it is a big commitment - a one off is good but how would you feel if you had a string of talks you had to give regardless of how you felt at the time? On the other hand it may be just what you are looking for - a form of therapy in itself! Just my thoughts...Rupert

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 8:54am

Hi Mary

I enjoyed your blog. I think it is a great idea though I can see Rupert's point about how your feeling on the day could be an issue but if you are already having to deal with that by doing talks that are booked regardless of how you feel and as you seem so adept at putting on your other hat I couldn't see that being a problem for you. You could always start with local councils who like to be at the forefront showing their equality and diversity. I had a bad experience with one recently where apparently having a mental health issue means you are suddenly deaf and can't hear what people are saying about you while you are stood within 5 metres of their desk!! :) I'm not too scarred and it taught me a lesson.


Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 9:20am

The more people can talk openly about mental health the sooner the social stigma will be reduced. Then we can all stop feeling like second class citizens. Social stigma and the knock-on effect it has on one's feelings about oneself is yet one more thing to fight against when you have a mental health condition.
I'm doing this at work. I have a professional post that carries a significant responsibility and so far I've made quite a few jaws drop, but I've also enabled several people to find the courage to talk about their own difficulties.

Cat Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 10:33am

Dear Mary, Congratulations on both your talk and wonderful blog. You have moved me to tears with your bravery. Interestingly the thought for the day: Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. I think the quote says it all, your destiny is to give these talks in public, if Ruby Wax & Stephen Fry can gain respect and be such amazing pioneers, so can you. I wish you the very best of luck. Cat.

Sally Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 10:55am

Hi Mary - DO IT !!! (oops, may be a bit manic at the mo ! :) )
Seriously, I think you would be doing a great service ....
Sally x

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 11:07am

I worked in mental health facilities for years - a dept head and well respected, keeping secret my own "illness". At one point, 25 years ago, I broached the subject of coming out with a colleague. And he said DON"T - you will be eaten alive. 10 years later things changed in psychiatry.We were doing "Team Training" for ALL the staff working on a ward and I did a presentation on an "anonymous" person, describing my mental health history and career/personal successes. I ended with "Now, what would think if that person was me, How would you treat me differently." One staff, quite honestly stated "Wow, I feel like I was just kicked in the stomach!" I responded, "well, if you were, it was with your own foot". Doing that presentation was VERY rewarding, but took a lot out of me. Sometime later I had a very long and serious "breakdown" and had to retire from the position I loved. I was given nothing but support from my peers and administration. So go ahead, just be careful.

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 11:16am

Mary....You sound like a lovely person,someone I would love to have tea with.You are also a very brave woman,especially for being able to do public speaking!!But,seriously,also brave for the subject matter.It is so difficult to expose your deepest self to others,strangers particularly.But think of how many people you will touch,who will have an "AHA" moment,who will be helped by your experiences and information.I applaud you,Mary.Best of luck on your continued journey!

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 11:37am

I went through life just not mentioning (I had been swept under the carpet by embarrassed parents when I was too young to cotton on). Mary. it sounds as though your coming out was in a good environment to people that already respected you. Coming out for me was very late - on starting work with a mental helath charity. It has helped me know myself better and understand causes.There is still so much stigma out there and wasting one's braveness may not help. Opening up to people who are already with you is really spreading the word. Well done :)

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 11:52am

It is a lot to consider, Mary, and whatever you decide will be right. There's little i can add to the thoughtful comments above. There is no question that you would be brilliant at this, but that's not the issue. My feeling is that you will absolutely take this on; it's just a matter of when. susan xx

Penny Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 1:06pm

WELL DONE. I remember when I had to give a presentation to 10 of my class mates and explain that I suffered from MH problems and it was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done (and like you I have a lot of experience of giving presentations to groups large and small). I think on the whole people want to know what having a MH problem is really about. As 1 in 4 are said to suffer most people will have experience of either suffering theirselves or seeing someone they know suffer and I believe that the majority of people want to help. Only by increased education can they know what to do, so if you feel that you can do it then I think you should.
I went to a talk once about depression and I discovered a youngster that I knew was at the same talk. Afterwards it gave me the opportunity to have a coffee with the girl and start a conversation about mental health, it turned out that she had a friend she was worried about. So you may start discussions between people that would not happen otherwise even if you don't feel that the audience has taken it in. And maybe you will help reassure to open up about their own problems and seek help (maybe you will even save their life!)

John Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:11pm

Thanks Mary

I totally buy into the "two hat" scenario. Professional instructor worldwide and very successful , not a problem (it's an acting job after all!!} but tea breaks and talking outside the venue as myself - now that is a whole new ball game !!!
I know you will go on to speak about your bi polar, and I wish you luck juggling the hats.
If I am as strong as you maybe I will start doing the same. Good luck John

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:36pm

Thank you Leah. I appreciate your offer of support on this.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:37pm

Thank you Nigel. It's good to remember that things and circumstances do change. It may be right in five years' time even if it isn''t right now.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:39pm

Bless you Rupert. You are very thoughtful. Wtih my other speaking hat on I know that I can do this - I am just concerned about the effect on my family.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:40pm

Sort of like "Does he take sugar?" As if people in wheelchairs are suddenly deaf and dumb too.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:53pm

Thank you, Hopeful One. Yes - we are slowly winning. But - just as there are still people who feel that being gay/lesbian/bisexual is unnatural and sinful and just plain wrong - there will always be people who think that anyone with a Mental Health issue is mad. But I like the phrase used about internet trolls "Haters gonna hate." No good ever came out of hiding or pretending.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:55pm

Thank you Judith. I am mostly concerned for my family who might experience embarrassment - especially the older generation who have different values

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 3:58pm

That's an inspiring story. I am so sorry you had the leave the job you loved, but pleased you report that you experienced such support from the organisation and you peers.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 4:00pm

Thank you Cat.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 4:00pm


Laura Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 4:09pm

Hi Mary -

Thank you for trusting us and for your openness - that's not always easy to do. I understand your hesitancy and your worry about how speaking engagements might affect your family; however, my humble opinion is that we all need to do whatever it takes to live a fulfilling, productive life. I am also bipolar, and there are weeks and months in a row where I am so depressed, I am unable to be content with my life. But I try to do something productive every day now, even if that's just making the bed. It's a shame that your husband and mother are so embarrassed about your condition; my feeling is that this is based on "how will this look to others"? People who attend talks on mental health are already interested in it for whatever reason. And I learned long ago that the best way to help myself is by helping others. Do what YOU need to do, Mary. Best of luck.

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 4:26pm

Congratulations Mary,
How brave to be acknowledging another part of our wholeness, our oneness. I am proud to be in your company. I know I have denied parts of me rather than displease others, appear different and/or shame myself. Coming out on even the littlest things is amazingly freeing. Most times I was imagining the responses/reactions of the others and never taking the time to clarify and/or verify them. I have discovered and am continuing to discover that I am acceptable if I accept myself as I define myself. Hard but doable on most days. Be well and go lightly with joy.

Les Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 4:59pm

Hi Mary

I am open about my mental health issues even as I deliver a presentation about something else if it is applicable......after all, the more authentic we are, the more people trust as they 'feel' it. And if it does affect them, I do not want to work with them.

I remember once in London working with The Disability Partnership and I was open about it as usual and afterwards was approached by a man whose son had committed suicide. He asked me what else he could have done for his son, his guilt and sadness was palpable. I was able to say that he probably did more than most (from what he said) and that when things are that dark....nothing really gets 'in'.

It ended as a very uplifting conversation as he felt far better at the end and both of us had shared something deeper than normal.

I find when I talk about my mental health challenges, it enables others to talk about theirs challenges and thus spreads more light and compassion.

I left my wife 7 years ago, who had for 13 years wanted me to keep everything quiet and not to seem weak or 'mental'. Which was of course more about her and not me and her image. OK to be wife of a CEO with all its trappings, but not a mentally ill CEO!

To attempt to be two people further stresses anyone who is already depressed.

I have a wee phrase - 'Show weakness to gain strength'. Because if you show that you feel safe enough to show your whole self....people will trust and follow you and will be happier to show their weaknesses. Leadership is more about showing weakness than its the followers that create any leader.

No followers = no leader. (although plenty of managers who are not leaders)

Which profession are the second least trusted after media reporters - politicians!! As no one really knows who they are as they morph into buy votes.......!

As Gandhi said - 'You have to be the change you want to see in the world.'

If you want the world to be more open and accepting - and for it to happen now - there is only one person you can change - yourself!

Frankie Darby Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 5:01pm

Hi Mary. I am a 70 year old female who has just been diagnosed with bipolar 2 which I believe I have suffered from since my teenage years. Thanks to you, I now feel able to share my diagnosis with family and friends. I wish you good luck and thanks once again. Frankie

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 6:32pm

Hello Mary

REALLY well done you! A huge achievement and so brave. I am glad it was a positive experience for you. It reminds me that often the things we dread are never as bad as we anticipate ...

RE; putting yourself on the speaker circuit ... can I come too?! and talk about how wonderful Moodscope is and has been for me in particular ...(I am not bi-polar). I think anything which promotes awareness of Moodscope and other options available would be brilliant ... it would be lovely to meet you! and all you other wonderful Moodscopers! Maybe we could all come!!!

Seriously though, do you already know how to put yourself on the speaker circuit?
It sounds a bit challenging - dates in diary for months ahead ...
Are there obvious options available? or would you need to seek them out?

Maybe you could start small and set just one date for a couple of months' time - and take it talk by talk ... that way you can get a feel for how it will affect you and the family.
Does that thought make you feel comfortable? or anxious? Your gut reaction will guide you to the right "Do" or "Don't" or "Not yet" decision.

I would love to hear what you decide and how it goes for you - I always enjoy your blogs and I am sure you are a really good speaker too ...

Good luck!
P.S. Hello Frankie Darby!

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 6:50pm

Dear Mary,
First: Brava sister!! I have professionally been out of the closet since 2001. I know the vulnerability you are feeling and the immeasurable power that comes with this kind of advocacy. Nothing else we do is as powerful. Nothing.
Do not go blindly though down that very honorable path. There are the thorns and bristles of stigma that are compounded with the visibility. You will also run into others who do the same and, forgive me, redefine peer support internationally.
If you choose this path be prepared for more speaking engagements than you can respond to.
Best of luck to you. Be wise and courageous (even to say no if that's best),
From across the pond,

Karen G Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 7:08pm

Hi Mary
Thank you .
As a professional who can also speak confidently to hundreds if people I keep wondering if and how I can use my skills to talk about my mental health problems
I too am worried about my family - bit my husband and children aged 12-16 but my parents who don't get it.
Part of me thinks maybe if more people like me shared they would start to. But I still haven't learnt to handle their concern (Stiffling!) or their advice (feels critical and lacking in empathy) . I end up caring for them .
So I've no answers yet but some thinking to do. I know I can help others but is it better to do one to one or more up front stuff?
The better I understand myself the easier this gets but though I'm honest with people I know, but I'm in a new job situation and nervous to share there. , I'm not yet sure about speaking to those who might doubt my competence in other areas. That said, going public might make this easier for me.
Good for thought.

Lexi Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 7:14pm

I think it's an excellent idea Mary. We need to remove the stigma. I grew up with bipolar, as did my sister, my brother, my grandmother. I too am a successful, professional woman with a "dark side". How much time and energy is wasted trying to hide the fact, all the shame piled on because I have this other side. I deal with it well and I manage it through meditation, medication, and therapy but there are days that I struggle hard, just like anyone else with a condition, illness, handicap, what have you. How wonderful it would be to just tell people I;m having a tough day and not have to hide it because I'm afraid others will judge me. So I say yes! Get out in front of it! We need to remove the stigma and get real! Every day very successful people manage their bipolar and depression! Enough with the judgements! Let's accept and move on!

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 8:28pm

Actually no. I was stood away from the mangers desk waiting for her to get off the phone and passing the time by looking at the posters on the wall when I became aware that she was talking about a conversation I had earlier with a colleague and had been passed to someone else. There was only one person that had left the team for the day so I was fully aware who it was. I had to walk away and out of the office when I heard her say (with her head in her hands) 'I don't know what she is doing, she's just standing in the middle of the office' and if I could hear so could others around. It was a temp job so I didn't go back. I felt stupid for saying anything in the first place and humiliated and angry that she could be so stupid and inconsiderate to think that I couldn't hear her. Live and learn.

Anonymous Wed, Mar 11th 2015 @ 11:18pm

Hi Mary,
You are really brave! It is hard to show your "other side" in public. I'm glad the reaction you had was so positive.The more people are open about these things the less taboo they will become, but I still would feel uncomfortable standing up and talking about it as you have done!

Alicia Sun, Mar 15th 2015 @ 3:27pm

Mary, Yes Please YOU HAVE TO DO IT! (Of course it's your own decision but this are the first words that came to me.) I feel like I am in the beginning of my career and so afraid to speak up about an unclear and very taboo diagnosis that I only relunctanly share with people. I use the blanket of anxiety and depression, as I feel that more people can relate. My wish is that one day after gaining more confidence and all those things that I keep doing, I will feel that the time has come to speak up and show people perspective on what I was told early on in my life, how that affected my life, how I lived with it and how I still achieved everything I've achieved.

I love that you've mentionned that you are already amazing at what you do, speaking to audience, and that is exactly why I think you have to do it, the coming out part. The world is in great need of more successful people coming out and dropping the masks. Again, I speak from a personal eagerness to see other people do it and in the end, the decision is all yours. If you haven't heard of Brené Brown's work on vulnerability and shame, I highly suggest it!!! She has strong data to back up sharing our stories in a way that is empowering.

Sending my love, I rarely comment but I love reading your blog. Usually when I find myself nodding and following along to a post, I discover your name at the bottom of it xxx


Nurse Tilda Mon, Mar 16th 2015 @ 3:47pm

I love your posts, Mary. They speak directly to me. In fact, the similarities of our experiences are uncanny. I feel a real connection to you in many ways. The one I'm thinking about now is the need to keep separate the professional (competent, capable, etc.) from the bi-polar/unwell part of yourself. When you come out publicly, it's hard to keep that distinct separation. The group you spoke to knew you, but what if they didn't? would you potentially lose business, or, perhaps the opposite; you would attract business by people appreciating your courage and vulnerability to speak about this topic. I have the same issue. I'm a nurse and the public needs to be able to trust nurses; afterall their lives are in our hands. How would a patient react to knowing that the person caring for them had this other, unstable side? I am afraid it would harm their trust in me. However, yet... despite those concerns, I am coming out more and more while on the stage and in my books that I write about my life as a nurse, about my vulnerability and mental health issues. Afterall, there are many, many nurses and caregivers out their and demographically speaking, many of them must also be dealing with mental issues. How do they cope with that and also carry out their very responsible jobs? It's a huge challenge, in addition to the ordinary challenges.. Other professions don't require the same kind of reliability, steadiness, and dependability that nursing requires. It's harder to meld the two sides. The one that is capable and on the stage, inspiring nurses to be the best they can be, and the other one who sits on a couch in the darkness. I'd love to be in touch with you, Mary.
I'm and Also, I'd like to be able to contact you so that we could discuss your services that I am probably in need of.... I've been giving public presentations for the past 12 years, but I know that I could use a tune up. Hope to hear from you. Best wishes, Tilda

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