A lot of us I know write about our bipolar disorder or other mental conditions, whether it’s in a letter, journal, blog, or elsewhere. One of the problems that comes up is how to refer to other people who have affected your story or been involved in your life.
When I blog, for example, I try to disguise – at least thinly – the person (other than me) I’m writing about. For family members, I usually leave it at “my sister,” “my mother,” “my aunt,” “my cousin,” etc. Admittedly that’s not much of a disguise, as I’m estranged from my sister (which is a story I’m not likely to tell) and my parents have both passed away. But I have only one sibling and two parents, which makes their identities easy enough to guess, if you know my family at all.
My husband I refer to as Dan, having gotten his permission and never using his last name, which is different from mine. And my doctors I simply call Dr. G and Dr. B, or “my psychiatrist” and “my therapist.”
For friends or others who have affected my life, I invent pseudonyms, usually beginning with the same letter of the alphabet – Brandon for Bob, Joan for Julie, and the like, or a descriptive phrase – my friend the artist, my friend the writer, the rotten-ex-boyfriend-who-almost-ruined-my-life (I assure you he would be unable to recognize himself from that, even if he read my blog, which I’m sure he doesn’t). Some of these people are vital to my past, my present, and my stories, but I don’t feel I have the right to divulge their names.
If I write about these people in my other blog, the non-bipolar one (butidigress.blog), I might – and sometimes do – call my friends by their first names: Peggy the artist, Michael the writer, or sometimes leave them anonymous. In those blogs, I mention them with no pejoratives attached, or I use pseudonyms if I do.
When you’re writing in a letter or a journal which someone else might read (journals are not as sacrosanct as you might think or wish), it’s hard to avoid naming names. Once I was writing in my journal and a nearby person happened to glance over my shoulder and see what I was writing. Or you might let your therapist read a few pages of your journal to explain a situation that you were reacting to in the past. That’s safe, though. Your therapist is your therapist and not allowed to discuss your case with anyone you know.
Letters, however, are dangerous. First, there’s the kind that your therapist has you write to a person who hurt you, for example, as an exercise on how to express your feelings. Never send these letters. Even if you want to tell the person exactly how you really feel or felt, your raw, uncensored emotions and view of events are more likely to do harm than good. Especially if you’ve been in an abusive relationship or have been gaslighted, never reach out. It gives the person another way to be involved with your life, which is what you don’t want.
Then there’s the possibility that whoever you wrote about accidentally reads the letter or journal. This can ruin whatever chance you might have had to repair the relationship (if that’s what you really want to do). Tear letters up, delete them, put them in a file called Never Send if you feel you must keep them to remind yourself of how you felt back then. But don’t send them or show them to anyone other than your therapist. (And keep in mind that your letters can be found accidentally, or after your death.)
I have known a couple, one of whom wrote to the other to present an ultimatum, and it didn’t work. The oblivious partner simply ignored it, which you’ll understand also caused great pain. It was a significant factor in breaking up their marriage. They were both, by profession, supposed to be good with words, but in this case, neither writing the letter nor reading it succeeded.
I suppose it’s time to resurrect that old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When used to “encourage” children who have been bullied, it is a lie. But keep in mind that your words can definitely hurt someone else – or yourself – too. Try not to do that.