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Mariah Carey explains why she kept bipolar disorder diagnosis a secret

Mariah Carey is opening up about her battle with bipolar disorder after years of staying silent on the subject out of fear and denial.

Carey, 48, reveals she was first diagnosed with the disease after being hospitalized for a physical and mental breakdown in 2001. “I didn’t want to believe it,” she tells People, adding that her denial about the diagnosis prevented her from seeking treatment for years.

Carey finally decided to get help after what she described as “the hardest couple of years I’ve been through,” which included professional setbacks, the cancellation of her E! reality show “Mariah’s World” and her separation from her fiance, James Packer.

“I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” Carey explains. “It was too heavy a burden to carry, and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”

So what exactly is bipolar disorder? It’s a mental disorder that causes extreme mood swings involving emotional lows (called depression) and highs (called mania). About 2.8 percent of the American population suffers from bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include insomnia, irritability and hyperactivity, all of which Carey suffered.

“Eventually, I would just hit a wall. I guess my depressive episodes were characterized by having very low energy,” Carey says. “I would feel so lonely and sad — even guilty that I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing for my career.”

The singer — who has landed 18 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other solo artist — is now in therapy and taking medication for the disorder.

“I’m actually taking medication that seems to be pretty good,” she says. “It’s not making me feel too tired or sluggish or anything like that. Finding the proper balance is what is most important.”

Carey finally decided to come forward in an effort to show support for others going through the same struggle.

“I’m just in a really good place right now, where I’m comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder,” she says. “I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you, and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”

Not only is Carey taking steps toward managing her disease, she’s also sharing her recovery with her fans to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health and inspire those who need help to seek it. And that makes us love her even more than we already did.

If you think you might have bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue, talk to your health care provider or check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment services locator. Carey is all the proof you need that it’s never too late or too soon to make a comeback!

Read more: 12 Celebrities Who Struggle With Anxiety and Depression