Ending the Stigma: Believe in Yourself, Not in What Others Tell You

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Last week (When Normal People Freak Out, Not Us), I posed this scenario: 


    Two tons of crap have fallen out of the sky from nowhere, landing on the feet of a couple in a loving relationship. One of the parties has bipolar. The other has “normal.” How many think that the one with bipolar is the one most likely to freak out?


    I originally put this question to about 50 people at a talk (to the International Bipolar Foundation) I gave a month ago in San Diego. Nearly everyone - most with the bipolar diagnosis - raised their hand. Only one person thought the “normal” partner would be more likely to melt down.

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    Do you see the significance of this? We have been conditioned to believe the totally ignorant rubbish people say about us. We have been programmed to accept the stereotype. Of course we’re not more likely to freak out, and we will talk about that in a minute. But for right now, imagine what the world would look today like if gays, African-Americans, and others had bought into the malevolent straight white male version of themselves?


    Do you see a major civil rights issue, here?


    Okay, let’s go with the facts, and, as always, you here at HealthCentral are my best source. Alfredo put it this way:


    We suffer so much, and are ready for things to go wrong, that we are best placed to cope with disasters.


    We’re used to the world crashing down on us in other words. Often, when things go wrong, it’s no big deal to us. As Tabby put it:


    We handle the TWO tons of crap better than the "normies" because we live with FOUR tons of crap in our minds every literal day.  So, two tons seems manageable or it's just added in, so really, what's a bit more?


    Meanwhile, says Cathryne, “those caught up in their own delusions of control - when something ‘out of control’ happens - they crumble.”


    Joanne was right next door to Ground Zero during 9/11. While most of those around her (including her ex-military boss) were caught in a state of helplessness, Joanne managed to block out the terrible stuff going on around her (which included jumping burning victims) and plot a rational evacuation strategy out of the city.


    Later, thanks to consulting her executive coach, who is a psychologist, Joanne managed to conclude that:


    Looking back I can see that the PTSD also triggered hypomania which certainly came in handy for analyzing data and making quick decisions. The not-seeing of flaming, falling victims? I don't remember witnessing any of the many instances of my father's domestic violence before I hit puberty either. It's a protective adaptation.


    Joanne’s comments prompted me to revisit Tom Friedman's 1989 book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem." Friedman is Pulitzer Prize foreign affairs correspondent for the NY Times. Lebanon had been embroiled in four years of bloody civil war when he arrived on the scene in 1979, and the country was still in a state of an adult version of “Lord of the Flies” when he sat down to write his book.


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    Ironically, as Friedman describes it, as things disintegrated into chaos and terror people sought order and comfort. They reached out to neighbors, people they had never even bothered saying hello to when life was normal.


    As I describe it in a HealthCentral post from 2008, Coping with Now:


    They became concerned about one another, took an interest in how their lives were going. They extended a helping hand. They formed their own associations. They organized their own community services.


    They also learned to selectively screen out the sights and sounds of their surreal environment. A cordoned-off street from a car bombing, for instance, simply meant you found another way to get where you were going rather than hightail it back home and cower under your bed. Gunfire? Unless someone was pointing an automatic directly at you at close range, you paid no attention.


    Does this appear closely parallel to the points Alfredo and Tabby and Catheryne and Joanne raised?


    Our brains are in a constant state of war. Guess what? When the proverbial “S” hits the fan, we are conditioned to handle it. Mr or Mrs Normal, on the other hand - those who take pride in their delusion of control - are the first to lose it.


    “Normal,” basically, is good for dealing with “normal,” not "abnormal."


    Nassir Ghaemi in his 2011 “A First Rate Madness” makes much the same point. In a state of national or social crisis, those who have lived with mental illness, who have been through extreme personal crisis - he cites Churchill, Lincoln, Gandhi, King, and others - are much better placed to lead. “Normal” leaders can’t cope.


    Too bad normal people are unaware of their shortcomings. Too bad that we are unaware of our strengths. You can stop the stigma right now. Stop believing the stupid crap people tell you. Start believing in yourself.


    More to come ...

Published On: May 05, 2012