The Crazy Thing About Stigma: Don't Call Me Bipolar

John McManamy Health Guide
  • What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet ...

     

    Last week, in The Art of the Therapeutic Insult, I noted that on occasion I happen to refer to myself as “depressed and crazy.” Some people think the word, crazy, should be banned. I am not one of them. 

     

    Crazy is one of those, well, crazy words. It very accurately describes a large part of who I am, both good and bad. “You’re crazy!” a very lovely woman I had just met told me. We were both seated around a fire, holding didgeridoos. That woman is now the love of my life. There was something not exactly standard-issue about my manner that she found attractive.

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    You might define love as being crazy together.

     

    In a comment to last week’s post, Tabby remarked: “I'm not overtly offended by [crazy], unless someone else uses it AT ME in a malicious harsh intent.” 

     

    Tabby, you have hit the nail right on the head. Words don’t matter. Intent is everything. Take the word, bipolar - please. Not only does it tell you nothing about me, the people who use it have no idea what they are talking about. Here’s the deal:

     

    There is a much greater awareness now of bipolar than in the past. So much so, that many see “a little bit of bipolar” as a good thing. Thus: “She is such a dynamic ball of fire. She must be a little bipolar.”

     

    But such lack of care invites unwarranted liberties with the word, to opposite effect. Thus: “He is the most obnoxious a-hole I ever met. He must be bipolar.”

     

    Here is where it really gets crazy. In my experience as a mental health advocate, these obnoxious a-holes want the whole world to know they have bipolar. Actually, they have something else going on. Maybe they have bipolar, maybe not. But we see a clear tendency towards “not very likable.” Or “likable but highly manipulative.”

     

    Just imagine if Adolf Hitler had kept the name Schicklgruber and decided to stick to his day job as a paper-hanger - we encounter these sorts all the time. There is strong evidence that Hitler experienced bipolar, but bipolar was not exactly his biggest personal issue, if you get my drift.

     

    So, anyway, here we are, in the present, with all these Schicklgrubers walking around, excellent paper-hangers - no doubt about it - but people who derive a perverse satisfaction in making miserable the lives of any unfortunate soul they happen to encounter. If they can’t find any victims, they content themselves with making their own lives miserable.

     

    I am sure there is a Darwinian explanation for their existence, but the only one I can think of at the moment is to spread irony into the world. These, are, after all, the very people who step forward as the face of bipolar. Don’t get me wrong. There are many commendable faces of bipolar, as well. It’s just that the Schicklgrubers have a way of crowding into the group photo. One of them even wrote a best-selling memoir (sorry, no name, no hints).

     

    I would love nothing better than to return bipolar to its original use as an emotionally neutral term to describe a specific clinical condition. In the meantime ...

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    Don’t call me bipolar! These days, way too many people confuse it with something totally unpleasant. Call me crazy, instead. Whatever my faults may be, at least I know that I’m not a Schicklgruber. I hope I haven’t offended any Schicklgrubers.

     

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    This is the first in a series that explores the issue of stigma. I see the series as a conversation that builds on your input. You are the ones with the experience and wisdom and insight. Please feel free to comment. You are in a safe place.   

Published On: July 21, 2013