Bipolar and Identity - Finding the Human Beneath the Label

John McManamy Health Guide
  • This is a short piece about identity and labels.


    The other day I watched a TED Talk by author Elif Shafrak. Elif is a woman who was born in France to Turkish parents and raised by her mother in Turkey.


    Muslim woman author, got it?  


    A literary critic once told her that he liked her book, but there was only one Turkish character in it and he was a man.


    According to Ms Shafrak, writers like her are not seen as creative individuals, “but as the representatives of their respective cultures - a few authors from China, a few from Turkey, a few from Nigeria.”


    Ms Shafrak’s talk prompted me to revisit a talk I had viewed several months earlier, by “Nigerian woman author” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her talk, she recounted attending a university in the States and not living up to the stereotype.

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    Her roommate, she said, “felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”


    Does this strike a chord with you?


    About six months ago, a woman struck up a long-distance correspondence with me. I happily responded to her queries about bipolar. She needed reassurance that I wasn’t, well, you know, crazy.


    Fair enough. But then she tried to set me up as some kind of bipolar hero. No, not really. Then she started to offer me advice. Serious red flags going up on my part. Then she went back to wanting more reassurances.


    This was a fight I wasn’t going to win. Somewhere in the course of our correspondence, I had lost my identity, both as a unique individual and as a being connected to every fellow human on this planet.


    Instead of two people getting to know each other, I was a label in a category fenced in by statistics being weighed and measured and about to be found wanting.


    I don’t judge the woman. We all buy into erroneous narratives. We are all guilty of judging people by a single story. Because of our illness, we tend to find ourselves on the receiving end. If I were more enlightened, I would say these are good learning opportunities. Instead, I will sign off with - and that’s just the way it is ...  

Published On: October 20, 2014