A Replacement Name For Bipolar: The Bipolar Question of the Week
I hate the word, "bipolar". This is a label imposed on us by outsiders, people utterly lacking in taste and imagination, with no sense of grace or proportion, with all the aesthetic sensibilities of Mao Zedong’s tailor.
Keep in mind, this is the disease of Byron, Van Gogh, Woolf, Plath, Michelangelo, and Beethoven, to mention a few. You know where the term, bipolar, belongs? In a set of IKEA assembly instructions that you can’t decipher.
Really, if we have to be labeled, wouldn’t you prefer "Van Gogh’s Disease"?
Now let’s break down the term for clinical accuracy. "Bipolar" virtually demands that we consider two opposite extremes, of equal value. Not just hot vs cold, but boiling vs freezing. Not just north vs south, but Arctic vs Antarctic.
Is that what our illness truly looks like? It turns out that we are depressed way more than manic. Not only that, a good many of us do not experience full-blown mania. Mania, in fact, is a relatively rare condition. Polar? I see a lot of leaning toward one pole, not to mention its nearby temperate zones.
The term also totally disregards the fluid nature of our illness, of our brains constantly in motion, cycling in subtle phases that blend mood, thinking, sleep, and energy, typically not in sync. Bipolar leaves the impression of a far more static condition, of simply flipping from one clearly defined state to the other.
Jean-Pierre Falret was a lot closer to the mark back in 1851 with "la folle circulaire." "Cycling disease" - wouldn’t that encourage clinicians to look at what is really going on with us?
To add insult to injury, bipolar does not even translate into what we experience - namely, we have our down moods, we have our up moods. Emil Kraepelin pretty much nailed it back in the early 1900s when he coined the term, "manic-depression". But no, the psychiatry police had to get in on the act.
Me? I prefer "depressed and crazy." This is no mere whim. As many of you know, I recently published a humorous memoir, "Raccoons Respect My Piss But Watch Out For Skunks." I needed to explain the book in one sentence. The blurb I came up with:
When you’re both depressed and crazy, life has a way of becoming hilarious.
Does my term fit like a glove? I rest my case.
Let’s see what else we can come up with. It’s our illness - we get to name it. Question:
What term works best for what you experience?
Feel free to use your imagination to your heart’s content. Comments below …
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.