Monday, October 19, 2015

Stigma Stigmata

It's interesting the reactions I get when telling people that I am bipolar - from friends, family and strangers. Typically the first response I'm given is "No you're not: there's no such thing!" However, since I have been through many, many assessments at this point, and since I'm the one on the wild waves of manic and depressive episodes I know this to be false. I go through the meaning of the mood disorder that I'm still learning about only to get stern faces and furious headshakes. "That's something the doctors invented to excuse people's bad behavior. There's no such thing really. I don't believe in it." Generally I let the doubters alone because frankly who gives a shit, they're not paying my psychiatrist after all.

But the stigma is real and powerful. Everyone automatically assumes you must be Robert Downey Jr. in your madness. (Note: I have no evidence that Robert Downey Jr. is bipolar. I'm just saying that if you want to stereotype a self-medicating, uncontrollable bipolar individual a la Richard Gere's performance in Mr. Jones then RDJ's former antics also make a good stereotype even without RDJ being a true bipolar. Get it? Anyway.) You couldn't actually find a more seemingly together, cautious, level headed personality than me. You could but just allow me my exaggerations for the moment. I'm talking about stigma here and the judgments made by bystanders are simply rife. It's like the worst diagnosis that others can think of for a loved one - "You cant be one of those." If I said I was gay people would be shocked but they'd be less nasty to my face I think. And there's nothing wrong with gay but in our society mental illness is viewed as one of the great taboos.. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to know about it; type that equal to or double for being gay.

It's in the way people look at you. Literally. That searching look people give me as consideration of every crazy thing I've ever hinted. "Well she's a creative type and you know about those. I don't think she's gay. But she could be just crazy." Because gay is crazy these days, you know. Still. Who has mental illness pride though? I don't. I'm still trying to figure it all out but I've got plenty of genetic predisposition. I was initially type as a major depressive, a huge mistake since all the antidepressants they shoved down my throat caused the undiagnosed bipolar disorder to become worse and spiral out of control in an ever increasing manner from breakdowns occurring more frequently and more severely to making symptoms more noticeable finally resulting in a near complete withdrawl from the world.

 I haven't been able to work in years, I went from being an ambitious woman marked for the higher echelons of academia - or whatever I wanted to be frankly - to sitting in dark rooms permanently. And no one knew. No one knew I'd broken that completely. People suspected but no one could know entirely because I didn't let them. From not working and sitting in quiet dark rooms I soon couldn't get out of bed. But talking to friends and loved ones on the phone or through Facebook can't reveal the horrors holding a person to an invisible prison and damned if I'd let anyone know. My mother knew but she had so much to do to keep me alive and in that bed that without insurance she was lucky to keep me alive.

So slowly and surely I lost friends who couldnt seem to make me focus on the worldly and fun elements of life. Family members avoided the weird vibe I kept exerting.

And the loneliness was fine with me - quiet was essential. Bipolar disorder won.

I've never been so far away from home or so helpless in my personal security but falling out of my home, my security got me help. So the stigma, the strange looks I ignore. I'm alive. I survived. I was bleeding out, sometimes in plain sight and I should by all rights be dead. I'm still bleeding but there's a tourniquet now. That's all.

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