Let me start by saying my first hospitalization was after a major depressive episode at the age of 16. Even before that, I remember symptoms of depression in my life at the age of 12 or 13, if not before. Overwhelming anxiety since at least 7 or 8 years old. And symptoms of hypomania even before that. Bizarre periods as a small child in the grocery store where I literally could not stop laughing, so much so that at best, all I could do was roll around on the linoleum floor in the freezer aisle. And even earlier, a wicked temper so fierce I periodically looked like the victim of child abuse from the bruises I’d pick up from throwing tantrums.
To me, the way my brain works now (at 26) is the way it has always worked. I have mood swings. I get snippy. My mind races and then screeches to a halt. I feel things deeply, music and art moves me. I get caught up in words. I think too much. Fear or excitement makes me physically ill. I can explode.
It is the way it has always been.
So when people tell me that bipolar disorder is completely separate from them, that it is an illness they seem to have acquired, or that they have bipolar disorder but are not bipolar, I have to admit… my heckles raise a little bit.
It seems common for doctors to encourage their patients to distance themselves from this “disorder”, and on one hand I could see how encouraging someone to think of themselves as having a disorder as opposed to just being different might make people feel better about themselves. It harps back to school to some degree, people just want to fit in, they don’t want to be different.
Personally, I think this attributes to stigma to some degree though. It is hard to embrace people that are different, that is true. But it seems more detrimental to tell people they aren’t different, they’re actually the same as everyone else but afflicted with something that forces them into being different. People become angry at this affliction for making them different, and subsequently others become angry at the affliction as well. The goal then becomes to banish the affliction, instead of just embracing and helping those that are different.
I think it is important to make the distinction that we’re all human, and just because someone has bipolar disorder doesn’t make them something other than human (which is the message I get to some degree from “I have bipolar disorder but I am not bipolar”). At the same time though, I think this particular phrase can be misconstrued very easily to be read as someone who can embrace the idea of the affliction, but can’t embrace their own thoughts and brain processes as their own.
This relates to yesterday’s post on accountability a little bit, because I don’t think people can really take responsibility for their actions until they embrace the fact that their actions are a direct result of them, for better or worse. It becomes easy to shrug off something when it is the result of the affliction, but actually taking responsibility for something ugly that happens is much more difficult with that mindset. For someone who is familiar with their own actions and the way their thought processes work and embraces the fact that they are simply different, that acceptance paves a direct path to taking responsibility for one’s own actions. There is no longer a distinction between the inner self and the scapegoat.
What is bipolar disorder anyway? A series of symptoms that may or may not be produced as the result of a brain that functions differently than the norm?
My brain does not function the way the majority of brains today function. Does that make it an inferior brain? No. It holds me back from time to time, but it has also launched me forward into places I never expected to be. It is sporadic, it can display alternate versions of reality from time to time (delusions, hallucinations, and the like), and it can rob me of my energy or give it to me in spades. But each brain is unique, which is why we’re all unique, and that is part of the reason this affliction is not easy to eradicate. The genetic marker is on different places on the chromosome, symptoms vary wildly, reaction to medications vary wildly, and even the rule of thumb about what this disorder is is skewed from one place to the next.
Treating the affliction here, when the affliction may just be something created to explain something we don’t understand, (which is a difference in behavior based on how the brain functions) seems illogical.
Can’t we all just say, “to heck with it!” and treat whatever symptoms each singular person has which are unbearable for that individual?
Oh wait. That’s how treatment does work. That’s why it is different for everyone. But for some reason, the mental health model does not reflect that.
We aren’t dealing with a specific number of afflicted brains, we’re just dealing with a number of different brains as large as the population of the earth.
So my brain is irregular? Big whoop. I bet there are eons more irregular brains than one would guess. The only difference is that some irregularities are easy for some to live with and difficult for others. The people with difficulty seek help, where instead of being welcomed openly as one of the billions of individual brains on the earth, they’re simply told they’re regular and have an affliction causing all of their ailments.
So it perpetuates.
This is why I don’t quite agree with the model of “mental illness”. Not to mention most people are terrified at the word “illness” on its own anyway.
I just think that instead of being encouraged to distance oneself from the so-called affliction, we should be encouraged to embrace it. If even the patient is being encouraged to distance themselves from “mental illness” -how can we expect to remove stigma and encourage anyone else to want to embrace it?