Tag Archives: discrimination

Language and Mental Illness; A Different Point of View

I’ve been reading a lot of pleas and rants about how important it is for people to conform to one standard of language when it comes to discussing mental illness… this is not one of them.

Personally, I believe expecting everyone to adhere to strict conformity when it comes to discussing mental health is a step in the wrong direction, and while that is a notion that may boggle some minds, I’m hoping to make a clear case today for my (potentially less-popular) point of view. I am not here to call anyone out, just to express my concern and why I feel that way.

I’d like to start by stating the obvious:

People have different beliefs.

In fact, they’re allowed to. That is a big part of the idea that America was founded on, and globally it is even more apparent that our cultures and environments have produced many different ways of looking at the world. These many viewpoints include those that effect how people look at mental health.

If you haven’t already, you may want to take a second to check out The Icarus Project. This is a national community of people (largely artists) who don’t believe in taking traditional psychiatric medications (for the  most part) and instead try to embrace themselves in their current state, largely funneling their emotions into art.

Do you agree with this? Maybe not, but whether you or I agree with their beliefs doesn’t change their right to believe them.

A big part of our ability to live our lives comes from tolerance and the ability to get along with people with different viewpoints. It seems like such a large part when it comes to “battling stigma” has become pushing others to believe the things (and act the way) we want them to instead of focusing on being open and being treated with respect.

Language is Imperfect. 

I have gotten a lot of flack from my therapists for jumping back and forth between psychiatric verbiage when describing my mental state and regular descriptive language. What they don’t seem to understand is that most words don’t seem to describe what I’m aiming to describe very well at all, and I wind up with the oddest mish-mash (I’m sure you’ve read some here if you’re familiar at all with my blog) of language.

Language is imperfect, not all of the words we might want or need have been invented yet. Describing something that isn’t tangible (like something in our minds) can often be frustrating enough, and on top of that different groups of people have different feelings associated with different words. One word in English very rarely means one thing straight across the board (I guess maybe “buttress” is an exclusion?), and a word spoken in the city might have an entirely different connotation in the country (let alone from region to region).

Language is not something we can expect to lasso and subdue until it is uniform. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way language has ever worked (from the time it was invented) so it seems ludicrous to me to expect that it will now.

Language is a form of self-expression.

If we consider other forms of self-expression (music, painting, etc.) it seems ridiculous to walk up to someone painting and tell them they can’t use the color blue. Or they can’t use the “c” note. Or they can use the “c” note but only when followed with an “e flat”.

A lot of the things I’ve seen lately about mental health verbiage has sounded like that sort of bizarre notion me. While I understand that people feel concerned about how others are expressing themselves (something I will get into momentarily), the act of telling someone what they can and can’t say or write quickly falls into the realm of censorship. While I understand that is not anyone’s intention, that doesn’t change the fact that that’s where this attitude is heading.

In addition, self expression is as individual as… well… the individual! There is no such thing as a “right way” or a “wrong way” to express oneself. Surely, there are ways that may be more pleasing to the senses (which, again varies widely from person to person), or ways that our society deems more acceptable than others (also varies depending on many factors like age, location, race), but that normally doesn’t bar forms of self-expression that falls outside of these categories.

Do the actions or words of one person discredit the rest of the group?

This is the big question that I think has been fueling so many of these negative comments and posts. Certainly when one blogger appears sloppy or ignorant about mental health, we all suffer, right?

I read an article once about how a large group of lesbians (around the time the gay rights movement was really heating up) were shunning any woman who had identified herself as a lesbian but had slept with a man because they believed it made them all look bad. Instead of helping their own cause, it created tension and animosity among a group that should have been fighting along side one another for the same rights.

I feel like this is a very similar situation, and people who should be scooped up and cared for to bolster a strong mental health community are instead being ostracized and attacked (for often doing little more than using a word incorrectly).

This particular idea is one that has been weighing heavily on my heart for quite some time, not because of the language situation (that is really a secondary symptom for this issue) but because of how quick much of the mental health community is to jump on board with ostracizing or shunning anyone who has a mental illness and also committed an act of violence.

Does a seemingly “poorly written” blog post make us all look bad? (Really?)

To take it one step further I have to ask; does an act of violence from one person with mental illness make us all look bad?

If it does, it is not for the reasons you are probably thinking of. From my perspective it all comes down to the reaction of the mental health community, and whether our reaction is one of solidarity:

“This is an example of a very extreme instance of mental illness and is an important indicator about the help that is sill needed in the mental health community.”

or, more often, one of dismissal:

“People with mental illness are almost never violent. I am never violent, this has nothing to do with me.”

The issue of including (or being supportive) of someone in the mental health community who might need extra help is an issue ten times larger to me than being nit-picky about the language in a blog or on twitter. How can we expect people to be supportive and accepting of us when we can’t support or accept the people within our own mental health communities? Can we take a look at the bigger picture please?

This conversation has only just begun.

The conversation about mental health has only just began to heat up. I believe whole heartedly that putting our focus on the statements that don’t match up with our own beliefs and attacking them is incredibly foolish. At this point, I think it is less important what is being said as the fact that people are saying it.

Think about it, more people than ever before are beginning to talk about mental health, and that is truly remarkable! No matter what people are bringing to the table in this conversation, it is important to remember that people have different beliefs and the way we learn and understand is to have a conversation with many different points of view. We can’t expect people who are just starting to explore this topic to have the vocabulary or understanding that someone who has lived with these issues for many years to have, and attacking anyone for being ignorant or for having a different perspective will likely create an enemy instead of a friend.

Understanding wont happen overnight, and we can’t force people into seeing from our point of view. All we can do is share what we have, and be patient and tolerant with everyone else.

What can we do to help?

1. Express yourself! Express yourself with words, photography, paint, clothing, music, whatever it is that you do best. Use the language that suits you best to tell your story, the story of how you (an individual) live your life!

2. Practice patience. I know this can be a tough one (especially with a mood disorder), but if you see a comment or post that upsets/frustrates you, skip it. If you want to respond, maybe wait until the emotional reaction has gone and see how you feel then.

3. Practice positivity. The internet is one place in particular that I try to practice the phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Try pledging yourself to leaving positive comments only and skipping writing negative ones. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help your own mood and feelings of positivity while blogging.

4. Focus on you. Try focusing on your own self expression and making it the best it can be instead of focusing on the perceived faults of others. When in conversation (online or in real life) and you feel you need to respond to a point of view you don’t agree with, start the dialogue by focusing on yourself. “I find this particular use of words offensive because ____. ” or “disagree because ____.” This leads to a more open conversation that feels more honest and less accusational.

5. Be open. In the mental health community, a lot of importance is placed on the portion of being open that involves sharing our stories, but it is equally as important to be open to what others have to say or questions they might have. Remember, this is a time for mental health conversation, and conversations are a two way street. It can be amazing how being open to a new idea or point of view can lead us to profound places; all it takes is a willingness to listen!

Anyone with works of self-expression coming from a mental health perspective who might be interested in seeing one pop up on this blog, shoot me an email at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com

Canadians Denied Entry Into US Due to Mental Illness

Apparently, on several occasions, US border patrol has denied entry into the United States to Canadian citizens who have a history of mental illness. 

It really surprised me to learn that these Canadians weren’t trying to move to the US or anything, they were simply trying to cross the border for a vacation! 

Canadian medical records are supposed to be confidential, but the database Canadian authorities use to keep police records are shared with the border patrols. In one instance of this discrimination, a woman had a record of police entering her home when her significant other called 911 when she attempted suicide years earlier. Though she attempted to to cross the border after several years of therapy and with much improvement in her depression, she was denied access to the US. 

US border patrol are allowed to deny border access to anyone “deemed a threat to themselves, others, or their property” but to assume anyone with a history of mental illness is considered a threat is extremely ignorant.

You can read more on this topic here through the CBC:
Canadian Woman Refused US Entry Because of Depression
Canadians with Mental Illness Denied US Entry

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…

This morning I woke up particularly irritable. After checking facebook (something I’ve fallen back into for some reason) and finding the first three stories wildly stigmatizing mental health I growled to myself and poised my fingers on my phone. What did I want? Retribution. I wanted these three ignorant posters to be told what for, and I wanted to do the telling.

Instead of laying into them with my I can’t believe you are so quick to alienate people with mental illness rant I scrolled down. The next post was from someone I know lives with mental health issues, and it was a rant about their depression.

There is an old saying that goes,

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

This is the advice I have been trying to follow the last several weeks while experiencing gut-wrenching depression. When I am irritated (and I do get irritated) by everyone around me, my first reaction is to yell, kick, scream, and punch my way through the situation. Instead, this mental filter has left me sitting primarily in silence, but much less ashamed of my own actions.

After all, with the internet and social media these days (blogs included), how easy is it to use these platforms to purge yourself of the frustration, irritability, and depression we feel on a regular basis?

When we do, the not having something nice to say seems to apply, because these situations of emotional venting alienate people. Let’s face it, as much as we’d like to believe that greater society can handle people talking about their feelings to a greater audience, the internet does not always convey the vulnerability that comes with sharing these things. It isn’t uncommon for bullies (or people who simply say whatever is on their mind) to leave mean, hurtful comments in these situations. I mean, as many positive comments I’ve received on this blog, I’ve gotten the hurtful ones too. For someone who is feeling upset enough to be ranting about their feelings on the internet, these comments can be seemingly twice as poisonous.

What I’m not suggesting is this; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. 

This phrase can work as a guideline to remind me not to spew my feelings everywhere, but I completely disagree that one shouldn’t say anything at all. 

A bit over ten years ago when I began having bipolar symptoms, I poured many of my feelings of frustration and depression into a blog. While this alleviated some of pressure that was building inside of me, none of the people who read the blog knew what to do about my quickly unraveling mental health. It often felt like I was reaching out, putting myself out there, being vulnerable, almost asking for help, but nobody helped me. No mystical internet fairy came to my aid, and even though I was sharing with people, they weren’t the people that could actually help me.

I think it is very important that if you feel depressed or angry or frustrated, you express it in some healthy way. Don’t say nothing at all. The key is expressing it in a healthy way. Express it to someone who can listen and give you support in return, because though comments from the internet can be supportive, they can also be a real bitch.

Talk to a family member, a friend, a therapist, a doctor, a teacher, a co-worker, someone else you know with bipolar disorder, anyone you feel like you can trust. If you don’t feel like there is anyone in your life that can give you that support, call a hotline -I promise there will be a supportive, active listener on the other end that will treat you with the respect you deserve.

You could email these people, sure, but it wont have the impact sharing would have if you talked to someone. Actually talk, with your mouth. Typing these thoughts and feelings out without any supportive feedback could potentially set them on a loop in your head. By saying them out loud to someone, it is very likely you will recognize just how little some of these thoughts brought on by depression make sense.

While it has been helpful to me to share less of those unfriendly feelings with the world, I think the real lesson is that if you are having thoughts and feelings brought on by depression or mixed episodes, if you feel the need to share them, share them with someone you trust.

Eggs From Bipolar Donors Rejected in UK

This article was an interesting way to start my day, over at Express (a news website over in the UK) I found an article about IVF clinics rejecting eggs from female donors who have bipolar disorder. 

Personally, I am not surprised at all. I admit, there was one point in my life that I looked into the notion of donating eggs because, as someone who doesn’t want children myself, I thought it a little unfair that I could have them when others couldn’t. I dare say I am fairly bright and not entirely unattractive, but I had the door slammed in my face as soon as I mentioned anything to do with bipolar disorder. Granted, this was years ago, and my symptoms were not even remotely what they are today, so I was rather hurt by getting the brush-off so immediately.

There is a profile of a woman in the article who pretty much tells the same story, except in the UK. Her conclusion as to why she was denied?

They would not want a child who was “mentally unstable.”

Now, this article opens up a pretty intense can of worms. Fertility treatment pioneer Robert Winston goes on to criticize the clinics stating the lack of proof that bipolar disorder is hereditary, and then adds that many of the world’s creative geniuses have had bipolar disorder.

I know many people that are pleased with the fact that they have bipolar disorder, that they gain greatly by having it in many ways, and I’ve met several people who believe bipolar disorder has something to do with the direction of human evolution.

At the same time, I believe that saying bipolar disorder is easy is not the truth (for the vast majority of us anyway) and there is still so much fear in the world that this will hopefully start a conversation. Are these decisions being made out of stigma or is this fear actually warranted? I think as a population, we are only beginning to talk about it, and it will take time to find out.

A Live/Work Balancing Act

I’ve been very lucky, to some degree, with this new job because even though it is full time, there is an element of flexibility to it. The hours are not exactly set, which means on a day like one I had last week when I woke up feeling horrendous, I can go back to sleep for a couple hours and see how things pan out the next time I open my eyes.

With bipolar disorder, I feel a lot of the time like opening my eyes after sleeping is something of a lottery.

I don’t know how it is for most, but  I would say that at least 75% of the time, I feel better after sleeping than I did the night before. That other 25% of the time, though, if I don’t get enough sleep, or if my sleep is full of bad dreams or waking up every 30 minutes, I wake up with the wrath of bipolar hostility sitting on my chest and within moments I can tell something isn’t quite right. That unruly jerk sitting on my chest bangs a spoon on a kitchen kettle until I am ready to strangle it.

In the past it has been common for me to respond in this way when awoken in the middle of the night from a deep sleep, it is like some kind of murderous being appears and takes my place (we call her Sleep Sarah and she is a bitch). 

Every once in a while on the verge of or on the tail end of an episode she follows me out of sleep in the morning, and I instantly know that going out or being around people is the worst possible idea I could have. The only real solution is going back to sleep, rolling the dice, and hoping some other mood is present the next time I open my eyes.

One of the days last week (and honestly I can’t remember which because they’ve all become a blur at this point) I woke up with the stomach ache from hell, and Sleep Sarah was right along side it. Normally at 5:30 in the morning it is hard for me to discern how level-headed I am feeling, but right away I knew something was seriously off. I went back to sleep for two hours and then felt infinitely better, so I went to work late.

I am extremely grateful that I have the ability to make these sorts of decisions with my new job, but it opens a door into something I am not particularly familiar with dealing with. In the past I have often opted for placing a heavy amount of weight on working, and just a pinch on taking care of myself. Looking at it now, that could be why I have had trouble with such intense burnout.

It is difficult, though, and I am sure many of you have experienced this, when your boss or manager is the sort of person who considers illness a weakness of character, or has (possibly from dealing with untrustworthy employees constantly calling in “sick” in the past) a serious skepticism for anyone who claims they might be ill, to feel justified in taking care of yourself. Being in an environment where taking care of yourself is constantly considered the wrong thing to do, knowing how to go about taking care of oneself in a reasonable way seems backwards and can be difficult to learn.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I think this sort of thing makes a huge contribution to how people feel about themselves and things like mental illness, after all if someone has told you for years that being sick means you are weak or that people who take time away from work because they are sick are awful employees who are not to be trusted, you can be damn sure the people on the receiving end are going to do everything they can to hide the fact they have a mental illness and will probably (to put it bluntly) treat themselves like shit because of it too.

Anyway, a lot of that fear still lives inside of me. I may not be afraid anymore that people hear the words “bipolar disorder,” and I may feel a little less guilty for taking time to take care of myself, but I can’t seem to curb the nagging feeling that once theory becomes practice (if I have to miss a lengthy chunk of work, for example, because of an episode) that I might be pushing my luck too far, and suspicion and anger might make their way into the minds of those that have told me to “take care of yourself.” I realize that this is probably unlikely, but it is the only response I’ve ever experienced up to this point and it can be hard to imagine a different one occurring.

In the meantime, getting the work done and taking care of myself has become something of a balancing act, and I am extremely grateful to begin working with a new therapist this week to help me navigate it.

The Batman Massacre; Mental Illness?

I’ve tried, for the last few hours (since waking up) to write something, but my morning has been engulfed by report after report on the tv.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the shooting that occurred overnight in Colorado at the midnight showing of the latest Batman film. If you haven’t, turn on the television -I know it is being talked about here on (literally) every channel.

As I’ve watched the reactions from folks I know in Colorado, people on facebook, twitter, and the like I have began feeling overwhelmed with the anger and sadness that spans the country.

All I seem to be able to think about, though, is what must have been going through the head of the young man that did this.

Could mental illness be a factor here?

I mean, there have already been reports by witnesses that said he claimed he was the Joker, which is exactly the sort of delusional claim I would expect from someone who would commit a crime like this.

And this is what tends to upset me, because I know that doesn’t change what he did, but I think it should change the way we look at it.

I also know that many people who begin having problems with mental health are terrified to seek help because of the way mental illness is perceived in our country. If that was the case here, and that fear is what created an avalanche of issues that triggered this event, I think we all have something to regret.

I know this is all speculation at this point, but this is straight where my thoughts have gone.

I think each and every one of us has a responsibility to seek help if we become emotionally overwhelmed or notice changes in our mental health.

In the long run, that one step may save the lives of ourselves or others.

The Jane Pauley Stigma Position

I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to talk about this, but honestly the topic has been bothering me ever since reading the article.

Jane Pauley, the previous NBC broadcaster, has been open about dealing with bipolar disorder in her memoir Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue. That is something I have to give two thumbs up, because all I can really hope for is that people are more open about what they’ve dealt with in terms of mental illness. The more people that talk about it, the less ignorance there is, the less stereotypes ring true, and the more stigma is eradicated.

Right?

That’s what I believe anyway.

Over at the StarTribune website there is a video with a brief interview with Pauley, with a transcript of a small portion here:

You’re starting a campaign against the word ‘stigma?’

“I’d like us to stop using the word. What it describes is real. I think that we inadvertently amplify the power of those old stereotypes when we repeat the word. And for people who have mental health issues it makes us feel bad. Stigma [she said making a cut sign across her throat]. With regard to suicides in the military and not getting help because of the blah, blah, blah, including stigma. So the reference was accurate but we can attack attitudes that are misinformed and out of date. But if we describe what I have as a medical illness, which is hard, we will remove those attitudes but replace them with hope not fear. I’m against the word.

I was completely perplexed reading this, so if you’re as confused as I am I’d reccomend looking at the video. The video interview captures a bit more with the inflections in her voice, but I still sat for several minutes after watching it feeling confused.

In my own life, I have always classified stigma as a sort of fear that was attached to ignorance. Something that suggests repression for no apparent reason, and describes the gap that people place between themselves and those with mental illness because of that fear.

But from the dictionary:

Stigma: a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.

I have long moved past the idea that mental illness scratches a big mark into my forehead to warn people to stay away or somehow tarnishes my reputation, but there is obviously something that leaves people feeling uncomfortable and distant, and I think it is that something that gets pinned with the name stigma. 

Whatever it is, a mark on us of some kind, a gap between the open and the misinformed, or that lack of knowledge itself, Pauley stresses that it is real. Stigma is real, but she stresses that talking about it does more harm than good.

This is the part where I get very confused.

There have been a lot of gaps in American history where one group of people is discounted by another, but I don’t believe Women, African Americans, or homosexuals have made any progress in closing that gap by not talking about the gap. 

So there is a gap. Ok, I agree. But I think there are a lot of people who aren’t even aware that gap exists and really can’t begin to consider the issue until it comes up for them, whether that is talking about it, or being involved in someone’s life who is living with some part of it. That misinformation is beginning to fade, but I think we’ve still got a way to go.

Anyway, I’ve never had my feelings hurt by the word stigma, just by the actions associated with it. Without something to call those actions, I’d probably be more inclined to consider the people behind them assholes instead of just misinformed. That leaves me glad there is a word that describes the unjustified fear and discrimination I’ve been met with, and gives me a name for the wall I’m here to push for breaking down

If you want to read the entire transcript of Jane Pauley’s interview, you can see it here.