Touching Back on a Point About Bipolar

Recently, another blogger linked to my post, “Bipolar As Unexpected Gift?”

I haven’t read the linked post yet; I’m not in a great place for dealing with controversy (of which there may not be any).

That said, there are a couple of points that I think are really missed in my post — for a couple of reasons.

First, I didn’t invest a great deal of clarity in them, because the post in question was never meant to be anything but a reflection on a very surprising experience of mine (that of finding that there were good outcomes in my life — especially my marriage — that stem from the effects of Bipolar disorder on my decisions and experiences).

Second, the title is unfortunately close to the kind of thing that apparently gets out there a lot — happy-clappy New Age bull about accepting and making the most of mental illness or whatever cross one bears in life; seeing it as a gift and not as a tragedy.

I wasn’t aware of those articles when I wrote my post.

Anyway, the points in question are these:

First, when I used the word “as” in the title, I didn’t mean “as only” — quite the opposite. I had been struggling with a lot of bitterness; a lot of pain about the things Bipolar had taken from me. I can’t remember now what led me to realize that there were also things it had given to me. So the word “as” in the title doesn’t mean “as this and nothing else.” Not at all. It means “as this, surprisingly enough, along with all the other stuff it is.”

Western culture likes things to be black and white, either or: thus, if any one of us points out a way in which Bipolar has been beneficial, there are many outside the Bipolar community who will choose to see only that. “If it can ever be good, it can’t be bad, right?”

But that’s not how life works. Sometimes an ocean of bad manages to bring along with it a teaspoon of good. No, the good doesn’t invalidate the bad — not by any means. But neither does the bad invalidate the good — and hanging on to the good is one of my survival strategies.

Which brings me to the second point I rather failed to address back then: in this battle, there’s no One True Way. My experience with Bipolar Disorder is, by necessity, different from yours, and yours from mine. What works for me might not work for you.

So when I comment on the surprising experience of finding that there are good things in my life that wouldn’t have been without Bipolar Disorder, know that I don’t expect you to feel the same, or judge you in any way for however you do feel (okay, full honesty: if you regard your Bipolar Disorder as an unequivocal good and insist that others should do the same, I’m going to at very least shoot you a long, stern, professorial look with bristly eyebrows — feel how you feel, but don’t tell other people how they should feel; that is so not cool).

So there you have it.

I don’t see Bipolar as only or even as mostly a gift, and however you see your Bipolar, I honor that, too.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2015/10/24, in bipolar and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. AMEN! Thank you, Ash. We do a disservice to ourselves and to others when we choose to see only in black and white.

  2. Keep in mind that bipolar doesn’t exist as an independent entity. It’s defined by a committee stacked with vested interests and their definition changes regularly (it’s thought that DSM-5 will double the number of people with bipolar II).

    It’s not a medical disease but a politico-religious ideology. Everyone thinks he follows the one true bipolar. Because there’s no objective, empirical measure of bipolar all arguments about it are necessarily semantic. It’s really about trying to lay claim to a definition.

    • Excellent point. I think we’re really pretty invested right now in the discrete “itness” of things (especially in mental health — at least in the US, I suspect that a longstanding scarcity mentality WRT health care, especially mental health care, coupled with a cultural belief system which is really into essentialism and which attaches immense shame to mental illness really feed into this tendency), which makes it exceedingly important to mention exactly what you’ve mentioned here.

      • Yeah, there’s a sort of paradox in that mental illnesses (or at least their supposed manifestations) are shameful but the labels serve to legitimise your distress and gain access to services. So many people become simultaneously invested in ensuring the label applies to them but in externalising any of its features they see as stigmatising.

        By suggesting bipolar has a positive side you’re both reducing the ‘reality’ of their suffering and suggesting they reject aspects of themselves they might like. People can get upset by that.

        And because people think bipolar is an objective ‘thing’ any variations in experience or outlook become points of contention rather than personal reflections.

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