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Out, Loud and Bipolar

lunes, 4 de enero de 2010


Enviado por Rigo a través de Google Reader:


Hello, I'm Keith, and I have bipolar disorder. Okay, you may already have known that. The question is, should I organize the world's first bipolar pride parade?

My tongue is in my cheek (where does that phrase come from?), but there is a real question here I've picked up on from my recent presence at on online forum, on bphope.com, a site that's connected to the magazine bp. Yes, we have our own magazine now, and it has a 60,000 strong subscription base. I noticed that many people on the forum used the label "BP" to describe themselves, as in "I'm a BP", and I raised the question, in a new posting in the forum, whether it's healthy to label yourself that way. It sounds as if the illness defines you, when you call yourself a BP. For myself, I'd much rather use PBP - a person with bipolar disorder, but I'm told that already means "Peanut Butter Panic" (a condition I also have.)

So the related question which sprang belatedly to my mind after making the post, is, are we secretly proud of being bipolar? It sounds so dramatic, and gives you instant character. People find mental-illness both mysterious and scary, and will stare at you in curiosity as if expecting you to suddenly start shouting at voices in your head. Hey, it's better than standing shyly in a corner, looking dorky, and feeling extremely normal.

I generally don't spring it upon people unless we get into a conversation about my book (although all my friends and most of my acquaintances know.) And even then, depending on the context, I'll say that the book is about a "crisis" I went through, without describing the several months of mania that earned me the label "bipolar." For instance, Olaf, the man I've been working dedicatedly with since June on my current software projeccts: he knows I have a book coming out, and that there was some sort of crisis. But I made it sound like it was some sort of mental break-down.

In contrast, I was at a party in Palm Springs on Saturday night, and unlike 90% of the parties I go to, I didn't know 90% of the people, so had the opportunity to either cluster with my friends, or to mingle with strangers, and chose the latter (admittedly, in part, so that I could meet new people and potentially interest them in buying the book.) I fell into conversation with a slim architect in a black t-shirt, a little older than me, and eventually he asked me what I did, to which I was able to respond (and this still gives me a thrill) "I'm a writer". "Oh," and as an afterthought, "a software developer too." We ended up going down that path where I revealed that I had bipolar disorder, and he didn't seem fazed. Yet I know how I myself react to meeting other people with bipolar disorder: I wonder if they're manic right now. I half expected to bring the conversation to a suitable end. But we remained talking quite deeply for a while longer.

On another occasion, I was getting to know a hunky black guy named Troy. I'd seen him around for years, and had always thought he was very sexy and masculine, but we'd never met, and I'd always gotten the impression that he was the sort of person who never made eye-contact with others. But at gay pride here in LA, I'd seen him dancing, and had lumbered up to him telling him "I've seen you around, yadda yadda." To my great astonishment he said that he'd noticed me for years, and had always thought I was sexy. Troy was disappointed that I still had a boyfriend in tow, but nonetheless, we agreed to get together for coffee. He seemed like a nice, interesting guy.

When we had lunch together for the first time, at one point, I forget how, the subject of mental health came up, and I told him I had a major mental illness. He looked at me as if I was joking, and it took a while to convince him that I wasn't. But I admit I felt a minor thrill of pride when I told him.

If I'm to analyze where that frisson of pride came from, I'd have to say it's most likely because of how people react to me when they learn I have bipolar disorder. You could know me intimately for a year, and never know I had the illness, since I no longer get manic (thanks to mood stabilizers). You might eventually cotton on to my intermittent depressions, of course. In other words, I'm a high-functioning manic depressive, and I don't let the disorder limit me (too much - there are certain activities I do have to avoid.) And I guess I'm proud of that. It's not necessarily something that is easy to achieve. Mania is frankly quite enjoyable, and almost unbearably exciting, which is why so many people make the choice to go back there. It's not something that I've ever been tempted to do, though, since I've experienced only too painfully the reverse of the medal.

And yeah, too, I see having experienced mania as being one of those life experiences that marks you, and sets you apart. I came very close to insanity on one horrible day, and although it's not something I care to repeat, it changes your understanding of reality, and illustrates the extremes inherent in your mind. In other words, it makes you a more complex person, and therefore, you hope, a more interesting person. At least this is how I explain why I feel pride at being a PBD.


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