It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.I've been spending time with my friend Jeff's essay "The Bipolar in Society" because I think he's on to something very important. Jeff is bipolar. He wants us to understand what that means. But he also wants us to understand something else:
-- Eric Hoffer
If you are labeled as having a mental illness, there is probably something you need to attend to. My advice to you is to do so.Emphasis mine. This is a very useful point, because no matter what we believe otherwise, we all have our priests and every society ends up with a priesthood of some sort. And those who would be priests are a pretty contentious lot, because the power of being a priest is vast. And one of the most important powers of any priesthood is the power to define terms. Back to Jeff:
But don’t let them take your soul.
Imagine the person who diagnoses you as a clown credentialed with useful, but extraordinarily limited, knowledge. Do this as a rhetorical ploy: to remind yourself that this authority knows so little. In our secular, Enlightenment order of scientism and rationality, the doctors and lawyers have become the high priests.
(This doesn’t mean that individual lawyers and doctors do not hold the same reservations I am articulating here. Some of my best friends are doctors and lawyers, and because they are part of the system, they see its problems as well as anyone. I am referring not to individuals but to the authority accorded the roles of “doctor” and “lawyer.”)
“Bipolar” does not define my being. It describes a few tendencies I have.
Yet, I have chosen for years to be out about my bipolar. The social stigma attached to doing so has hurt me far more than the “disease” ever has.
Some of the particulars involved in the stigma are immediately evident and you can read those for yourself at the link.
I know more than a little bit about bipolar because my mother was bipolar. Her behavior was significantly more problematic than Jeff's, because she could become violent in some cases. There are stories that I could share about it, but won't in this forum. I will say this -- as a result of her behavior, my childhood had more than a few brushes with social workers and mental health professionals, who were (a) quite well meaning and (b) mostly ineffectual in their efforts. It wasn't for a lack of effort, or because their intentions were anything less than sincere. But even though they couldn't do much for us, there were times when their decisions had enormous impacts in our lives. And the various labels that were placed on my mother had impacts for me and for my siblings. And we'll continue with this later.