Stigma or Witticism? You Decide.

Dearest Readers, I am in a bit of a quandary and I need your help.  As some of you know, I live under a rock and rarely come out.  On top of being Bipolar, I have lots of Aspergerian features and don’t play well with others.  (I haven’t run with scissors since second grade, though).  And on top of that, or maybe because of that, I have a lot of social anxiety and tend to run like hell when I see another human being sauntering in my general direction.  I live in a building on the side of a cliff overlooking a river, with a small dog for company.  For entertainment I see my therapist once a week.

I don’t own a TV and I don’t listen to the radio, so my only exposure to the “world at large” comes by way of social media, which I skim over, much like a gull will skim over a beach looking for edible bits.  Therefore, a lot of stuff takes me by surprise and causes me confusion, since I don’t know the social vocabulary of the television-movie-talk radio.  So I think I might have run into something from this world that I need your help parsing out, so that I can stop being upset by it.  I’m hoping that’s all it is, anyway.

When people “like” one of my posts, or follow my blog, I usually head over to their blog and graze a bit, and usually leave a “like” or a comment, because I believe that is the right thing to do and it’s a great way to find new “bloggie” friends (thanks PAZ).  So somebody recently did that, and I did that, and as I was browsing through their recent posts I found a post called “Bipolar blog.”  Wow, I got excited!  So I clicked on that one, hoping to find a new “Bipolar Bloggie” with whom I could share Bipolarness and Blogginess together.  Bleeah, I was disappointed.  What this person was talking about (and I am purposely NOT linking to her blog here because I feel it would be childish and nasty to “out” a person just because I disagree with them) is that her blog has grown SO fast and now has SO many followers, that since she tends to blog on two different subjects, she is thinking of splitting her blog into two different ones.  Thus the “bipolar blog.”  For some reason, probably because of having been stigmatized as being “crazy” all of my life on account of my bipolar illness, that really rubbed me the wrong way.

So dear readers, help me out here.  Am I just being hypersensitive to an expression that is thrown around in popular culture and has become a cliché?  I feel silly asking this, because I don’t know what popular culture is throwing around just now, but I need to get a clue whether I have reason to be upset by this person in particular or by society in general, if indeed this is a societal insensitivity rather than an individual one.  Or, alternatively, maybe it’s a clue that I just need to crawl back under my rock and work on my novel and ignore everything else.

I mean, let’s think about it another way.  Let’s say that my blog is getting really black-and-white in its thinking.  It might, since I do tend to descend into black-and-white, good-or-bad thinking.  I learned that in DBT and I’m frequently, but not frequently enough, on the watch for it.

Let’s say I’m indulging in black-and-white thinking, so what if I were to say, “listen dear readers, this blog is getting biracial, so I’m thinking of splitting it into a black blog and a white blog.”  Would that go over very well with biracial readers?  I think not.  Even though I might have intended it to be a little funny, it still is not funny, because biracial people are PEOPLE, not turns of speech, and most certainly not clichés.  Do you see where I’m coming from here?

I hope people will comment like crazy here, because I want to know what other people think about this issue that has my hackles up.

Leave a comment

23 Comments

  1. I feel you. I think you are in the right. It is a form of Cultural Appropriation: and diverts people who are truly seeking some connection on the subject…..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_appropriation

    Reply
    • Thanks, Isaac, for coming over and commenting. Cultural Appropriation. I will have to think about that. My Cultural Anthropologist Self (M.A., University of Illinois 1987) says OK, I can see that, but it pisses me off intensely. You are right in that it diverts people by trivializing the subject.

      Reply
  2. I’d have to read it for myself to know for sure, but I have to say, partially tongue-in-cheek, that it almost sounds like being bipolar: splitting it into two distinct parts. Being bipolar most of my life without knowing it, I often wondered if I had a split personality. I knew I didn’t, but it was the only thing I could think of that would make sense for my different personalities. I had no idea I was manic, so I’d never have picked up on, as was called back then, manic-depression.

    After it got out of control, it took 4 years to get a proper diagnosis. When it did, all the puzzle pieces of my life suddenly fit together. I haven’t owned a tv for almost 10 years, but I did back then. I noticed how many “comedians” or sitcoms would throw out the word “manic-depression” to describe any type of “crazy” behavior and I found myself feeling offended, hurt and/or angry. I couldn’t believe how insensitive they were. Decades later it seems to be the “in” illness to have — like how so many children were suddenly being diagnosed ADD/ADHD. It’s almost as if these things run in fads, which is difficult to comprehend for those of us who really do suffer from these illnesses.

    When you phrased it “biracial” and “black blog” and “white blog” it did sound extremely offensive.

    I also heard the word “arrogant” in my mind when you were describing the “SO fast” and “SO many followers.” That right there would raise my hackles.

    Reply
    • Sometimes it’s hard for me to know whether someone is really being inappropriate in their use of psychiatric-related labeling (schizophrenic, ADD, bipolar, manic-depressive, etc.) or whether I’m “just being oversensitive,” as someone in my family frequently says, with the intent of shutting me down/shutting me up. That’s why I need some help here. But it is hard to really represent this fairly without linking to the blog in question. I will have to think about it.

      Reply
  3. It would piss the hell out of me if someone used the label “bipolar” just to get readers, when that’s not authentic for them. I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on here or not. Whatever the case may be, if there’s something inauthentic that you’re sniffing out, then others will soon come to that same conclusion, and this person’s bullshit will shine through. just keep being your most excellent you and let people connect with you based on your truth. I know I feel a connection with your writing, so thank you.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you feel a connection. Ditto, I just subscribed to you! I don’t know if her intention is to get more readers, although it did attract me since I’m always looking for Bipolar Blogs and bloggers. It took me by surprise and kind of shook me up that the title “Bipolar Blog” had nothing to do with the DSM diagnosis, but was being used as a figure of speech to describe something completely different. I’m calming down about it now.

      Reply
  4. It has actually become commonplace in pop culture call anything bipolar that has two seemingly opposite traits to it. I don’t think it’s overreacting to be offended by semantics like that. I come from a literary background, where we’d sometimes analyze the cultural significance of language used, etc. Using the term “bipolar” in such a loose way promotes a misconception about bipolar disorder, that anything that anyone who rapidly changes moods is automatically bipolar. It simplifies the connotations of what bipolar disorder is, making people think it’s simply about changing emotions. There’s much more to it than that, as I’m sure you know. I think this cultural commonplace trivializes the nature of bipolar disorder. I think in that way it is symptomatic of the stigma. It irks me when I do hear people using the term that way.

    To me, it sounds like the blogger used the term in that loose cultural way, not in a way to attract bloggers. I do agree with survivor55 that her comment about “SO many followers” sounds arrogant, though, lol.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Angel, that opens my head up more. So indeed it IS a cultural thing to bandy the term about whenever it seems to fit, without regard to its actual meaning. Yep, OK, I have been complaining for some time now about having been born in the wrong century, and now I’m even more distressed because if I go forward in time I will be lumped in with a whole lot of people and things that (nose in air) aren’t REALLY bipolar, but if I go backwards in time I will certainly die of consumption in a sanitarium, having fallen victim to brain fever AGAIN. Sigh.

      Reply
  5. No, you’re not cray-cray (one of the latest colloquialisms that drives me batty). Calling someone or something with a dual nature ‘bipolar’ has been going on a while. Using the word ‘bipolar’ as a pejorative is getting old, but you can still find it all throughout the media, from descriptions of Wall Street’s behavior to descriptions of the weather. But, our time is passing, mostly in favor of the new slam-of-the-moment, ‘borderline.’ If you’re bored, take a listen to The Studio Killers’ Ode to the Bouncer, where, “The b**ch is clearly borderline.” Ah, we’re never going to be able to reclaim the language of mental illness and remove the stigma. I think the best we can do is hope sensitivity and stigma let up, and by that time new terminology is introduced that won’t be used as pejoratives quite as easily. (But that sure isn’t going to happen in my lifetime!) Hope you’re well.

    Reply
    • Jeekers Crow, as an old Irish friend of mine used to say. I had no idea, since I live under a rock, that pop culture is having THIS much of a party at our expense. I keep thinking about how the Black militant movement got the lid put on the racial slurs to the point of the “N” word being MUCH more of a bad move for smarmy radio announcers than the “F” word, which has lost its punch through over-use and pretty much become part of normal speech, like it or not. Let’s see, what if people with mental illness RIOTED in the STREETS about being stigmatized? Quick trip to the looney bin, round ’em all up, down the laundry chute with you! What a visual. I guess we’ll have to find a kinder, gentler way, eh? Thanks, I’m well for the moment. Hope you’re well too!

      Reply
  6. Hmmm. Was going to say it is insensitive and possibly comes from ignorance and stereotyping, but was re-educated when I read Angel’s comment, not so sure now.

    I still think sensitivity is the order of the day in all dealings, but I guess sensitivity comes from awareness and we are back to the need for more education.

    Reply
    • I agree with you now that I’ve gone through the mental exercise of visualizing thousands of people with DSM diagnoses rioting in the streets, burning dumpsters, expressing outrage at being marginalized and stigmatized and accused of being inherently, uh, violent….no, no, no…..

      Reply
  7. Crazy is a popular term that has too many interpretations. It is used to describe someone who does something out of the norm. ‘Out of the norm’ can be anything from deviation from your daily routine to pulling out an automatic weapon and shooting up a grade school. Most of the time, people use the term when describing someone who is just different (often this is laced with envy as well). American culture has a love-hate relationship with what they term ‘crazy.’ I think there as many usd for the term as there are for love. Crazy is unfortunately also used when someone has a medical diagnosis which is inappropriate use of the term. Carzy is how you act not who/what you are. Bi-polar is a series of behaviors not who you are. Not to say that it does not affect your personality, it does. The question is, to what degree do you own it? Some people wear it like a badge and proudly tell everyone they meet. Others try to hide it and tend to become embarrassed when the symptoms surface. I love your willingness to take this bull by the horns and not allow this to define you and I think in the process, you are helping others to understand themselves (crazy or not). 😉

    Reply
    • Thank you! I really appreciate your comment. I have to say, though, that I do accept the fact that being Bipolar is part of who I am, part of my identity. It was a long process of fighting it that led to my final acceptance, and to also realize that it’s not at all a bad thing although the symptoms can be really bad. I manage it largely by living a reclusive life, which limits overstimulation and allows me to deal with any difficult symptoms in a way that is most comfortable for me. I recently found out that I am also an Aspie, which explains a lot, and I embrace that because it helps me understand why social interactions are so uncomfortable for me and that other people are unexplainable to me. Crazy, though, I am certainly not, and I very much doubt that the majority of people with DSM diagnoses are crazy either. Thanks for your comment, it really made me think.

      Reply
      • What people hard to pin down is that you have to live within the parameters of the reality you perceive. The scary part is that we all perceive reality in our own unique ways and that if we all looked at it closely, we are not much different from those who struggle qwith bipolar and schizophrenia. You just have your filters removed. The struggles of Aspie are the difficulty of understanding theory of mind. I feel for you on that one. My struggle has always been in the other direction, I am constantly interpreting and assessing the actions of others from their perspectives as well as mine. Talk about mind-numbing! I do get where you are coming from in owning and making all of this a part of you. I would also posit the notion that you are merely adapting to the reality you perceive out of necessity. I wholeheartedly support you in this. Most of us struggle with this concept when we are living in the mainstream! Acceptance of who you are and what you are going through is one of the main struggles of all of humanity through the ages!

        Reply
        • Wow, I would just bug right out if I had to live in your mind! ‘Course, I’m quite sure you wouldn’t be happy in mine either 😉

          Reply
  8. I think you are right to feel uneasy if the writer is using the term ‘bi polar’ to describe two sides of something or two different approaches. It makes me think of the way people refer to ‘split personality’,and stuff like that. In fact I am super – sensitive when people use the phrase ‘I’m depressed…’ when they go on to say ‘…about the form of my favourite football/hockey/basketball team.’ THAT gets me growling! I love your blog.

    Reply
  9. Without having any intention of playing the devil’s advocate role, I’ll say that bipolar has to meanings to me. As the scientist that I am, when I hear bipolar – outside a Mental Health context, I immediately think of something that has two poles. Like a magnet. Two contrasting sides. In that sense, it is possible that a blog could be considered bipolar if the two topic this person blogs about are unrelated and contrasting in a way.

    However, culturally speaking, people do tend to appropriate medical terms and use them as insults. It happened with moron, retarded and many other terms. Once the terms gets into the culture, the medical community is forced to find a new name for the condition, one that doesn’t carry the bad connotations and the stigma.

    As Survivor55 points out, it happened to manic-depressive. And now it has happened to bipolar as well.

    I think it’s only normal that you feel the way you feel. I think it is wrong to use the word bipolar as a funny way to mean crazy. But I also think it depends on the context. Also, when making that kind of jokes one has to be aware of the engagement rules. You know, something like only a Colombian can make fun of Colombians, kind of thing?

    All that said, even though I have considered splitting my blog because I talk about such different topics as Swing Dancing and Mental Health, I would have never considered calling my blog bipolar.

    But now that you mention it…. JK

    Reply
    • Great comment! Now I have to go back and think this through AGAIN. I love swing dancing. It used to be “bipolar” in the scientific sense too-East Coast and West Coast Swing. I imagine by now (as you can tell, I’ve been out of it for a while) it’s probably Multi-polar….

      Reply
      • You used to swingdance? Awesome!!!

        And yes, the swing dance scene used to be terribly bipolar in the sense the Lindy Hoppers and Westies never mixed. And used to make fun of each other and even hate each other.

        It’s not that bad anymore. A lot of people do both and there’s a more open mentality of “It’s all swing” which I like. I don’t like people hating each other 🙂 Besides, since so many swingdancers these days also do Balboa, Shag, Solo Charleston and Blues there’s less of a us versus them feel. Which I also like. So yeah, it is absolutely multi-polar, like you say!

        Reply
  10. When our son had his first manic episode in 2000, it was pretty traumatic for all of us, and I had to learn quickly about bipolar disorder. I thought I knew what so-called manic depression was, but in reality I had no clue until we lived with our son’s mania. After that, I got super aware that the term “mania” is misused all the time, as if it is something fun or humorous. Stores call their sales “midnight mania” or youth activities use “mania” as often as they use worlds like “extreme” (or “Xtreme”). For us, the mania (especially his first episode where even his doctors didn’t seem to know what to do) was NOT fun and NOT humorous, so I got very sensitive about it. I wouldn’t say it made me mad exactly, but it did bother me. Since this son also has developmental disabilities, I had been through the same thing with all the misused terms about that (“retarded” or “he is an autistic” as if “autistic” were a noun). I think people who are insensitive to language just haven’t been in a situation where their life-altering challenges were turned into a flippant insult.

    Reply
    • That’s a good point, Julia. People who haven’t had the experience just don’t know what these terms mean, they’re just words to them. I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough time. I hope things will get better for you. I have a “special” son also, and I know it can take every bit of energy you have, and a lot that you don’t have, but it’s well worth it. Take good care of yourself.

      Reply

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