I am pretty open about having bipolar disorder. If someone sees a stigma in it, they would have probably found in me another unforgivable trait like how often I mention poop. Some people ask questions; most don’t. I’m fine with either. But since my diagnosis, I have learned a lot about the disease – just as you would if you found out you had diabetes or cancer or herpes. It’s been especially on my mind in the past year and I’ve felt called to talk about it.
What has spurred this deeper study in the past year was a new psychiatrist. I am no longer seeing the kind of assembly line doctor who made me feel like I was in line at the methadone clinic. We have started tinkering with my medications, finding out that not only could I sometimes feel not shitty, I could even feel good once in a while! This was a major breakthrough in what is essentially a terminal disease. A correlating diagnosis of ADD to add to the OCD and anxiety platter made me the wet dream of pharmaceutical companies everywhere. But the brain is a complicated thing, and it’s very inter-connected. So what makes one neuron manic or depressed can then also make me count my steps and forget most of my life experiences. Anyway, that’s just technical stuff – I’ve also been studying neurology in general so I get really excited about generating new connections between the brain cells I haven’t killed yet.
What spurred me to pick up the laptop and write the first post on Snarkler in over a year was a tweet. Stupid fucking Twitter is going to go and affect my life again. Mandy Stadtmiller, a writer at xoJane, tweeted to Amanda Bynes that she should DM her about writing for the site.
I am a fan of Mandy’s writing, although I don’t always agree with her. She’s smart and she gives good advice. Her writing is open and raw without reservations of vulnerability. When I read her popular article about the hit piece written about her, I was disappointed that she called being labeled bipolar a libelous act. It’s a disease, as indiscriminate with its destruction as any deadly illness and should cause no more shame than a congenital heart defect. Then last night, I saw her reach out to Amanda Bynes.
Wednesday, former Chappelle’s Show writer and current stand-up comic Neal Brennan tweeted this:
You know Amanda Bynes is mentally ill, right? You might as well be mocking someone having a heart attack or a seizure.
I don’t think Mandy is mocking Amanda Bynes. And this post isn’t about Mandy Stadtmiller. It’s about not understanding mental illness as what it is: a disease to be managed, a part of one’s self but not its totality, and impossible to understand with a normal brain. Like white people can never truly know what life is like as a black person, and men can never truly know what life is like as a woman, the sane cannot comprehend the distortion going on between our ears.
The empathy is kind, but trying to relate to the symptoms of true illness only keeps you from learning what you need to know. 30% of people with bipolar attempt suicide. Your rainy day doldrums are not comparable. I don’t mean to diminish the real struggle people have with depression, anxiety, and the stresses of the shit show we call life. But there is an instability at work with bipolar that makes it more of a tornado than a hurricane. It’s unpredictable. Its intensity and direction swing wildly such that you aren’t quite sure where you landed. There is no control. Your mind cannot defeat matter. (Please appreciate that I didn’t go for the very punny reference to gray matter in that allusion.)
These words aren’t meant to invoke sympathy or debate and most certainly are not intended to diminish the struggle of every human life. It’s just to point out that it’s serious shit. Amanda Bynes’ behavior (and Britney Spears’ before her) reminded me of my own psychotic episode. It was about 10 years ago, and fortunately only lasted a week before my very smart mother determined through conversation that I was having delusions and hallucinations. Amanda Bynes doesn’t have my mom. She doesn’t have Britney’s dad. I don’t know who she has. I do know that it should be treated as gravely as a heart attack. This shouldn’t be a story. This should be a mission.
Don’t let all this bummer shit think I don’t still love life. I manage and monitor my disease carefully and lead a pretty normal life, or at least a safely interesting life. It’s just… this.