If you don’t have bipolar disorder, you probably shouldn’t be the bipolar spokesperson. Even if you’re a celebrity.

If you’re bipolar, you probably don’t talk about your disorder. You don’t tell anyone but close friends, you don’t tell your employer, and you don’t tell co-workers unless they’re co-workers you kind of consider friends. That’s because there’s a stigma attached to the disease, right? At least that’s how people like to frame this issue.

But I think it’s more complicated than that. There’s also a stigma attached to depression, but people talk about depression. There’s a stigma attached to therapy, but people talk about therapy too. The problem with bipolar disorder, I think, is that it is so often associated with extremes: suicide, insanity, the complete inability to function. Those of us who have found our way and learned to manage the disease have little in common with the misinformed image that ‘she’s bipolar’ conjures in people’s mind. We have jobs. We have families. We have friends who know we’re bipolar and have said to us something like, “I would have never thought  YOU were bipolar.” That’s because a bipolar person rarely resembles the bipolar portrait painted by the media or our collective consciousness. Unfortunately, none of us singlehandedly has the ammunition to attempt to defeat that misperception unless we are so established in our careers that we don’t have to worry about misperceptions pigeon-holing us at work or in our communities.

That said, I admire anyone who has “come out of the bipolar closet.” I so worship Carrie Fischer and any other blogger or activist who has taken the leap to tell the world he/she is bipolar. But it’s rare.

I was so excited, for this reason, to click on what I thought was a video of actress Debi Mazer talking about her bipolar disorder. Instead, the actress is talking about the plight of a family member. While I admire Mazer’s good intentions, what I dislike about this set up is the faceless family-member-off-camera seemingly bat shit crazy and not as successful as her actress relative. It perpetuates the myth that we are people who should stay quiet and off camera. In trying to raise consciousness about bipolar disorder, I think Mazer and other non-bipolar celebrities like her perpetuate a stereotype of the burdened family who must take care of the mentally ill. Even if, at rock bottom, a bipolar patient does need to be cared for–is this not true of a cancer patient? Or a diabetes patient? The more strong, powerful voices we have of people who, like me, live healthy lives with bipolar disorder, the more hope we give to those just receiving a diagnosis, and the more we diffuse the stereotypes that perpetuate false stigmas.

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5 thoughts on “If you don’t have bipolar disorder, you probably shouldn’t be the bipolar spokesperson. Even if you’re a celebrity.

  1. I watched this a while ago and found the manner in which it was discussed kinda patronizing. I do think it’s important to think of the family members though. It’s not just the person with the disorder who’s affected, but the people who love them and try to help them. The same goes for people with cancer. But yeah, in this interview it all just seemed to come across oddly and rubbed me up the wrong way.

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  2. I appreciate your viewpoint in wanting to see someone with bipolar disorder speak for themselves, but as someone with bipolar disorder–whose family has been right there with me–I actually think it’s fair for her to be present and to share her viewpoint. So many people want to hide their bipolar family members away like a dirty secret and she’s showing that that’s not necessary. It’s important for supporters to be part of the conversation. Also, at least in this segment, she doesn’t actually dwell on the “burdens”–she keeps most of the focus on people with the disorder, talking about challenges and also successes. There are so many places where stigma reigns, this segment seems less of a problem to me.

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  3. I didn’t know about the Fry piece… I will have to check it out. Thanks so much for the comment, and for the insights about mania. So true. I often think mania is more debilitating because as it’s coming on I don’t realize it.

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  4. Completely agree with you. Debbie Mazer definitely doesn’t speak for me with that “think of the family members” routine. I’d love to see that in a cancer awareness piece and not come off as self pitying. As for famous actors and actresses that have come out as bipolar, I really applaud Carrie Fischer and Stephen Fry for their part. I particularly loved The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive that Fry worked on. It’s an interesting and thoughtful piece that really delved into the world of depression and bipolar disorder while respecting the differences. We also get to see the impact of mania, which is also very debilitating, with stories about Fry going to jail and others having all sorts of impulse control problems. He also presents the reality that people with bipolar who are high functioning are really good at faking social interactions while inside they’re dying slowly. So even though someone may look like they’re ok, the illness can really be eating away and no one knows. Very thought provoking and well done, if only it got air time in the US.

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