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.