The emerging blogger series is aimed at community building by giving new mental health a chance to have their work seen by a wider audience and connect with other members of the blogging community.
This post is by Lacey of Lacey Talks.
Can We Just Talk about Bipolar Disorder?
There are several qualities I have learned to appreciate in the people I engage with; these qualities include openness, honesty, curiosity, and tact. Some people that I engage with have a difficult time balancing these qualities or lack them altogether. I am easily described as the first 3… but sometimes I fall short in tact or political correctness. I don’t offend on purpose and I never intend to be insensitive, but there is a major learning curve in the art of open discussion.
My writing career has been short-lived so far, but my experience with mental illness has not – I’ve now been “mentally ill” for about 18 years. The topic is a touchy one and some people are scared to ask questions or make statements because he/she doesn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. The idea I’d like to move forward with is creating an open and honest conversation about mental illness and mental health using the terminology we know, regardless of the tactfulness of the language. I will not ever advocate for calling someone crazy… but as someone with manic depression, I will call myself crazy when I am feeling crazy. I am actively reclaiming the word “crazy.” People will be mad about that, but I have accepted my fate. I am determined to end the stigma.
There is a safe community for everyone.
Did you all know there are certain times when it is appropriate to use the terms “mental illness” and “mental health” – hint, they aren’t interchangeable. It isn’t considered appropriate to call myself bipolar, but I am. Some people prefer to say, “she has bipolar disorder” as opposed to, “she is bipolar.” I understand the difference in these statements and the prior is more humanizing than the latter, but unless someone is being rude, I am honestly okay with either. I think both statements are equally true about me: I am not defined solely by my diagnosis, but it does play a large role in my life and is usually an appropriate descriptor.
Note: I do not think it is appropriate to use the term bipolar to describe someone, oneself included, when there is no medical diagnosis or substantial evidence of the disorder.
What I think is important about this conversation, the real take-away, is that everyone is going to want you to use a certain language regarding their mental health – the best practice is to ask if you are not sure and listen. Apologize if you make a mistake and offend someone. On the other end, if someone is trying to have an open conversation about your mental health or mental illness, be understanding and be patient; be your own advocate and teach that person what is politically correct or the most sensitive way to discuss the subject at hand.
I honestly believe that we all want to be well-rounded on the issues we face today, but nobody knows everything about everything. For example, I am an outspoken feminist. I am an intersectional feminist, but I am a white woman. There are topics within feminist conversation that I do not experience or even understand as a white woman, but the best way I can be an advocate is to genuinely ask someone to explain those topics. I am quite concerned with environmental issues (I am a biologist!), but I am far more comfortable discussing feminist issues than environmental ones because I am more knowledgeable in current topics of the prior.
I am determined to end the stigma.
I sadly must say that this conversation does have some limitations; there has to be mutual understanding, empathy, respect, and a sense of safety. There have been plenty of people who have tried to talk openly about mental illness who have been attacked, either by the community (for using the wrong terminology or language in ignorance), or by the antipsychiatry community who do not want to hear about it. My suggestion if you are someone with a recent diagnosis or who is sensitive about your mental illness, find a safe community to chat with before deciding to go viral, or develop thick skin very quickly. There will be people who do not think your mental illness is even legitimate. There will be people who are anti-therapy, anti-medication, anti-[insert treatment here].
When opening up about my depression in high school, any confrontation with someone was followed by horrible attacks involving self-harm and suicide because I was public about my history with self-harm and suicidal ideation. I was at a point where those words were not a bother, thankfully. There is a safe community for everyone – I am a safe space if anyone needs to talk about their mental health concerns (see my contact information below), but I am not a licensed professional and I am not a substitute for a professional psychologist or psychiatrist.
Thanks so much Lacey for participating in the emerging blogger series!
You can find the rest of the posts in the series, as well as the criteria for participating, on the Community Features page.