Playing with language

Okay. My turn to play with language. I’m bipolar. I have bipolar disorder and I’ve got bipolar disorder. I am not “a bipolar” – that ticks me off. I also don’t “suffer from bipolar” (even if sometimes I do) and I’m certainly not “afflicted with bipolar” – but my Texan relatives are allowed to say that I am.

I’m also manic depressive. I have manic depression. I don’t suffer from it though – it becomes all that I am during an episode. It’s the old name for bipolar, of course, but it’s fell out of popularity and I’m not sure why. Kay Redfield Jameson prefers it – I have no real preference, however I might prefer bipolar if I didn’t have so much respect for Ms. Jameson. Mania sounds like a real life psychotic criminal – the type you read about in the paper. Mania means wild eyes and wild hair and while my hair can be pretty wild, my eyes are usually not. Mania is an 70% off sale – “Car Stereo MANIA!” and mania is what drives criminal activity. Or not. I’ve never stole a stereo or did something illegal during my manic sprees, but I’d prefer not to be associated with those who do things like kill their family members or buy ten cars. In interviews artists often talk about themselves as being manic depressive; I don’t mind being identified with those people.

I have ADHD. Again, I don’t suffer from ADHD, it’s not really about suffering anyway – it’s just about having a pinball machine in your head all the time. I identify the very least with ADHD – it’s the last “way of being” I’ve been diagnosed with. I don’t define myself by it, the way I define myself with having bipolar and even OCD. My ADHD med worked pretty quickly and pretty completely. I didn’t know I had ADHD until they gave me the med – I never would have noticed – I just thought they were bipolar symptoms that were untreatable. I was wrong; I have ADHD; it doesn’t bother me too much now. I guess you could say I am ADHD and I wouldn’t care. There are just a whole heck of a lot things more interesting about me – and none of them are these psychiatric illnesses.

I’m OCD and I have OCD. Sometimes I do “suffer from OCD” but I don’t like to hear it that way. During the war my grandma went to school inside a circus tent and her teacher there was sane with the papers to prove it. I feel for that teacher, sometimes. I had a well respected psychologist tell me ‘you are one of the least crazy people I know’ and by a Stanford educated psychiatrist, ‘you’re not crazy, you’re bipolar’. I have held on to those comments at times I’ve felt totally out of my mind. Imagine me pacing up and down with fingers in my ears chanting, “You’re not crazy, you’re not crazy, you’re not crazy”.

Funny thing is that I’m not ‘mentally handicapped’ or even ‘mentally disabled’ – those apply to people with developmental disabilities. Or people with mental retardation. Some people don’t like ‘mental retardation’ which I can understand because of the stigma, but don’t understand so well, really, because it is descriptive, not insulting. Sure, people call each other “retards” but people tell each other they need “psychiatric help” too. They’re both broad insults – ignorant and ridiculous.. What’s worse, I think, is “developmentally delayed”. If you chose to describe your child as such, I respect that and I respect you, however I think the name is misleading. Nobody is “delayed”. No body is going to catch up. This is the glorious way they were put together, and that has been defined in many different ways, I do not think “mental retardation” takes away from that – but that is not really my place to say. Here in California the preferred diction is “special needs”. I like that one – but it’s not up to me to decide what to call your beautiful child.

We don’t have a county mental health hospital here, but we did in our old haunts. People joked all the time that you belonged in John George Psychiatric Pavilion. John George Psychiatric Pavilion is such a nice name, it almost sounds like a wedding site – much better than The Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. If you knew someone who had spent some time in either hosptials, they would say, “You belong visiting Lisa in John George”. The hospital I was in had it’s psychiatric programs on the sixth floor. There were always jokes on the way up about who was getting off on the sixth floor. I always saw jaws drop when I got out – I guess I just didn’t look wacky enough. I made a comment to someone getting out on the maternity floor about this being the happiest floor in the hospital. Someone else said to me, “No, that’s the sixth floor.” I said, as I got off, “No, it’s really quite sad.” And it is, it’s the saddest place I think I’ve ever been.


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