“Are You Bipolar?”

This past weekend a bunch of friends and I went to my parents’ cabin to celebrate my birthday.  When I say “cabin,”  I mean cabin.  It’s a log cabin in the middle of snowy nowhere.  It doesn’t even have an address because it’s that remote.  Think 1800’s if the 1800’s had a working toilet.  That’s where we were.

We were sitting by the stone fireplace, and our entertainment at that moment was me reading from my recently discovered middle school diary.  Let me tell you – reading my middle school self was HILARIOUS.  I mostly wrote about how in love I was with this kid in my class, Andrew, and how I kept trying to get him to notice me and he KEPT NOT NOTICING ME.  It was really funny (in retrospect, that is.  When I was in middle school it sucked.)  All the girls at the cabin said they could totally identify with how I felt – some pieces of the middle school girl experience are universal.  All of the guys looked appalled – that’s what their wives and girlfriends were like in middle school??  Yep!  It was enlightening for all involved.  We were laughing to the point of crying.

I got to one part of the diary where I was SO ANGRY at my dad for not letting me invite boys to a party I was throwing (the nerve!!).  I couldn’t believe he would be so closed-minded and stubborn.  One post later, in true junior high fashion, I said, “Actually, never mind about my dad.  I’m cool with it.  There’s enough drama when I only invite girls over.  I certainly don’t need to add guys to the mix.”  Everyone laughed at my sudden turnabout, and one of the guys, laughing hard, said, “Oh my gosh, are you bipolar?!”

Not funny.

It was amazing how the cozy glow of contentment I felt by that fireplace was instantly extinguished, like someone had poured cold water over my head.  Thoughts that I’d been able to finally – for the first time in weeks – push into background noise were suddenly loud and clear in my head again.  There was sharp focus on things I’d tried so hard to make a little bit hazy.

I know the time between his comment and my response was a split second, but it was such a crucial, time-stopping split second.  I knew I had to make a decision on whether to laugh it off or call him out.  I looked down at my diary page, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes.  I knew the few people in the room who knew my secret were looking at me nervously, waiting for my cue.  They would be all over him if I wanted to declare how not-funny that joke actually was.  I knew that.  I also knew that I had the capacity to make everyone’s night really awkward really fast, and we were all having such a good time.  I didn’t want to cold-water-bucket everyone’s night just because my feelings had been hurt.  In the end, I took the (cowardly? selfless? self-deprecating?) way out and laughed it off.  “Clearly yes,” I responded, not looking up from my diary.  “Haven’t you been listening?  I’m obviously crazy.”  I gave my best attempt at a laugh, which put the people in the room who were formerly on high-alert back at ease.  The laugh didn’t reach past my face, though.  It wasn’t real.  That joke wasn’t funny.

Aside from the fact that his joke about a very real illness was totally inappropriate, I also wanted to say, “Being a moody pre-teen is not a symptom of bipolar disorder.  It’s a side effect of being in junior high.  You want to talk about symptoms of bipolar disorder?  LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT.”  But I didn’t say that.  I really didn’t say anything.

Why is it socially acceptable to make jokes about mental illness?  I don’t understand.  I would never go up to someone and say, “Wow, you’ve got a huge bruise on your arm.  Do you have leukemia?  HA HA HA.”  or “I see you’ve gone to the bathroom twice in two hours.  Are you diabetic?  LOL!”  Because those jokes wouldn’t be funny.  No one would laugh.  Why, then, is it okay to joke about bipolar disorder or any other mental illness?  Why do people make jokes about cutting themselves or killing themselves?  I’ve cut myself and I’ve tried to kill myself – I assure you that neither are remotely funny.  Not at all.  Where is the humor in this?  Why do people laugh?  More importantly, I suppose, how do we stop it?

I know it’s not by laughing it off when someone makes a joke about my diary, that’s for sure.  I just wasn’t ready to battle that issue when I was having my first “I’m glad to be alive” weekend in a long time.  I hope that doesn’t make me weak.  One day I’ll be ready to battle people who make jokes they know nothing about.  I guess it just wasn’t this weekend.

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12 thoughts on ““Are You Bipolar?”

  1. Amazing recovery there. I don’t know if I could have or would have called that guy out – just not the time or place, even if he was being a douche. You could always call him, though, and say…about that question?

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    • Thanks. It was actually my husband’s best friend who made the comment, so my husband said he’d mention something about it to him if I wanted him to. Come to find out, the guy’s sister-in-law is bipolar. So really, HE SHOULD KNOW BETTER. But alas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can feel how uncomfortable this was. There you were, enjoying a piece of normalcy, when Clueless bursts your bubble. Sometimes we just want a break from being the crazy one.

    A time may come, believe it or not, when you may rejoice in these moments. The world in general is ignorant about and frightened of mental illness. As I started to address my own prejudice and inaccurate perceptions, I saw them reflected in the people close to me. I decided then to be “out” about my bipolar disorder, ready to tell my story or correct misperceptions if they came up. I started to look at these thoughtless comments as opportunities for a gentle Teaching Moment. Where they once hurt my feelings, made me fume under the unfairness of stigma, or anguish over people close to me who refused to understand, they started to open a quiet door just a crack.

    It took me a long time to pause, breathe, and not come back with an emotional reaction–especially if I was particularly symptomatic. But it was something I wanted. I wanted to be an advocate for mental illness. I wanted to give people a face and a relationship with mental illness. What I discovered is that most people have someone in their life, or suffer themselves with mental illness. They don’t know what to do with that. Discomfort and fear squirt out sideways and inappropriately.

    But (and this is a big, ol’ lard-ass but) I had to get comfortable with my illness and accept all parts of it. I had to get to a point where I stopped pining for normal and being embarrassed by being inconsistent and unreliable. I can’t always hold onto my Bipolar Zen (those distorted thoughts are so sneaky), but it’s worth the effort to me to keep trying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I really appreciate that response. I truly hope (and believe) that one day I’ll get to a place where I’m not so scared of my own illness. Once I can accept myself and my diagnosis, it will be much easier to help spread awareness of these issues to others.

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  3. So many times that happens. So many times. In addition to not being funny, bad jokes like that make me question myself. I know they shouldn’t, but I do. My biggest fear is sharing my story and then having someone look at me and go “Oh, so that’s you are/did/etc. X.” Where who I am instantly disappears and I become bipolar with a pulse. Sometimes it will happen, sometimes it won’t.

    One day I’ll get to the point where I can speak up. So will you.

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  4. Ugh. I hate hate hate those people! People all the time talk about people in my school who have autism and how annoying they are. In fact, one of my friends says how he can’t deal with lower functioning autistic people than I am because his nephew is like that at home and can’t be having it in school either. Really disheartened me as I was so ready to post my Mask: OFF post before he said that. Obviously that’s not the same, but I can sort of get how it is. Sucks right.

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  5. When I was at a galentines party with a couple girls i know somewhat and a couple girls I don’t. I made the mistake of bringing up the subject and saying I am bipolar. I don’t know why I never learn.

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