My grandma recently retired from her job as a secretary at a doctor’s office. Every once in a while, she still tells me about her patients. Over breakfast today, we were discussing the book Fast Girl by Suzy Favor Hamilton (the protagonist in this book has bipolar disorder). My grandma took this opportunity to impart upon me the following information: “We had a few patients who suffered from manic depression. That’s another term for bipolar, you know. Manic depression.”
Yes, Grandma. I’m familiar with the term.
“Dr. Keith told me to watch out for those manic depressives. They’re complete sex maniacs. They just have sex with everyone. And my brother, he knew a woman with manic depression, and she stalked him. Like, really stalked him. It was so creepy.”
Okay, that felt a little like a stab wound…
“Insane asylums really need to make them a higher priority. I mean, they’re out there wandering the streets untreated. Who knows what they can do? They need to be in a home for the mentally impaired.”
Knife twisted. Thanks Grandma.
After this monologue, I figured that would be a very inopportune moment to reveal that I am one of these scary “manic depressives.” What if she kicked me out? I have nowhere to go until my plane leaves on Sunday. The thing about grandparents is that it’s very difficult to change their minds on things. Still, on behalf of myself and everyone else in the mental health community, I felt like I had to say something.
“Grandma, I seriously doubt that everyone with bipolar disorder is a sex maniac stalker. Actually, I’m positive there are people who aren’t.”
“Yes, of course you’re right,” she said. “But you just have to be careful. You never know. Actually, some of them are very smart. Did you know that many very gifted artists and writers have been manic depressives?”
Again, I’m quite familiar with the concept. I’ve only spent infinity hours researching this topic…but I don’t say that.
“Yes, Grandma. I’ve heard that. It’s great that they’re so creative…many of the best artists of all time have been mentally ill.”
She looks a little pensive. “I wonder why all the greats are insane? What’s different about them? Hmmm… Well, their brain unlocks different levels of creativity, I guess.”
Yes, let’s please focus on that instead of the fact that they’re all stalkers. We talked a little longer in this new vein of less offensive conversation, but honestly I was ready to hop off of that before she started asking uncomfortable questions. You never know with grandmas…she started our time together this week by asking if I’m planning to get pregnant soon, and just today she said, “Hmmm…I don’t think you need plastic surgery yet, but you will when you’re older.” Grandparents say the weirdest things. I didn’t want her to ask about my mental health, because I am the worst liar ever (just ask my husband).
I texted my husband after this exchange, and he said, “Don’t let her get you riled up…you know who you are.” And really, he’s right. I do. For a world where people are bent on “finding themselves” and “discovering their true identities,” the fact that I know who I am is actually a pretty big accomplishment. Perhaps “who I am” is a bit insane, but hey, at least life will never be boring.