Celebrating my removal of the label given to me nineteen years ago this summer because it no longer makes sense or is fitting or necessary. I feel too perfect to accept the title disordered or bipolar, whatever those mean. It’s just a term, yet words sometimes stick with a strong adhesive. When it was first bestowed upon me, it was a frightening one, conjuring up images of hopelessness. Through the years I’ve come to realize and demonstrate that I’m not the least bit disordered; I’m actually quite well, raising two thriving children to adulthood, working full time in higher education launching the careers of thousands of students, not to mention accumulating nearly 200 sick days over thirty years. I’m in the middle of authoring my third book, have dozens of friends, own a house that I manage in an affluent suburb and love life more than anyone I know.
Being classified as mentally ill today is becoming passé; getting old. Not only are more of my peers getting diagnosed and medicated, so are their children and grandchildren. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States. When it was published in the 1970’s there were a mere two dozen diagnoses. The latest edition lists 265, plenty of new labels to go around.
As my Mother used to say through her sage wisdom based on common sense, “The worm is turning.” “Crazy, insane, nuts” or related words formerly whispered in private to describe a person perceived as not right in their mind are showing up in everyday vocabulary applied to the workplace and population and society in general. If you’ve ever noticed anyone walk off a curb or into a pole while staring down at their phones or talking to themselves on the streets (Bluetooth or not?), you just might notice that it’s become more difficult to spot the “normal” folks. The former asylum for the insane, once overflowing with patients on the outskirts of Buffalo, has been transformed into a boutique hotel and restaurant in the heart of a renaissance city. The people responsible must’ve been crazy to try it.
I’m not manic, just over stimulated by a culture that throws out too much information too fast and the angst and impatience of the device users around me who have become accustomed to instant gratification and grow frustrated when it’s not available. I’m not depressed, just retreating to the pre-Internet simple life, disconnecting from all media outlets and returning to what was considered virtual reality before it meant digital; it was a happier time for me. I reconnected to coveted direct human contact, becoming saner in the process.
It’s ironic that I found sanity in the most unlikely of places a few months ago; a group of the most creative, fun, and intelligent writers I have ever associated with. We get together every two weeks at a well being workshop to practice our craft with pens, notebooks and thoughts; a successful format that has not changed in twenty years. We have another thing in common. We all share a label associated with mental illness. But who doesn’t these days. We are brilliant in our spontaneous exchanges, based on timed writing prompt exercises that result in laughter, honest emotional responses, genius short stories and poems. Whether or not we decide to share, there is something for everyone to take away. Our anthology comes out soon; a best seller if the New York Times ever gets wind of it.
So off comes the bipolar disorder label; exposing the more important ones that people have given me over my lifetime…Mary, Mom, sister, friend, beautiful spirit, lover of life, funny, grateful, blessed. The events surrounding my two brief episodes eighteen years apart describing excessive stress that landed me overmedicated in a hospital shouldn’t warrant a title for a lifetime. There are so many positive ways for us to refer to each other, a diagnosis shouldn’t be one of them. If you find yourself with a label, I invite you to peel with me; let’s make it a party.
If anyone still insists on referring to me as the “one with bipolar disorder,” even in a whisper, I ask that you consider the words of Billy Joel, “You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for.” After all, we’re getting more popular, more recognition every day.