“If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.” – Thomas Szasz
More than eighteen years after earning the label, “bipolar disorder,” I’m ready to trade in the title. After further review, I’ve found that it doesn’t really suit me. It served its purpose for sure, calling my attention to how misunderstood the mental health concept is in our society, and giving me a fresh awareness to just how embedded the stigma is because I’ve lived it on the other side of “sane.” The usual kind and sympathetic response I get when people hear of my diagnosis is, “I never would’ve guessed that about you.” A well meaning reply that translates to “sick, crazy, beyond your senses, out of your mind, lunatic, insane, deranged, unhinged, off your rocker, stark raving mad.”
My humorous side does not reflect any of these so it’s much more fun to think of myself as cockamamie, batshit, half-baked, cuckoo, nuts, daft, kooky, creative, loco, bananas, loony, unique and genius. That’s more like me, Certified. Yet of all the terms that could be used to describe my condition, “illness” or “disorder” do not factor in at all. As a matter of fact they defy it. I prefer the Shaman diagnosis, prevalent in history and Eastern traditions.
The definition of Shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual (or naturally), and practice divination and healing. Indigenous people, including Native American and Eastern Cultures observe that individuals who have experiences that in America today are considered delusional and psychotic were nurtured and revered, because they had transcended into the spirit world, or that spirits had chosen them. In the Shaman world, these chosen ones are assigned a mentor, cared for and looked up to for their wisdom or spiritual connections. Their gifts are nurtured. If you’re only accustomed to knowing about, experiencing and familiar with the traditional Western concepts of mental illness, that won’t make much sense to you. But if you do some research and look into the history and practices beyond the U.S. paradigm, you’ll find an ages-old, accepted and entirely different perspective. Who’s to say who is right?
I first became acquainted with the Shaman concept after taking a workshop and in a college course about science, religion and nature. As I researched and explored culture and anthropology further, I adopted it. It fits who I am. From birth I have felt guided by a force, which I once referred to as “God” and now call the Universe. And I have close connections with nature and my ancestors. Sensing that calling, I have studied Shamanism further, which draws me closer to the spiritual world. Driven by love and belief in the power of energy, I now have an appreciation for the more holistic approaches to viewing and treating mental “illness.”
Bipolar, Schizophrenia and related Disorders, are merely words to describe conditions that fall under the category of severe mental illnesses, a U.S. term that was born of a complicated layer of laws, policies, government, physician associations and medical codes, the mental health system. I understand the good that they attempt and the patients that find solace in them. And I don’t wish to take treatment choice away from anyone. But as someone who falls under this category, I feel pretty damn good, and not the least bit out of order. We deserve the experience to be truly who we are and not what the system makes us out to be. If we are only able to bring ourselves back to the perfection we were before our diagnosis and look forward from there with a different lens, we could see what is right about us rather than what is wrong.
I for one am definitely not out of order. Just deeply in touch with nature and my spiritual self. Shaman. Perhaps a little half-baked, too. And I think those who know me closest would agree.