Friday, May 22, 2009

Bipolar Disorder and Social "Normalcy"

During my last hospitalization I was struck with how comfortable I felt. I was on what I would jokingly refer to as "the bipolar ward," where 90% of us seemed to be suffering from bipolar disorder. I was surrounded by people who battled some of the same things I struggled with and usually, like myself, had at least one or two co-occuring illnesses like anxiety disorders or addiction.
I got along with everyone. We talked about our similarities, our differences, the doctors we didn't care for, the ones who listened, and we witnessed the ascent or descent of one another's moods from afar. Respectfully distant, unless called upon, we saw ourselves and knew when to back away.
I could live like this, I thought, feeling slightly deranged at the prospect. Not locked up in an airless, stale hospital building, but surrounded by my "own kind." Granted, the hospital is designed to keep stress at bay, to keep the patients occupied with "activities" and engaged in meetings, but alot of it is hokey. Only the conversations with other patients kept me from coming unmoored.
Socially, this disorder can be devastating, particularly when one is vocal about suicidal ideation; it scares people away. Social malfunctions such as the withdrawal of depression, or the forced speech of mania, are off putting to those who do not understand. I have few friends and family who truly stick by me through these rough patches. They either suffer from mental illness, or just care enough to have empathy.
Sometimes I ask myself how I can be expected to function in a world that demonizes mental disease, or that just doesn't understand me. I have to hide my dirty little secret or become a pariah at worst, or at the least have every odd thing I do attributed to bipolar. I have trouble in groups and meeting new people due to my illness and the social withdrawal it has brought about. I also have trouble with social norms. I tend to violate them unconsciously.
One of the aspects of "recovery" is "psychosocial skills building." I see the relevance and necessity of this, yet at the same time I wonder if it needs to begin with the "well" among us. I would like to think that I am very accepting of all types of people who violate social norms, not rude people per se, but unconventional folks. I miss many of the people I have alienated and wonder if it was something I did, or if they just got caught up in their own personal lives. I try to soothe and quiet my paranoia and move on, but I don't want to miss out on the friends I haven't met yet. I want to get out there and show the world just how eccentric I can be.


  1. One thing that makes me think about is how you feel like you're in a bipolar bubble kind of. Not only do you feel like everyone is looking at you and your activities as evidence of bipolar, but sometimes the opposite happens where you see everyone else from a standpoint of how they must be thinking of you, even when you don't really know how they are feeling. Now, you are empathic, and that's real. But you do tend to be paranoid about everyone around you looking at you and hating you, even when it isn't true. So the stigmas that the "normal" people have about us keep them away from us and the idiocy we see on the faces of the "normal" people keeps us away from them... How are we [all] ever to start being a true community with such division running through the core of our interactions? It's a tough one... but I'm up for [part of] the challenge.

  2. The stigma isn't right. I can relate. I get stigmatized for pancreatitis because people don't understand the causes and aren't informed about the treatments. So some people assume I'm an alcoholic and others assume I'm just looking for meds. What's up wit dat?...