Would you vote for a politician who was open about having a severe mental illness?
It’s an odd time in politics. The president derides opponents as crazy, psycho, or nut jobs, and his opponents seek to have him declared mentally unfit for office. It’s a shame, because it diminishes the efforts and struggles of the few politicians willing to come to terms with, and be open about, their own, real mental illnesses.
Just before Christmas I went to a mass said for my neighbor’s son. He died of an opioid overdose. He left a fiancé, who soon after died of an overdose herself, and a young daughter, now adopted and living across the country. The girl’s grandmother, my neighbor, sees her granddaughter only once a year.
Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about how substance abuse impacts families, and how many people with bipolar disorder have substance abuse problems.
Is it all self-medication, or is there more to it?
I don't think it's responsible, or healthy, to attach your identity to a disease. Good mental health and positive self-image demand very careful language.
Language can powerfully influence self-definition, revelation, and healing. The way we describe ourselves and our condition speaks volumes about our outlook and our outcomes. I was diagnosed decades ago with bipolar disorder, still adhere to treatment, and still suffer mood changes. Yet I strongly maintain that I am not bipolar.
I love Christmas, so I’m not about to ruin it by making you feel guilty for worrying about yourself despite the fact that some people have more challenges than you. Don’t ever diminish your own suffering by comparing yourself to others who may be worse off.
People with mental illness are often reluctant to speak even with each other about their experience. Trapped by relentless stigma, even forums for those with shared diagnoses can feel unsafe.
Sure, some people fearlessly carry the torch of acceptance into debates about the positive merits of dealing with mental illness. But when facing a world too busy to stop and understand, and too full of preconceptions about disability to listen, most people with mental illness just keep it to themselves.