I think he’s like, bipolar or something…

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I wanted to write this evening about something that has stuck in my mind for a long time. There were two incidences, several years apart, but they are very similar. They are both examples of stigma and how uninformed many people are about mental illness. Both occurred where I was working at the time, and both involved a discussion between co-workers (myself included). In each scenario several of my co-workers were talking about a regular customer, an acquaintance (more of mine than anyone’s). Each customer was a regular at each place I worked. Most of us had close to daily interactions with them, mind you they were the typical superficial interactions that a coffee shop regular would have with a seasoned barista. The customers were regular enough that we had plenty of time to observe each of them, their mannerisms and their perceived characteristics.

"He was different, very quiet. He kept to himself a lot."
“He was different, very quiet. He kept to himself a lot.”

In the first workplace, I actually had a chance to sit and chat several times with the gentleman and I happened to really like him. I could see how he could come across different or even a little strange, but he was actually quite interesting and very nice. He was just really quiet and kept to himself. He always walked to and from the shop and dressed like someone who might live a simple, natural life in a cottage by a lake. I could see why they found him to appear out of place.

In the second workplace, I had never personally met the individual, but I was listening to the conversation of a couple of my co-workers and immediately got the impression that he was not a nice guy. He clearly had some issues and they seemed to find it quite acceptable to make it clear that he was screwed up and most certainly not a good person. He had major issues, in their opinions.

In both situations, the conversations drifted to an end with exactly the same conclusion. Not one that was based on any previous training or understanding of the “diagnosis”, mind you. Nevertheless, it wawomen-gossip-at-work-e1359396952867s clear to them. The first pair, about a man that they had never actually spoken to, agreed that “Yeah, he’s bipolar. He creeps me out so much.” The second pair, the two that I was considering sharing that I have bipolar, quite simply stated, “I’m pretty sure he is like, bipolar or something.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s like, bipolar or something.”

This sentence has silenced me for far too long. Those conversations still paralyse me.

These people had no idea what qualifies as bipolar disorder. They didn’t know that I was bipolar. I am quite certain that neither of those men were bipolar. Those two scenarios pop into my mind often. I have not come out about my bipolar disorder to many people, and it is situations like that that keep me silent. It is my impression that bipolar disorder is perceived to be an illness whose sufferers are plagued with unsavoury characters, that they are selfish, dangerous or miserable. They are strange and not to be trusted. That is my experience of how those who do not know anybody personally (that they know of) who has bipolar disorder perceive a person with bipolar disorder to be. It scares me frankly. It makes me worry that suddenly those who I have been close to will immediately question every moment that we have spent together, that they will suddenly see me as something else. Someone that is not safe, that needs to be kept at a distance. This is stigma. This is what it does and how it feels.

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Sometimes I imagine what would happen if all of us with bipolar disorder were to come out and tell the world at the same time. At least there would be an accurate representation of what bipolar disorder looks like, acts like, is. They are people that they like, love and have known as friends for many years. That is what bipolar looks like. Just like the person they are sitting next to, sharing another story about the strange guy who just came in for coffee again.

17 Comments on “I think he’s like, bipolar or something…

  1. Pingback: stigma isn’t just an insult | blahpolar diaries

  2. Pingback: The Stigma of Bipolar | Errant Dreams

  3. Pingback: Want To End The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness? Maybe we should start by Not Calling It Mental Illness. | Bipolar Scorpio

  4. Wow, mental illness stigma at it’s best. So well written, I wish I had written it myself! I worked in an office for 6 years and never told anyone, even the girls I ate lunch with every day, that I struggled with depression. I didn’t trust them (loose lips!), as it would have affected my job – I just know it would. Can you judge or tell? No.

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    • Thank you! The sad thing about this story is that in the second scenario, the person who made the comment was someone that I had become really good friends with, even outside of work. I had been pretty open with her about some things, and had considered telling her but just wasn’t there yet. I am so glad I didn’t, it would definitely had affected my work. Even if I had told her, and she hadn’t made the comment, I think I still probably would have regretted it because it would have made me paranoid that she had told someone else about it. I think that it is going to take more than just those with mental illness to come out about it, I believe that in order for most dealing with it, they will need to experience those without mental illness to stand up first before they will feel safe in doing so.

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  5. You are absolutely right. I had a former employer who knew my daughter was bipolar and he would make comments like “you know they say the apple does not fall far from the tree”. This would be the first time I stood up to that baviour, after doing so I really thought about how my daughter feels. I won’t put up with it and hate those that prey on the weak. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, it feels like a relief to have shared it. It has bothered me for a long time. Comments like that are unbelievably ignorant and I thank you for standing up for yourself and your daughter. That is where it starts. Having those without the illness as allies is what will start those afflicted to feel safe enough to come out and be able to be honest about themselves without making them feel like there is something inherently awful about them. Thank you for your comment!

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  6. I agree, I tend to imagine if we could all stand up at the same time and out ourselves worldwide all the stigma and ignorance would bugger off in a matter of days, hours even. As it is we’re dipping our toes in and getting colder and more scared of jumping in, I mention it once when I’m feeling brave and it’s never mentioned to my face again, or it’s eluded to until I make a joke then ‘silence’ and the ‘can we laugh at that’ faces. What I wouldn’t give for a rational curious “Oh really? Now what’s that like.”

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    • Absolutely, it hurts. The worst for me is that I know some people would suddenly worry about me around their children. I used to work with children and was dearly loved by both the parents and children, I never came out to my employer or anyone else because I was so worried about suddenly being the target of suspicion and gossip. I wonder still what would have happened but I wasn’t about to find out. Maybe that makes me a part of the problem, but it was just too much for me. It’s sad. Education is where we need to start I think.

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  7. Omg … Hit them over the head with the DSM … That gave me a giggle. Thank you I needed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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