Reappropriating Bipolar Beyond Pathology

Chris Cole
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It’s still not easy for me to say, “I’m bipolar.” I have always felt torn between the reality of the pain I feel and the invisibility of the beauty I know. Despite hosting a podcast and writing a vulnerable book about my challenges with bipolar disorder, I still feel a tinge of terror when I tell people about this aspect of my identity. After wrestling with various terminology over many years, I have come to view the reappropriation of the label bipolar—separate from pathology—as a necessary activity. Here’s why:

When I decided to write my book, I was in a creative upheaval, wholeheartedly feeling that if I don’t tell my story of bipolar and spirituality, then I was allowing the confusion between psyche and spirit to infiltrate more people like me. By speaking out against the conventional notions of mental illness, a life might be spared. I might still know the lives of those I have lost through addiction and dis-ease. My own children might not have to internalize the insidious violence of inauthentic living. I myself might look back, through the lens of my elderly body, and see how my own life is marked with greater compassion and joy for having stood up and spoken out.

But here’s the cosmic joke: I was never alone. The world doesn’t need a savior. We need each other. The world needs connection, warmth, and truth. There have already been iconic figures and cultural movements challenging the conventional psychiatric paradigm. The problem was, I didn’t know how to find them. All I knew was that I was bipolar, had been diagnosed and branded as mentally defective, and that there weren’t resources for someone like me, who was experiencing a mixture of brilliant darkness and brutal luminosity. When I typed “b-i-p-o-l-a-r” into my search engine, I didn’t find Mad in America. I didn’t find you. The way I use bipolar, as a distinction from dichotomies of health and illness, is a language forged in the fire of isolation. How I longed for you. How I long still.

I spent years vacillating between the legitimacy of psychopathology and spiritual emergency, but eventually I realized that the dichotomy between madness and insight was a false one. The extent to which anyone is permitted to step out of consensus reality has always been constrained by social mandates. These social forces go unnoticed, almost entirely unconscious, until a person has an awakening or epiphany to some sense of unconditioned reality. Madness is one such method of glimpsing the unconditioned state, a psychic feature built into the human experience.

Though the mad experience can be horrific and painful, there is nonetheless an opportunity to cross impasses that were previously invisible to us. I see bipolar bodies as more susceptible to madness, and the trials of such experiences are largely exacerbated and perpetuated by a society that suppresses interconnection, creativity, and love.

One practical problem that faces bipolar folks is the pace of society. There is hardly any time to rest and recuperate. The sensitive person achieves a manic high necessary to keep up, only to then be cast down by the refusal of the body toward homeostasis. A break from consensus reality is pain upon pain, as we find ourselves breaking free from a reality worth escaping, only to return to a reality we no longer recognize as real. How cunning and elusive, these symptoms of delusion.

Having experienced this violence firsthand, I want the world to be a safer place for extreme states, states of madness, altered states of consciousness, mental health crises, and mental illness of all kinds. This is what is most important to me. If I can help it, the language used to get us there will serve as a tool toward deeper understanding and higher complexity. This is why I’m “proud,” and “mad,” and “bipolar.” I want to help create a society that holds extreme states as a reflection of madness in the world, as well as a call to heal something in all of us. I want creativity to be celebrated, as an expression of human evolution and adaptation, and as a charge to the humanity in each of us.

I also happen to be raising two little white boys right now. I don’t just want a better world for me, although I sure would appreciate more humane responses to mental health challenges. I want a world in which my sons can thrive, without internalizing the numerous intersecting crises facing humanity. I feel intensely that they will inherit every bit of healing I leave for them—every bit of healing I refuse to embody myself. I’m driven every day by the contemplation, “What sort of world will my children inherit?” And I tuck them in bed every night considering how I may contribute toward a more inhabitable planet.

My personal convictions are not just part of a naive holy mission to save humanity, but rather a pragmatic call to lean into the uncomfortable, psychic movement that marks human evolution and social change. Much of humanity is so invested in keeping up with the machinery, that we hardly have space to stop and reflect on the fundamental assumptions that conceived such systems. We don’t notice connections between white supremacy and mental illness, how invested we are in the sick individual separate from their inheritance. We don’t realize the link between anxiety and internalized capitalism. We are blind to the ways in which we’ve turned humans into brands, our vulnerabilities into perfectionistic impossibilities. We are utterly clueless to the intricate, comprehensive ecology of a single organism and the ways in which this very life is threatened by the degradation of our planet.

I don’t just want more humane mental health care. I want to dismantle and transform all the isms and phobias that prevent people from living and loving. If we cannot view those of us in the society who are sensitive—those of us who are neurodivergent, bipolar, mad, etc.—as playing a critical role in our collective introspection, then we are rendered less capable of seeing just how divergent from our nature we have strayed. Further, if I am not bipolar, with a loud and proud message of empowerment and inclusion, then the only resources for bipolar folks are from systems and institutions invested in our supposed sickness, separate from and in service to the propagation of collective illness. And we wonder why the sensitive ones are suicidal. We see no value in their gentleness, no virtue in their heart, no profit in their life.

We live in a time of “roll over minutes,” from centuries of intergenerational trauma. This trauma is not just because we’ve suffered the realities of human existence. We are most in pain because we’ve harmed each other and ourselves. We’ve perpetuated suffering, rather than transforming our pain. This is a human issue, of which mental health is only one part. Psychiatric illnesses, separate from systems, are the byproduct of human arrogance and ignorance. I see psychiatry as a necessary component to the problems we face, but the field must be transformed by empowered consumers, just as we now need science to undo the catastrophic blunders technology has brought about.

Part of our challenge with social justice and mental health is that so many bipolar folks need to remain closeted to survive. When I was having manic episodes, I didn’t know anyone else who had ever had a single experience like mine. When I say, “I’m bipolar,” I’m acknowledging that there is something different about me neurologically that makes me more sensitive to emotional, sensory, and energetic shifts. I wholeheartedly feel that I can be bipolar, as a distinction from psychiatric disorder or illness. The discomfort of painful symptoms exists in the relationship between my neurodivergent body and a society which marginalizes difference. My disability exists primarily between bodies, in the crowded spaces of ignorance and intolerance.

We claim to be free, but we are slaves to a paycheck. We are burdened by diminishing sick leave and paid time off. We are plagued by the illness of consumerism, which feeds us malnourished messages of our incompleteness. We are heavy with a lifetime of debt, drunk with the promise of one day striking it rich. We are a sick society, and we soothe each other with signs of progress toward a unified materialism for all. This is no way to live, and those of us incapable of living this way are carrying a vital message for all humankind.

My personal sentiment is that mental health, and our approach to treatment, is of paramount importance in shaping the attitudes of everyday citizens. There might not be any more of a critical issue at hand. Everywhere I turn, I see examples of using psychiatric criteria to delegitimize thought and undermine our humanity, all the while encouraging blind allegiance to the personification of supply and demand. Our unconscious momentum welcomes opportunities to purge inventory in the form of human bodies. We are too busy numbing ourselves to feel this reality, too busy whitening the teeth of corporate jaws.

In the worst cases, we are essentially pathologizing empathy. We tell our children who want to cure world hunger, or save the planet, or protest the predatory institutions of unregulated capitalism, that they are having an episode and need medication. “Here, here,” they’re told. “Don’t protest, take this.” “Don’t challenge authority, go see your psychiatrist.” These are huge problems. Humanity weighs in the balance.

Now of course, not all people suffering with the pain of psychiatric criteria are emerging saints. I know that. And yet, when we are diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, we are nonetheless sold a false narrative, if for no other reason than its incompleteness. We are told that we have a brain issue, or a mood disorder, or faulty chemicals. We aren’t told that madness and creativity are inextricably linked, or that the primary mode of evolution is human adaptability, which makes great use of imagination and exploration and encounters with unconscious dimensions. We aren’t told that the human spirit is naturally corrective, always compensating toward greater harmony and wholeness, or that sometimes this is excruciatingly painful.

Know that I’m bipolar for good reason, reappropriating a painful word, so those in pain can find me—so you can find me. This is how I reappropriate a term used to strip me of my humanity, a term used to sell me counterfeit versions of reality. I refuse to let go of a label that helps me find my people, no matter how painful it is to retain. And when the children of the future need help, in the form of medication or anything else, I’ll be able to tell them it’s not a personal failing. I’ll remind them that they are diverse expressions of life’s great bounty, no less than the embodiment of the cosmos, made in the image and likeness of such infinite mystery.

Lastly, I’m bipolar because the folks that love us need hope too. I pray the parents, the spouses, the clinicians, the nurses, religious officials, law enforcement agencies, government representatives, and the psychiatrists find me. By being bipolar, the powerful people might also hear this message. I believe in them too. I believe in all of us. We are all stuck in the fantasy of individual illness, and if we can’t comprehend our interconnection, we are all doomed. In order to create change for ourselves, we have to step into our power, both as individuals and as kin. May we choose the great power of love, remembering our nature and reminding others of all that we have forgotten.

160 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. You’ve mastered that difficulty. Can I press my, “That was easy!”, button now. You fit the cookie cutter mold. Successfully “bipolar”. How about a diploma and a kooky hat? Better yet, a bottle of pills, and a treatment plan. Let’s see. We’ve got mood stabilizers, neuroleptics, and lithium. Any of those to your liking? As a graduation gift, Kay Redfield Jamison. I mean one of her books. If you start slipping into “normality”, there’s always “Bipolar Disorder For Dummies”. I think I was given a diagnostic label, too. Since then I’ve done a lot of unlearning, and benefited greatly from it, too. Beyond pathology? I don’t see how you could’ve mastered that. What is “bipolar disorder”? According to Google, “a mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression.” Good luck with your “bipolar” future. Rather than “slipping into” the DSM, I see more potential in “slipping” out of it, er, the intellectual version of escaping the asylum. The population of “bipolar folk” has grown significantly in the last few decades after Harvard shrink Joseph Biederman cleverly redesignated some instances of ADHD childhood “bipolar disorder” to the extent of even distancing that old stardard, “schizophrenia”. The signs are everywhere. Big bilboards in fact. How about a gold star, honey? You’ve earned it.

  2. chris I just read the first paragraph and I really like what you are saying…
    I am unipolar….that is my past…
    but I don’t have a good word for it now…
    but I don’t like all the anger and hate here on MIA…
    I don’t think we all have to hop on the anger bus…

  3. Chris

    This is a powerful blog filled with many insights about the multiple forms of trauma and personal difficulties of life in modern capitalist society. It is also a clear indictment of how this insane “mental health” system of psychiatric labeling and drugging is itself a form of trauma and only perpetuates a sick system.

    Your point about how this society promotes the “pathologizing of empathy” is so true and is very connected to the promotion of the capitalist view of human nature, that is, “dog eat dog, look out for number one” type of mentality. We can see how deadly this view of human nature has become.

    BUT this analysis does NOT go far enough, and remains stuck within the confines of the very paradigm it criticizes.

    There are many ways to be critical of the “Bipolar” label WITHOUT trying to “reclaim” it and/or “transform” its meaning. While one can understand why people might want to attempt this strategy of “appropriation,” it is ultimately a dead end that takes people down a “rabbit hole” of political and cultural contradiction.

    This is no different than the troubling history of Black people attempting to appropriate the “N” word, or women somehow trying to “reclaim” and/or “transform” the “B” word or the “C” word. This is NOT a revolutionary strategy, but one that ends up in some form of “reformism.”

    Chris, you said:

    “I see psychiatry as a necessary component to the problems we face, but the field must be transformed by empowered consumers, just as we now need science to undo the catastrophic blunders technology has brought about.”

    Again, Chris you are not going far enough in your analysis. Any true scientific analysis of psychiatry would revealed that there is NO basis for a so-called medical specialty that allegedly “treats” illnesses that do not exist. Psychiatry is based on pseudo-science and serves an oppressive role in society to shift attention towards “genetic theories of original sin” and AWAY from seeing the actual oppressive forms of trauma and inequality inherent in a class based capitalist society.

    And I would add that your choice of the phrase “empowered consumers” was both mistaken, and also an oxymoron. Anyone who “consumes” what psychiatry has to offer in our society can NEVER be “empowered.” We all must puke it up and spit it out, and the sooner the better.

    Chris, I hope you are open to some critical appraisal of your writing. You have a very important story to tell and I love many aspects of your writing and critical insights. I just believe it is vitally important to take things several more steps forward. We need a revolution, not some form critical reformism.

    Respectfully, Richard

      • I agree, I believe Christ Consciousness is in the collective, any one of us can go in and out of that state of being, we are each a unique aspect of it. The phrase, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” comes to mind. I believe that to be human and spiritual at the same time requires radical permission to be who we are at any given time, and also to allow others to be who they are. We can certainly choose and discern what our preferences are without being in judgment.

      • Dear Monica, you wrote, “I think we’re all the second coming of christ!”

        Which I agree with, although I’m not sure what you mean exactly, by the word Christ? Do you mean Jesus last name? Do you mean Christ as Savior or the anointed one? And if anointed is the original Hebrew notion of our relationship with Creation, is the Christ better understood as the anointed nature of human consciousness?

        While personally, I have to become aware of ‘how’ I habitually think the word consciousness, as if the word, IS the experience of consciousness. In that ‘I think therefore I am,’ sense of being human. While the history of words and their origins brings a rather uneasy feeling to one’s commonsense understanding of words: Word Origin and History for Christ:
        title given to Jesus of Nazareth, Old English crist (by 830, perhaps 675), from Latin Christus, from Greek khristos “the anointed” (translation of Hebrew mashiah; see messiah), noun use of verbal adjective of khriein “to rub, anoint” (see chrism). The Latin term drove out Old English Hæland “healer, savior,” as the preferred descriptive term for Jesus.

        And of course, from this communities perspective on mental health, the association of the words Christ and Healer, are of paramount importance to healing the spirit of humanity, in this 21st century A.D.

  4. Hello! Welcome Chris to Mad in America…

    Chris is a good friend. And I’ve been working with him for a while and with what his narrative creates within me as well. I actually have a video I posted a couple of days ago that speaks to exactly that. I’ll share the link here rather than comment.

    Mad Spiritual musings on diversity and inclusivity https://youtu.be/-ovX-YIrRu0

    and, no, I do not personally reappropriate that term at all…in another more personal and poetic-like from the gut post also responding to our relationship I write:

    Bipolar: contemplation about the psych label – Everything Matters: Beyond Meds https://beyondmeds.com/2018/05/28/bipolar-contemplation/

    I find the dialogue to be deeply enriching. In holding one another’s experience and narrative…we are both enriched.

  5. Chris, you can call yourself whatever you like. But I have always seen my psych label as a moral judgment.

    I don’t have mood swings, btw. Sick and irritable from drug withdrawals. Striving to be kind and thoughtful to those around me. Better off than your friend Monica was though! Yet my “bipolat” label remains etched in stone regardless of the content of my character.

    Have you ever considered identifying as a spontaneous, sensitive eccentric? Less cootie treatment from that.

    When I look at the “symptoms” to DSM labels I see three categories:
    1. Unwanted feelings or thoughts bugging the one who has them. (Caused by abuse or other trauma, but psychiatry makes no allowance for that.)
    2. Bad behaviors. The diagnosed may not mind them but others do.
    3. Plain old quirkiness or eccentricities. These bother no one but meddling relatives and soulless killjoy shrinks.

    Number 2 bothers me. I don’t run around cheating on my partner, going on drunken sprees, throwing money away, picking fights, or killing people. But when I call myself “bipolar” people assume that not only am I guilty of at least some of these behaviors but they are indelibly engraved in my character. This leads to prejudice and bigotry like racism. Only instead of judging us on the color of our skin they judge us on the label slapped on us by an “expert” who lies about pathological differences cutting us off from Normal Humanity.

    If I were wrongfully accused of murder I wouldn’t self identify as a murderer. Nor will I self identify as a bipolar. Except under torture.

    • Spontaneous and sensitive… that’s great. Both imply that you embrace who you are and see the benefits and enjoy them. I think once a person works through the trauma and mines it for the diamonds, they can embrace whatever person they become. It’s during the process that it’s so tricky, because there are all these people who wish they’d never experienced the trauma, wish they could “just be normal,” whatever that is.
      If “being bipolar” means distracting oneself from painful feelings or memories by either getting euphoric or depressed, then that’s something to work through, not get mired in. Accept that NOW this is the way I deal with stuff, but IN THE FUTURE I want to live in reality, not constantly try to escape it.

  6. Regarding the naming of the things we experience and the terms we use to describe them:

    I am all for reclaiming words that are used as weapons. I think Lenny Bruce had a very good point about that, about how doing so can strip those weapons of their power to do so much damage. I am all for that. And Chris, you make a very good point about finding one’s tribe. I, personally, will never claim any “mental illness” identifiers because I refuse to define myself using that paradigm. However, the language I use to define/describe myself and my mode of living, though much more accurate and authentic to my experience, is not often easily grasped by others, especially those who have not experienced other-ness. Some might say it would better facilitate a conversation if I were to use the familiar mh lingo, and they would be right, but it would be facilitating the wrong conversation. The lingo sets the rules. The moment you put your personal picture into the frame of “mental health” you paint it over with all the assumptions inherent in the illness paradigm: that the individual experiencing these things is having symptoms; that the divergence they are experiencing from consensual reality is a problem- both for the individual and the society (which begs the question of who consented to this reality, and can we take another vote?, but I digress); and that the expertise about these experiences somehow lies in the wisdom of people who pathologize or outright refuse to acknowledge the spiritual emergence happening.

    I have more to say, but need morning coffee first 🙂

    • I, personally, will never claim any “mental illness” identifiers because I refuse to define myself using that paradigm… Some might say it would better facilitate a conversation if I were to use the familiar mh lingo, and they would be right, but it would be facilitating the wrong conversation.

      Brilliantly articulated post! I forget, are you a survivor or just extremely perceptive?

      • Thank you oldhead! I had exactly the same appraisal of something you expressed recently but didn’t say so in the moment and then couldn’t find it again.

        I’d like to think I’m both 😀

        I’ve been feeling all this discourse around language, around reform v. abolish, simmering itself out, distilling into its essence. For me, it comes down to arguments of realistic vs. ideal. I look at how the mh lingo, and the system it represents, is mis-leading (as in leading in the wrong direction) and determine that it has to be scrapped in whole and re-made because the fundamentals are flawed and as such cannot contribute to the desired outcome. I am an idealist because I want things to be right and good enough. But this is different than being a perfectionist. People who say “well, yeah, the system isn’t perfect, but it’s what we have so work with it and change it” don’t get it. It isn’t easy for me to scrap anything, and I don’t come to that conclusion lightly. I’m a conservationist– that means I don’t throw away what is still useful. I’m also resourceful, meaning I can see uses in a thing beyond merely its intended one(s). I was raised by people who lived through a world war and the Great Depression, the opposite of this culture of disposability all around me. I’m also a baker, and have had many dishes turn out differently than planned. Usually that’s a happy accident, something that is not what I’d envisioned, is different than what I wanted or intended, but is still edible, still good– usually delicious! But there are those mistakes that ruin the whole thing, and if you refuse to acknowledge that and you just keep on adding things and tinkering with it, hoping for an acceptable outcome, you’re just wasting good ingredients.
        Trying to reform psychiatry is like trying to salvage a cake batter that started out by creaming the butter with salt instead of sugar. No matter how much you tinker with that batter, it will never be edible food, and if you try to bake it up and choke it down anyway because it’s all you’ve got to eat, it’s still doing you more harm than good.

  7. I prefer the word “mad” myself. But I see madness as a state of mind. Traditionally madness was seen as something you got over like a headache or fever. But that sounds pathological–and I don’t believe madness is biologically based.

    Try reading literature like I Samuel where David pretends to be mad to scare a king away who might kill him. Later that same king hires David as a mercenary warrior. Apparently the king realized folks get over madness. In Don Quixote the hero goes mad. At the end he comes back to his senses. This happens in King Lear, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Lost Man.

    It was only after the locking up and segregation of the mad started 200 years ago that recovery was viewed as impossible. The Keeper of the Madhouse hated losing the $$$ he got for warm bodies.

    Now a bunch of folks profit from keeping others mad. HUD slumlords, therapists, caseworkers, social workers, Big Pharma CEO, drug reps, etc. Not just shrinks. And they won’t let you go NO MATTER WHAT.

    • Actually, before the advent of the drugs in the mid to late ’50’s there was about a 60% recovery rate out of the asylums, it just took people a while to accomplish the recovery. Once they left most never returned for a second visit. There were some who might return for a second visit and then never came back. Unfortunately, there were always about 30% of people who didn’t seem to have the capacity to recovery and get out of the system. Once the drugs made it on the scene what was once episodic became chronic and the supposed recovery rate is now about 15% of I remember correctly.

      You’re right about them not letting people go.

      I’ve noticed that a lot of people and organizations (like SAMSHA) talk about being “in recovery” rather than being “recovered”. I believe that there’s a big difference between the two experiences. I think that the first implies that you can’t really get your issues dealt with and behind you but that you’ll always be “ill” though you might be able to go to school or hold a job. To me recovered means that you’ve dealt with things and moved on with your life. When I bring this up in meetings of people with lived experience who are not locked in some institution most of them sidle around this and don’t really want to discuss it. They end up saying that each person has the right to think about it in the way that they want and I agree with that, but don’t turn around and try to convince me that I’m really “in recovery”.

        • I believe I may always be in recovery from psychiatric abuse. I’ve long since put the things that happened to me when I was young into a trauma-informed perspective and learned how to be okay but I’m still bitter from losing 15 years to psychiatry and extremely disturbed that I will have to defend my sanity for the rest of my life due to the legal implications of having been found to be a mental defective and the perpetual nature of electronic medical records.

          • kindredspirit

            Since I was older when I was dragged into the system, I think I was 61, I was already set in my ways and didn’t believe in the bologna that the psychiatrists tried to foist on me. I learned to take up for myself and to stand up to the psychiatrists on my case. It didn’t get me anywhere with them but sure did make me feel better about myself. Nothing of what they said made any sense and I just kept telling them that I was never ill, no matter what they said or what they labeled me with.

            But, that label is stuck to me and I can’t get rid of it no matter what I do. You are right about having to fight to defend your sanity. But I was lucky and came out fairly unscathed when they set me loose.

            I’m not trying to minimize the harm you’ve endured nor do I try to make you feel better by trying to take your righteous anger away, but you saw the light and quit drinking the Kool-Aid and you’re free from the lies and quackery of psychiatry! I know that it’s easy for me to say, but better later than never at all!

            It’s amazing that psychiatry is the only medical specialty (and I don’t think that it should be a specialty at all) that can force its treatment on people, against their will and better judgment. It’s criminal and someday I hope that we can prosecute them for the harm that they’ve caused for countless numbers of people. I see the harm that they do on a daily basis.

          • It’s absolutely not the only medical specialty that can force treatment. There have been cases of forced abortions when the mother was deemed incapable of looking after a child. And there is the immense psychological pressure and threats of social services intervention for women during childbirth if they refuse interventions that medical teams consider necessary. There is forced feeding for anorexics. And probably a lot more that we are not aware of. This is a problem endemic in “medicine.” What about parents who refuse to vaccinate?
            Correction – it’s not so much a problem in medicine as a problem in the concept of the State. Once you allow it a foothold in your life, it will suck your whole life out of you if you’re not careful. Because “they” always know better. “They” are also social services, law courts, politicians… But there is no ideal system. It’s just a case of trying to survive in whatever brand of totalitarianism your particular country subscribes to. (And that includes every country in the world.)

  8. You tell your story with a lot of power and conviction, thank you for sharing your experience and insights.

    I agree with you that there are energies and perspectives at work which seek to separate us not only from each other but, primarily, from ourselves. We’ve been so thrown out of synch by what we’ve been programmed to believe about ourselves. Good for you for taking back your power!

    “…and if we can’t comprehend our interconnection, we are all doomed.”

    Hmm, not sure I agree with this. Personally, I do not believe anyone is ‘doomed” because we’re all on a journey and we each do it our way. Life affords us myriad hurdles to jump in order to awaken to different aspects of ourselves, and I believe this is endless because consciousness does not end when our bodies cease to function. Our soul is on a growth path; evolution is satisfying to the soul, otherwise we feel stagnant, which is not a good feeling, and in fact, can lead to suffering. That’s what I believe and practice, in any event.

    Plus, there are those who get that we’re all connected and actually practice this belief by acting upon it, living that belief and reality supported by their actions. That would be what I consider to be embodying one’s truth and walking the talk, and then we know synchronicity, and we simply have to remember to not give others the power to sabotage us. Which takes me to–

    “In order to create change for ourselves, we have to step into our power…”

    Yes, I love this. And of course, stepping into our power means internal change because this is what we are looking to transform, given that the journey through the “mental health industry” is specifically about becoming disempowered through a variety of means about which we talk all the time on this website. My perspective is always that internal change leads to external change, from the ground up and based on truth and integrity, which would be a good shift to experience, imo–true change and transformation. Starts with each one of us, to ripple outward. That’s what I believe, in any event.

    Thanks for a thoughtful and honest article, I enjoyed reading it.

  9. That is truth… “And they won’t let you go NO MATTER WHAT”. Hopefully It is also true an ever growing number of people are finding a way to purposefully and specifically avoid the “… bunch of folks who profit from keeping others mad.” Even despite the terror torture tactics used to extract compliance . I count myself as fortunate escapee.
    There is a phenomena where thought itself as if a runner on a route moves up from behind with such great speed that it passes itself . There is a euphoria along there that is a flight that can last for long , than in future flights growing shorter periods , that crash into an exhausted opposite of euphoria . As the flights grow shorter as sleeplessness is part of the picture a person may attempt to take there own life if they are too frightened to sleep and have nothing to help them get some sleep. I know it can happen cause in the past I experienced this many times. For me the cause was most clearly mercury poisoning from 15 some large sized 53% mercury so called silver amalgam fillings. Root canals also removed , and infected teeth and gums healed including cavitations according to Hal Huggins protocol dentistry . Unfortunately including the false plastic teeth which I mostly wear only when I eat , it cost $6000 to get all the work done . But I must say I feel real good and sleep like a baby . I’m 71 years old and have survived .

  10. I want psyche to be something to which people have respect, not pity. So I use the language thats make a heroes of psychological people rather than poor victims of fake illnesses. And that language builds up a psychological empire not a small cage for apollonian ego claims.
    I don’t have an idea what’s mean terms like – depression, schizophrenia and so on, because diagnosis without human aspect is a dehumanisation, not help or empathy. Empty anti human nominalism is just an empty nominalism, they want people to hang themselves after given them this awful souless judgements.

    Without higer vision and mythical logic and without respect for death/psyche, we never get out of this brain garbage psychopatic language made up by Apollonian arrogants.. You can agree with your diagnosis, but for me that language is as dead as people who use it. As long as we will see in psyche only a problem to solve and sth to get rid of only to be normal, people would remain antipsychological authoritarian psychopats and psyche will be a trash to get rid of for authoritarians who preys on psyche phenomenology. If there was a pagan mythical archetypal psychology in place of todays DSM, theology and apollonian ego utopian claims towards the rest of psyche, there will be no mental illnesses, but rather people would see spiritualism/theology as a form of illusion and psyche AS A NECESSITY OR INEVITABLE painful TRUTH, NOT fake ILLNESS TO CURE. To call real psyche a fake medical illness means to escape from the psychological reality.

    James Hillman Revisioning psychology. I suggest everyone not to cure psyche, not to TRY TO GET RID OF it, but rather to accept and build a higher language for psyche phenomenology in place of mirages of chemical cure and well being in nirvana (spiritualism). Heroes of descent in place of masters of denial. We try to get rid of something which we call fake illness, rather than to accept inevitable. Normal aren’t noble, they are just antipsychological Apollonians with utopian claims to the rest of the psyche.
    What I am trying to say that there’s no chemical cure (drugs and alcochol), but we still have balls to accept this.
    THIS IS MADNESS, NO, THIS IS PSYCHE! (Sparta)
    THEY will heard this, sooner or later.

  11. You seem like a good guy. But you are NOT “bipolar,” you are human, and all these claims about “reappropriating” psychiatric hate speech are disingenuous and make no sense to boot. Black people don’t go around saying “N***** and Proud”; women don’t go around saying “C*** and proud.” So clearly people understand that this “reappropriation” thing has its limits.

    When is this stuff going to stop?! And once you collect all these people who identify as “bipolar” like you, what are you going to tell them?

    • “When is this stuff going to stop?!”

      Had to put up with it at my fathers funeral. Apparently a relative of mine can’t do their art without their anxiety and they DO take drugs, which was said to me in a ‘so there, up yours’ kinda way. It’s incredible how people have become so psychiatrized – helped by the likes of ‘the guardian’.

    • Oldhead I have heard of folks misdiagnosed with cancer who discovered they were okay. Guess what? They became horribly depressed. Apparently cancer patient was integral to their identities now. They had no sense of who they were without their diagnosis. 🙁

  12. I appreciate what Chris is trying to do. During the Revolutionary War, the solders taunted the colonists with the song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” It involved a stupid hick who complained he couldn’t see the town because of all the people. When Washington accepted Cornwallis’s surrender, he had the American militia strike up the tune. “In your face Brits!”

    I have always felt my label made me like Richard Kimball. Wrongfully accused of a crime I have not committed. Watch any one of a number of TV dramas and you’ll find a “bipolar” who runs around murdering people for the thrill of it.

    I prefer not to don a T shirt with a picture of Anthony Perkins brandishing a butcher knife and the words “Proud Psycho” on the back. Better to be judged on the content of my character and not some badge of shame a creepy shrink slapped on me years ago.

    “Once a thief always a thief!” says Inspector Jalvert in Les Miserables.
    “Once a bipolar always a bipolar,” says Dr. Jalvert in Modern Psychiatry.

    • Flabberghasts me when you write about “bipolar” this way, given that it’s the sexiest and most on-trend label of them all. It is the high-end label. The haute couture of the psychiatric world (Bipolar 2 is like when people wear cheap t-shirts with designer labels printed on them).

      I think the problem is that these exclusive labels have become way too common.

      What do you mean, Bipolar? Is that Bipolar First Class or Bipolar Standard Class?

      The most horrifying experience is the mixed state. High and low at the same time. Spooky.

      Borderline Personality Disorder is the most socially mangling label. But then is it just the label that causes the social mangling, or is it the actual behaviour that the label attempts to categorise?

      I have had many of what some people describe as spiritual or supernatural experiences and they aren’t something I’d recommend or look forward to. I have encountered a few people online that reckon they have broken through to a higher state of consciousness because of bipolar. And yet their metaphors are staid and cliched. Maybe that is some unspoken truth about the Higher Levels? They are utterly devoid of creative spark and originality? The Higher Levels are where people become acutely in balance with their inner tedium?

      Other humans beings can have a stimulant effect. And bipolarites and bipolaresses must avoid stimulants at all costs. I think this is why so many bipolar self-declared geniuses end up in the theatre.

      Audience – check
      Centre of attention – check
      Be someone else – check
      Clearly demarcated beginning, middle and end – check
      Ability to disappear under the guise of one’s authentic bewildered self – check
      Still lonely in a crowd – check

      O darling, that’s absolutely lovely, ‘int it an’ all?

      • The label is filled with accusations of bad character traits you may be innocent of. 6 or 7 out of 10 subjective, elastic feelings, thoughts and habits. And if someone acts badly isn’t branding them hopelessly depraved a great way to kill hope of moral reformation?

        Obviously you don’t watch TV. I only do with my parents. But every other drama contains a creepy “bipolar” stalking children, trying to murder the heroes, or something equally nice.

        Maybe the label is sexy if you’re a guy. Some women prefer bad boy criminal types. (Personally I don’t.)

  13. Chris – Have you watched either or both of these videos:

    Dr James Davies: The Origins of the DSM

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JPgpasgueQ

    Allen Frances’ Paid Role in Creating Psychiatric Epidemics

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K12jE7TH7zQ

    They really are worth a watch if you have not. Also do you know anything about the glutamate/GABA role in this subject or it’s not something you would consider, or have considered but rule it out or just do not know ?

  14. @ Chris Cole

    Thanks for bringing something slightly newish and less samey to the table. I have been trying to rid myself of the Bipolar label for some time now. I’d rather have a schizoaffective label. What is the difference between a scizophrenic and a bipolar? I think the only difference is that a schizophrenic embodies their delusions and a bipolar is able to step outside of them and talk about them objectively.

    I would be behind you with the idea of reclaiming the term bipolar if I didn’t know that the term was coined by an ex-Nazi psychiatrist who undoubtedly sent many of our German brothers an sisters to their untimely deaths.

    Dr Karl Leonard.

    He then went on to work for the East German Stasi. I expect the process of moving from being a Nazi psychiatrist to a Stasi psychiatrist was relatively seamless.

    Bipolaren Affective Storung.

  15. Chris – it has taken awhile to comment because now I find your use of the b word triggering. But that is my issue at this time not yours at this time.
    In the past in my journey, I did try to embrace the whole label role. Actually in NAMI money donation literature they suggest you use your label while asking for donations. In an act of protest I choose to use the s word. Because I knew it had negative connotations in the community and just to show what embracing the label could do in a community.
    My letter donation campaign resulted in police calls to my house. No ever came up to ask me what my story was.
    So I literally shot myself in the proverbial foot by following in pa resistant way NAMI ‘s advice.
    Prior to this my child’s soccer coach had relayed once finding I was a LISW that his brother was a s and had issues also another writer friend needed help with a relative who needed some help who was also labeled s. To their credit they were not dismissive but genuially confused and now that I know so much about the survivor movement I wish I could do a do over spend get them both connected to this site and other groups. I know they would not only listen but learn.
    At one of my CUEs before I quit the profession the presenter basically dissed the entire DSM process and said they gather in a basement and hold up their hands for options. And this was for the DSM III R.
    If you want t embrace the bi concept – whatever works- however you are on the journey and this may or may not be the last stop for you.
    I look to nature and science.
    And it shows many diverse patterns beside the binary system. Artists also talk about the four season cycle- so maybe one can call themselves a quad?
    Prosody in Poetry has all sorts of patterns- one could use as a snapshot or label. Today I am a trochee. Tomorrow or next year I will be an iambic pentameter.
    Fractals! Maybe some of us are fractal people?
    Humans for better or worse have always exhibited a need for classification. The Caste System in India is ancient.
    We also have both expressed and nonexpressedneeds for community.
    One time s relative who had a DD child said, he could be in society but stress symptoms would start and back in another more DDish community the stress symptoms would disappear or be less.
    One needs to live in multiple communities and how do we manage that? How do we talk to one another?
    And add to that Trauma and Yikes everything becomes more confused and harder to find solutions.
    The Irish still talk of The Battle of the Boyne and Oliver Cromwell and it’s is centuries! And Armenians still cope with the trauma of their own genocide over a centryry ago. And African Americans still deal with the memory of The Midfle Passage.
    Some of us carry remnants of the Neanderthals in our biological make up. What happened to an entire once thriving species?
    After a war and most wars eventually end even the 100 years war ended there is always the next morning and people have to live with each other. I try to remember that though so easy to forget.
    What do we say to each other in the morning after a war?
    How has it be done in the past?
    What happens to language?
    What happens to memory?
    What happens to art?
    As angry as I can sometimes get and rightfully so I don’t want to have to deal with an involvement of an atrocity.
    But then again there was a movement against Hitler?
    What happened to its survivors?
    And when one dismantles – how does one rebuild?
    And what about the cornerstone or keystone in a foundation of s building? If it is damaged or rotten what is done?
    More questions than answers here,

  16. Chris Cole wrote: “I want the world to be a safer place for extreme states, states of madness, altered states of consciousness, mental health crises, and mental illness of all kinds. This is what is most important to me. If I can help it, the language used to get us there will serve as a tool toward deeper understanding and higher complexity. This is why I’m “proud,” and “mad,” ,,,”

    Can’t argue with that. Nice one. Shake hands. Can we go back to “manic depression”?

  17. What is the difference between bipolar and schizophrenia? A GP claimed it was insight. Bipolarites and Bipolaresses retain insight. Whereas people deemed schizophrenic don’t. Schizophrenia I’m told is the lack of insight. Similar symptoms but the loss of the insight mojo?

  18. I hope you don’t mind me flagging the good bits.

    Chris Cole wrote: “Part of our challenge with social justice and mental health is that so many bipolar folks need to remain closeted to survive. When I was having manic episodes, I didn’t know anyone else who had ever had a single experience like mine. When I say, “I’m bipolar,” I’m acknowledging that there is something different about me neurologically that makes me more sensitive to emotional, sensory, and energetic shifts. I wholeheartedly feel that I can be bipolar, as a distinction from psychiatric disorder or illness. The discomfort of painful symptoms exists in the relationship between my neurodivergent body and a society which marginalizes difference. My disability exists primarily between bodies, in the crowded spaces of ignorance and intolerance.”

    The best place I ever found for all this was in the setting of a lovely Norwegian family, and a big old fire and mountains in every direction. On that occasion I was high despite of the high doses of Depakote (a word which conjures indigenous tribes and animal skins and obscure hallucinogenic flower-buds)… maybe the Depakote Tribe did hold me back a little, in conjunction with the warm and welcoming Norwegian family…

    It was there I truly learnt the power of the mountains and Nature’s harsh lessons awaiting. You’re never on your own in the wild, even in solitude. In the darkening woods eyes are watching you. The crow circles you, expectant.

    What magnificent wildernesses aware of you in North America. So why suffer the bright artificial lights and the artificial challenges.

    As many of the writers you allude to agree on: the challenge of Nature is within you, and you either make it mythic or a tragicomedy.

    I’m very skilled at tragicomedy. All mad people are.

    • It’s not a question of liking or not liking names. It’s a question of pretending to know things that we don’t. For example, pretending that all people who ‘have depression’ are alike and have the same needs.

      You can call yourself “unipolar” if that explains things for you, but it’s different when a whole profession pretends it can reliably identify “unipolar” people and assert that they know what is “wrong” with that person and what they can do about it.

      Think about this: do you have to decide if you “like” the name of a broken leg, a syphillis infection, or a heart attack? Of course not. Because you can easily and reliably separate people with broken legs from people who don’t have them by a simple x-ray. It’s not right to tell people that they “have depression” when they may literally have NOTHING in common with another person who “has depression” except for how they feel.

      You can describe your own condition in any way you like. Professionals are held to a higher standard – they need to be honest about what they know and don’t know and can’t diagnose you based on how you or how they feel about the label they put on you.

      • Steve McCrea wrote: “Because you can easily and reliably separate people with broken legs from people who don’t have them by a simple x-ray.”

        This isn’t a convincing potrayal of modern general medicine. It deliberately ignores the functional disorders. Functional disorders such as fibromyalgia, dementia, interstitial cystitis, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and so on are untestable yet given names and treated by general medicine.

        Wikipedia wrote: “Generally, the mechanism that causes a functional disorder is unknown, poorly understood, or occasionally unimportant for treatment purposes. The brain or nerves are often believed to be involved. It is common that a person with one functional disorder will have others.”

        Steve McCrea wrote: “It’s not right to tell people that they “have depression” when they may literally have NOTHING in common with another person who “has depression” except for how they feel.”

        Isn’t that all the word depression does? The chemical imbalance narrative is something people can take or leave.

        You have a problem in your brain. Take a drug, feel better. Now that you feel better you might be more motivated to tackle the psychosocial problems fomenting your unhappiness. You may also be at risk from finding the motivation to kill yourself. This is why it is important to identify people at risk and do something socially to help them.

        I agree that not enough is done socially. As littleturtle has put it previously: there is too much biobiobio and not enough biopsychosocial.

        But must the bio be the first action to take?

        Probably not. And so there needs to be much more nuance. As discussed in the Power Threat Meaning discourse.

        One major problem of that discourse is how many will consider its recommendations as politicised. Although I don’t know how it would be possible to critique any mental health system without getting the government hot and bothered.

        Unipolar sounds like a bipolar that has had their mania amputated.

  19. Let’s cut the crap. None of us is bipolar. We can all count past two. Maybe psychiatrists and the like cannot, glutted as they are on their religion of scientism. They are on a lower plane of consciousness. I suppose we should have compassion on them. However, I think we should go ahead and label our experiences what they are: visionary states, shamanistic journeys, death-rebirth, self-sacrifice, psychic perception, intimations of eternity, blah blah blah. We’ve stolen fire from heaven; returned back to the Cave with the good news; and well, suffered as everybody must for this experience. I think we can go ahead and claim our wisdom. They owe us an apology.

  20. i have a UNIPOLAR mood disorder…
    i have an excellent psychiatrist…
    i take 5 mg of celexa daily…
    i am trying to withdraw from it…
    i don’t believe that NOT using those words..
    is going to help me at all….
    i actually like the word UNIPOLAR..
    and if i stop using that word UNIPOLAR…
    my suffering will not get any better…

  21. i am tired of all the craptalk here…..
    I have a MENTAL ILLNESS…and it is awful..
    don’t be talking that it just has to do about moving on…
    I am UNIPOLAR and I will get help anywhere I find it…
    and I don’t find much kindness here..i find hate and anger…
    and that will go NOWHERE..

  22. Chris,
    Congratulations for writing this beautifully written thought-provoking article. The responses that you received clearly indicate the mental and physical energy we use to hold on to our experience-honed beliefs. Like most, I have beliefs that challenge my ability to be open, but at this stage in my life, being open and recognizing the influence and exertions of ego and their effects on me, are the tasks I value for my personal growth. Currently I am co-writing an invited article for the Humanistic Psychology Journal’s special issue on de-constructing diagnosis. The article examines how names are used historically and across cultures. . . . moves into the impact of psychiatric diagnosis. I am hoping that the article will help us ponder naming power and its impact on how we think and live.. Thanks Chris for having the courage and clarity to expose your thoughts and beliefs to critical examination here.

  23. Can’t keep the pace and read all the comments, many I appreciate very much, by the way but thanks Chriss fir a very thoughtful article. Reminds me that bipolar disorder was once part of the “affective” disorders and now, as psychiatry is “full” biological, they deem it better to talk about the “mood disorders. And way back, there where many types of disorders that could look like bipolar but had different meanings and causative factors (for e., cyclothymia, brief psychotic disorders etc.). I’m still very ambivalent about reclaiming the term bipolar for many of the reasons others here argue against it and especially because it has acquired pejorative sub-meanings ant that can be very hazardous. Juste like we got ride of overused and insulting word like “idioty’ out of the medical jargon. I think bipolar has already done great harm and should be abandoned. It is way too tricky and conjures up way too many bad images. But if ever I meet again with a psychiatrist that seems to talk like Chriss, I will be delighted to use it. How many out there, 1 in 10 million ?

  24. Well, a woman on staff where I work has an interesting story to tell about her mother and brother. Her brother was “diagnosed” at a young age as being bi-polar. Their mother, who happens to be a nurse, was told that he needed to be put immediately on “medication” since he would be “ill” for life. His mother took him home and said that was all a lot of bull manure. She never applied the label of “bi-polar” to him and never used it at home when he experienced issues. She never told everyone she could about how her son was “bi-polar”. She never did put him on anything and he is now grown and owns and runs his own plumbing business. In fact, it’s a very profitable business that provides for him and his family. Encouraged by his mother he dated and got married and has children. Does he experience difficulties at times in his life? Yes, but he knows how to deal with those difficulties without resorting to the drugs that would disrupt his life and his business for good. I know that this is only one story about all of this but it’s an uplifting piece of information. One man who is productive and seemingly happy with his life was saved by his mother who refused to put him on the drugs as the wonderful psychiatrist instructed her to do.

    If there is one story out there like this there have to be more.

    • Coming from a man, and not a woman (I imagine it’s true, you are a guy) is even more inspiring. Had her kid been catalogued as “bi-word”would have benne probably very devastating. But “mommy nurse” was well attuned to the system and spared him that terrible ordeal.Your story is like a fable, with a good ending. Thanks. And it also says something terribly wrong with the word “bipolar”. Life can take a large variety of “wrong ways” and to put a name on only the variant (up and down) is so reductionist, Life has it’s ups and downS. I dont believe everybody is bipolar. But, for sure, everyone have theirs highs, and their lows. Mi bipolar experience was not between being depressed and hypomanic : it was between being full of enthusiasm and discouraged or apprehensive for the futur of life on earth, not only mine, but the one of my children and all their counterparts.

  25. Chris your words mean the world to me as I attempt to process the witnessing of the first manic episode of a close, loved family member. I appreciate your ability to put words around this in a way that I feel preserves the dignity of those who experience similar moments. Thank you.