Is Bipolar an Ugly Word? The Case For Labels in Conscious Community

I notice that bipolar is an ugly word when people use it to describe an ex. “God she was psycho,” my client told me. “She was totally bipolar,” he went on, not knowing that it’s a label I own too. I nodded and smiled reluctantly but genuinely. It wasn’t the first time I had heard a man describe his ex this way, or a woman describe her ex that way, for that matter. Freedom is the underlying emotion each time I hear these exasperated recollections from my clients or friends as they describe my peers. I cringe a little each time, not knowing if it’s because I despise the misunderstanding that’s associated with “us” or because I can imagine the hell they probably went through, knowing myself deeply as a bipolar “wrecker of things.” Relief is the primary emotion I sense from the people who are disclosing to me in these situations. Relief from emotional bondage, manic chaos, intellectual confusion, verbal abuse, and a host of other things I really don’t need them to name because the picture is usually clear when I close my eyes and imagine their break-ups.

Without fail, my mental rolodex creates a flash flood of imagery from my own episodic history, particularly on the love train. Love brings out the best and the worst of all of us. We, the “United Republic of Bipolar Psychos” of the world, are no different, just more extreme. My best and my worst are significantly more intense and extreme than most people I know, except maybe among my fellow “polar people.” I like to think I’m always giving my best and that even my worst is still way better than most people’s best. My friends and family might agree. Or, they might say that’s the exact magical thinking and self-aggrandizement of the bipolar talking!

Well, at least I talk about my feelings.

I do feel a little uglier since my formal diagnosis in 2017. But I also feel more accountable. I think it’s unfair, and I get totally triggered (in true bipolar fashion), when people even allude to the idea that I might use my bipolar experience to excuse my behavior. I think it’s quite the opposite. I can name it now, which is a huge step farther along the recovery journey than being completely unaware.

“Hi, my name is Jenny Carrington, and I live with a bipolar experience. All you piece of s**t readers will never f******g get it, or me, so quit trying.”

See, that’s the bipolar rage talking. When I name it, I can take a breath and try it again another way.

Hey, readers! Thank you so much for opening your hearts to understanding why I’m a manic rage-aholic. Oh, and also, thank you in advance for taking a deep breath knowing that it’s really not as personal or abusive as you think it is.

It’s a perpetual frustration of boredom, not of hate. We don’t hate you. We don’t want to abuse you, and we aren’t even that mad at you. But we are bored, and you are there. And that’s pretty much the crux of it.

As a disclaimer to this article, I need you to come with me on a journey, readers. It’s a newsworthy journey, I promise. It’s a news flash in fact. We’re all f*****g suffering right now! So, if the raw truth of our collective psychosis isn’t on your front-page news, it’s probably on the front page of your internal monologue, or at least stuck like a headline on the forehead of someone you know or love.

Open the paper and read us now. We’re here! Let’s get ready for the decade party together. Calmness is like a gala dress we know is flattering for us but have nowhere to wear it to. So, we’re hanging out in our ugly bipolar sweats, un-showered, writing to you from our beds hoping you’ll give us a chance. Or at least I am! The label is a place to open the conversation about us “polar people.”

Will you have it with me, readers?

Yours truly,

An “ugly” one

7 thoughts on “Is Bipolar an Ugly Word? The Case For Labels in Conscious Community”

  1. Dear Jenny,

    Thanks a million for opening the conversation and giving us (the world) an opportunity to engage beyond the characterizations, stereotypes, assumptions and baggage many people carry. I am here, with you, and everyone who feels inspired, to have the inquiry and explorations as we reimagine, reinvent and reconceive perceived mental illness and what follows from doing so.

    For me, on the topic of ‘labels,’ what comes to mind is a famous ‘geek’ statement from the field of general semantics and one of its pioneers Alfred Korzybski– that statement is: ‘The Map Is Not the Territory.’

    {“The map is not the territory” is a phrase coined by the Polish-American philosopher and engineer Alfred Korzybski. He used it to convey the fact that people often confuse models of reality with reality itself. According to Korzybski, models stand to represent things, but they are not identical to those things.}

    In our case here, I sense that a term like ‘Bipolar’ has detrimentally fallen into the fate of people confusing the label with reality itself. This confusion, this slippery slope of labeling, classification, categorization has done WAY more harm than good on the large scale.

    On one hand, labels/categories/classifications/etc are very helpful and very necessary– they help us in many ways … and then.. they become living things in themselves and we forget the very imminent fact that the map is not the territory. I have seen too many times, that these labels have become lazy weaponized tools for pigeonholing people, treating them myopically and marginalizing (among a slew of repercussions to long to list). This is a much longer and deeper conversation obviously, with a lot of nuance.

    For now, I congratulate you on taking this step through the Tribune to bring light, levity, awareness and curiosity to the subject and open some dialogue. I am thrilled to see in writing, the use of ‘bipolar experience’ compared to bipolar disorder. Words matter. Words set tones. Words become our liberation and they can also become a prison. In my case, using ‘perceived mental illness,’ is deliberate. The future will reveal that this past time in our history was off the mark, and that labeling these experiences as mental illness was not only lazy (culturally, memetically) but also actually scientifically inaccurate. For example, it’s a whole systems dis-ease that people are experiencing, and there are more neurotransmitters in the gut then the brain.. so really.. labeling these experiences ‘mental illness’ is a slippery enough misnomer to bring us down the slope into the disempowerment of being labeled with a mental illness and all of the systemic repercussions that entails.

    I thank the Tribune for facilitating your expression Jenny and invite the magazine to really support you and those of us heading towards a mental health reformation- let’s step outside the boxes and take this exploration into catalyzing new solutions as well!!

    With Love,
    Bret W.

  2. Ann Marie Mahachek

    Congratulations to a very talented and insightful writer who unabashedly and poignantly shares her unique life experiences with us. Her words turn the manifestations of her condition inside out and upside down. She spills the contents of her heart on the page for readers to grasp the magnitude of a condition that they may think they or a loved one may have. She gives solace, shows strength, and most importantly, opens the door for open and honest conversation about mental health disorders and the needs of those who suffer from them.

  3. Dear Jenny, thank you for your bravery to speak up and demonstrate that is possible to thrive, in spite of, the stigma and mental challenges. Please continue to shine and illuminate the path for those trying to find their way.

  4. Love you my Jenny B Your journey has been long and hard. You are strong , witty, resourceful, intelligent above and beyond, and an inspiration to many.
    Good luck on your new endeavor.
    Love to you.

  5. What if …..those who are labeled with the ‘ugly’ words of bipolar or schizophrenic are actually holding two distinct domains at the same time – the ‘old’ human who is angry, traumatized and represents those parts of us that we desperately want to let go of AND the emerging ‘new’ human with fundamentally different consciousness, skills, senses, and abilities? What brave souls these ‘bridging’ pioneers are!

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