Once again, I am utterly behind the times. I was only recently made aware of the mid-April revelation that Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed she had been diagnosed Bipolar II. Apparently Carrie Fisher also struggles with the illness. Another article said that Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen have also talked about having the disorder.
Some joke that it’s a mental illness bandwagon everyone is jumping on. Frankly, before I was diagnosed, I would probably agree. I think both Sheen and Gibson are poster children for regular bipolar disorder. From what I’ve read about Angelina Jolie (yes, I picked up a guilty pleasure book once about her and Brad Pitt, so sue me), I’m pretty convinced she’s at least Bipolar II. Probably just straight up Bipolar with a good handle on masking it.
But three years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. There are a lot of variables that make it harder to diagnose, which means it can go untreated. People might just ascribe it to artistic temperament, flakiness, or regular depression. As it becomes better understood, there will be an inevitable rash of diagnoses — just like with ADD. Unfortunately, that also causes people to become skeptical of it.
Also, let’s be honest here: “Bipolar” sounds a helluva lot scarier than normal depression. The latter is finally making some headway, and is starting to gain acceptance in society at large. But “bipolar” just conjures up images of crazy people doing erratic, ridiculous things.
Who would want to be associated with that?
So it often takes one or two (preferably famous) people admitting to the disease before others will also talk about it. Because there is something to the whole “safety in numbers” deal. And in Hollywood, it can be career ending to admit to something as scary-sounding as bipolar disorder.
So good for Zeta-Jones and Fisher. Gibson and Sheen, well I think maybe they should do a little less talking about it and a little more medicating — of the non- pill/liquor variety. Sheen in particular, from what little I’ve read, seems to treat it all as a joke. A “Well, sure I’m bipolar but I’m not like those people” kind of attitude.
The fact is that the stigma on depression is only barely starting to erode, and to bring out something even less understood than traditional (aka unipolar) depression… Well, it takes guts.
And I’m willing to admit that it’s a lack of guts that has kept me from talking too much about my diagnosis. I don’t want to scare people away. I also don’t want people with unipolar depression to think that there aren’t parallels to be drawn from my own depressive experiences.
Also, yes, there is that weird distancing urge. “Okay, I might be depressed but I’m not crazy.”
All of that, though, is a load of crap. The fact is that it is hard to think of yourself as any one way. I’ve just barely gotten the “depressive” thing down without trying to also swallow the “bipolar” part of it all. It makes me sound crazy, I think. Even though, in the past, I have acted crazy.
I’ve lost relationships and friendships when my swings would go out of control. I’d freak out on people, screaming and crying over imagined slights. I would have a bad episode and, if the person wasn’t available to help me through it, become enraged and take it out on him or her.
I’ve also had grandiosity grab hold of me. I’ve gone through periods feeling like I was smarter than everyone else. (And not just while watching Jerry Springer or Repo Games.) Where there were few indeed who could hold a candle to me intellectually. Now, I’m smart, but not smart enough to cause the level of disdain I experienced off and on for a couple of years.
So, yeah, I have shied away from talking about it. And that’s really just dumb. Understandable, but dumb.
I guess I had better hop on the bipolar bandwagon myself. I’m going to work on a piece or two that actually talks a bit more in depth about my symptoms and such. I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.