I just got an email from a guy who’s thinking about starting his own FIRE blog and who read my work here and asked me about my article in which I discuss what dealing with bipolar disorder is like.
>The way you put it all out there regarding having bi-polar disorder was bold and gritty. How did it feel to write that?
Here’s what I wrote back.
Writing that article felt wonderful. Why?
OK, sermon coming on. Mentioned some of this in that article, but it’s important enough to repeat. And trust me on this–I’m gonna rock your head back a few paragraphs from now. Keep reading.
A lot of people say they feel angry/sad/hopeless/confused/etc. when they get their diagnosis. Or they go into denial. I embraced it, though, because I’d been dealing with the symptoms for over thirty years without knowing what was wrong with me.
So it straight-up floored me when I found out it was treatable, especially the long periods of depression and the suicidal ideation. And I do indeed feel a lot better now. Writing about it therefore doesn’t take any courage at all because I’m equipped to say: here are the facts, and if you’re determined to define me by a narrow element of my being–an illness–rather than accepting me as a whole person, then fuck off back to Oz.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about those facts I mentioned.
Occasionally I do some spoken word at a small local independent theater that hosts a monthly variety show. I have a piece written on this subject, although I haven’t yet had the chance to perform it.
In the piece I try to help people overcome the stereotyping of people who have BPD as dangerous and liable to snap and volatile and delusional and such…which might be true in some of the most extreme cases. But then I point out that roughly one in twenty-eight Americans has BPD, meaning that in a fifty-person audience there’s a good chance you’re sitting near somebody who has either been diagnosed and is in treatment or–odds are–who hasn’t and isn’t.
And so here’s the question: if you’re afraid that people with BPD are dangerous, then given the choice would you rather hang out with somebody who knows they’ve got BPD and is in treatment and talks about it, or somebody who’s just walking around untreated? Because that’s the decision you’re making right now; you’re just not “woke” to it.
I follow in the piece with a comparison to genital herpes. Here’s where I rock your head back.
At least one in six Americans has HSV-2, but it’s difficult to get a more accurate count because the majority are undiagnosed and asymptomatic. So let’s say you’re considering having a new sex partner and he discloses that he’s been diagnosed after one outbreak that happened three years ago, and it’s highly highly highly highly unlikely he’ll transmit to you since it’s been so long since that one and he takes an HSV-specific antiviral and the two of you will be using condoms. But you turn him down because you don’t want to take the risk. Which is cool…your body, your decision.
But then your next potential sex partner comes along and has HSV-2 but is entirely asymptomatic and HASN’T been diagnosed. So when he tells you he doesn’t have any STDs, he’s actually wrong. His mistaken belief that he’s STD-free, however, makes you feel a lot more comfortable about having unprotected sex with him. And you do, but you get unlucky and bam! You’ve got HSV-2 because he’s still capable of spreading the virus.
What this means is that you were actually safer with the partner who knows and who disclosed. And it also means that the problem isn’t the person who infected you…the problem is actually YOU. YOU’RE the reason you have HSV-2 now because you allowed yourself to make an uninformed decision. And now you yourself are asymptomatic and undiagnosed, and YOU’RE the one spreading the virus.
How does that feel?
Furthermore, I’m guessing the majority of the people in the variety show’s audience will have had more than six sex partners, and that they’ll have had unprotected sex with at least some of them. This is when I expect them to start squirming.
In short, this is the same principle as in BPD except that people aren’t spreading a relatively benign virus; what they’re spreading is a hateful, ignorant stereotype.
Bit of a long answer to the guy’s question, but the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder is terrible, so I’m sharing my perspective in hope of conveying understanding and therefore acceptance. Believe me, having BPD and knowing people look down on you for it doesn’t make dealing with it any easier. So if you have it, you might as well come out with it–makes it easier if you go ahead and broom them out of your life.
And reader, I’ll address you directly now: if after reading this you’re still the kind of person who’ll shun me for who I am, I take back what I said about fucking off to Oz…instead, go look in the mirror and then come back and email me directly at EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com and let’s talk and see if we can come to a mutual understanding and respect.
I also hope this article helps people overcome the HSV-2 stigma, too. I have a female family member who’s been diagnosed with it.1 She’s been very open with me–she’s the one who made to me the comparison between BPD and HSV-II. If you and I were in a bar together and you started bitching at me because she’s somehow “unclean,” I’d try to resist the urge to bust you in your face and instead I’d show you pictures of her and her husband and their two beautiful children. I mean, hell, I might have it myself…and so might you. How can we not feel compassion?
One last point: as of this writing I have over 1,100 followers on Twitter, 350 people in my direct email list, and this blog gets hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors a day. So here’s a shout out to all of you who are dealing with bipolar disorder and genital herpes. You know who you are.
Or maybe not.