Try a Little Tenderness

I’ll admit it – being bi-polar sucks. Maybe because there’s neither a cure, nor will I directly die from it. Instead, I’m hanging about in limbo, suffering from a disease that makes most people think of Jack Nicholson’s fine acting skills in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Nobody sympathizes with the manic-depressive. There is no tenderness extended to a woman in her 40’s with a disease that bears no relation to something “serious” like cancer. Or diabetes. Or heart disease. Or any number of diseases to which there is not attached a death sentence, but which does come complete with a stigma. I was watching the Oscars tonight. An actor was nominated for his portrayal of a bi-polar ex-looney bin patient who “snapped” when he found his wife in the shower with a colleague. Why did the character have to be bi-polar for that to be upsetting? Don’t “normal” people find that painful? It seems that, suddenly, there are a lot of TV and movie characters surfacing who have bi-polar disorder. There’s the CIA agent on the Showtime series who is bi-polar and she can’t let on at work because they will fire her so she quietly gets her meds from her sister the doctor and together they keep her illness under wraps. Would she be hiding diabetes? Why does mania and depression have to be characterized on TV as so unmanageable that they have to be kept a secret? In light of all the stigma surrounding bi-polar disorder, I am amazed with myself that I am still sensitive to the reaction I get when I share my diagnosis with someone new. When I tell someone, “Actually, I am bipolar” and they step back a bit like I’ve just admitted to spreading leprosy, I’m surprised to still find that shocking. A few words of advice: should someone disclose his or her bipolar disorder with you, invite yourself to learn about it. Ask questions. Chances are, she’s not sharing with you because she likes to hear herself talk, or because she is looking to alienate her friends. It’s ok to ask about the disease – if she’s volunteering her diagnosis, she’s reaching out. Try a little tenderness – ask what you can do to help, or at least feign a little interest. But a little tenderness can go a long way.

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