In 1977, the American household singer and entertainer Rosemary Clooney publicly unveiled her own diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder or at least what it was considered to be at the time. The effect was twofold, firstly to give the public an early glimpse of the concept that the mind can be just as unwell as the body and secondly to foster a link in their minds between creative people – or celebrities at the very least – and any kind of mental abnormality. We’d grown up with these people as the eccentrics of our lives, convinced that this spate of abnormality was an innately triggered spark, one which immediately made their thought process inaccessible to us. This notion had even survived being disabused a decade earlier when Charles Manson, newly anointed member of the California music scene of the 60’s turned out to be a straight-faced psychopath, though an understandable stigma remained.
Just being creative and having a ‘normal’ brain isn’t mutually exclusive then. In fact, the very idea of characterizing people’s thought processes into groups seems rather myopic and I’ve always made it paramount in these articles to give due care and attention to the idea of an individual perception of the world.
So why, then, do Doctors have such a hard time accepting this? The framework they’ve come up with meant the latter half of the twentieth century was dedicated to swinging the medical consciousness from focussing almost solely on a physical disease to accepting the danger of mental ailments as well. Over the past several years, this change has taken place in the public consciousness, too, with mental health getting perhaps more air time and column inches than ever. It’s still difficult to reason why Doctors should feel the need to make the same capitulations the media does, that symptoms and illnesses and therefore people need to be lumped into as vague groups as possible.
More than just the individuality between illnesses, people with afflictions like mine need doctors to realize the individuality of people with the same illness; the great degree or variation in both the nature of Bipolar and the experience of it on a case to case basis. Failing to recognize this has serious consequences, both personal and clinical (almost like those two things are closely linked) and any treatment must be based deeply in both aspects.
The substance of what people like Rosemary Clooney were trying to achieve was, in my view, that the appearance mentally ill people in the public eye have and the windows into their personalities they give us are an indication not of someone trying to hide or be ashamed of something, but of someone trying to reinforce their individual brilliance. Be it qualities that they possess in spite or indeed because of their condition.
When we heap praise and admiration on these people, we’re too quick to consider their inborn nature a detraction from what we like about them. Their race or their sexuality is all too often offered up as something we quell our usual reservations about if we want to enjoy their personas. Why is it acceptable for Doctors to discriminate in the same way about an illness that they are supposed to treat? Faced with this, I am not the first person afflicted with Bipolar disorder to try to remedy their confusion with my own perspective and I’m eternally grateful to anyone who’s interacted with this blog as a means to help me express that perspective further. But whatever it is you enjoy about these posts or any of my work or any of the moments of extroversion and expression from the swelling ranks of mentally ill people in the public eye, they’ve lived in a very novel way. They’ve led lives that by their nature require a careful, empathetic and inquisitive point of view on the world around them and the issues within it.
You can be the exception where others take exception. By refuting the usual stigmatism and narrow-mindedness that the worst of the media and the medical profession purports as fact, you can give the proper time of day to these beautiful minds.
Thank you for reading.