"Bipolar" is the new "moody".

Consider this, before using "bipolar" to describe that crazy or moody lady next door.

June 9, 2016

It’s tempting, isn’t it? Automatic almost. The go-to word you want (and will) use for someone who is pleasant one day and terrible the next. Who seems to have dual personalities. A mood-shifter in a matter of minutes. I know it’s tempting. For the first time in my entire life, I used the word myself and I felt like the hugest hypocrite in all the land. I dare not use it again if it the glove doesn’t fit the hand that lost it.

Do you know which word I speak of? And don’t worry. I won’t chide you, scorn you, or turn sour towards you for using it. How could I? I used it myself less than 48 hours ago. 

The word itself defines an illness. A life-shattering, earth-shaking, mind-twisting, trouble-making, relentlessly tormenting, at times uncontrollable, and inconsolable illness. Does the glove fit? 

Yes, the illness itself is an evil all on its own. It can destroy lives. Mangle relationships. Convince you out of a happy and healthy life. There is not one good thing about it. Probably, as with any illness. And the fact that the word I speak of describes something so malignant and awful allows the stigma surrounding the word to sink its claws so easily into it. 
Like any other mental illness, “bipolar” disorder is attached to a stigma.

And that stigma isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The negativity surrounding bipolar disorder is so severe it is a risky move to so innocently use “bipolar” to describe an individual who is moody or a bit off-their-rocker, when we know the illness does not fit the victim. Let me rephrase that. Many people don’t know if the illness fits the victim. And when they use it, they aren’t even referring to the person’s REAL mental state. Many don’t know what the word even means. But they use it because that’s the word to use nowadays. Before it was “schizo” when describing a person who acts crazy. Now, it’s “bipolar”. Who the heck was the first to read an article on manic depression or “bipolar disorder”, and entirely miss the point?

You want to know what’s ironic? When I got sick for the first time (I was heading towards my breakdown), I remember seeing the words “Bipolar” strewn across a magazine cover. I think it was either TIME or Newsweek. And it had an illustration of a head. The head was divided down the middle. One side was white. The other black. I forget the exact title. It was something like, “Is Your Teen Bipolar?” Little did I know, I was holding the secrets to my own mentality in my hand. I never bothered to read that article, and who knows where that magazine is now. Irony...!

Being bipolar can make a person seem to have split personalities or to be mood-shifters. If their cycle is so erratic that their horizontal axis sky rockets to manic highs and plummets down to depressive lows every several weeks or so, then, yes, I can see the comparison. But whenever I have heard “bipolar” used out of context (mostly how it is ever used), it is not labelling an actual bipolar sufferer. It is labelling someone who is a biotch one day, and then a Messiah the next. People confuse bipolar disorder with multiple personalities, or, they are merely trying to use some other pop-culture word for someone who is two-faced.

The concern is not that calling a person “bipolar” is an insult to people who are bipolar. It is that people who inaccurately use the term are transforming the term “bipolar” into an insult. It is always used negatively. It can be used in derision or comically. “She’s always in a bad, pissy mood. Oh, she must be bipolar or something.” (A sentence often followed by laughter.) “He’s bipolar. He’s happy one day, then, angry the next.” (Something close to what I myself said less than 48 hours ago—so, see, yes, even I am guilty of using it. But that was the first and last time I ever will.) 

When has “bipolar” ever been used in a positive context or used to characterize someone showcasing good or favorable behavior?

Let’s say, you call your stepmother a witch. Now, we all know when we call a woman a witch, we don’t mean the good kind. Automatically, you are associating your stepmother with everything negative that a bad witch embodies. And yet, your mother is not a witch (unless, she does in fact practice witchcraft, which is something else entirely, and I’ll stay away from that for the time being). However, because society deems the term “witch” when used to describe a woman as something bad or even malignant, we are automatically drawing the conclusion that your stepmother is bad or malignant. And even though, the friend to whom you are complaining about your evil witch of a stepmother knows you are not seriously accusing your stepmother of witchcraft, your friend is now thinking, “Man. What a *itch.” Right? You are furthering the bad witch stereotype, and hurting your stepmother’s name in the process. Which perhaps was your aim anyways. It is an insult that isn’t meant to be definitive but illustrative. But it is an insult nonetheless.

Anyone can get carried away with the use of popular phrases or terms.

Bipolar sufferers can get carried away with anything their compacted minds decide to hone in on. If you were to accidentally call a person who actually has bipolar disorder “bipolar”—ok, so calling anyone that would be no accident, it would be done purposefully; you wouldn’t know in this case, however, that you hit it on the nose—if he or she actually did suffer from bipolar disorder and you joke, “Are you like bipolar or something?” Expect either crickets chirping, a punch in the face, or a back turned to you followed by the sound of their footsteps fading away, or, hey, they could go crazy on your a**. Your word may have been the last straw. They might have been close to the edge and you basically nudged them off it.

Most, won’t. I really think the worst you can expect is a seething glare that burns holes into the back of your brain. Because, yes, many of us are touchy. Not all of us are all cool and calm as me. (kidding.) Really though, I’m one of the polite ones. And no, we are not all volatile. If anything, I imagine we are quiet and subdued, suffering in silence, perhaps, taking your blows. “Why are you so bipolar?” Hahahaha.   =\ Why does Alzheimer’s shut down the brain? I don’t know…

I am not writing this in defense of bipolar sufferers. I am writing in hopes of protecting them. I am not writing this to antagonize or verbally assault you. I am writing in hopes you’ll refrain from using a term that can prove dangerous if said to or around the wrong person. A term that can hurt or harm. A term that gets under my skin sometimes and makes me shake my head. Makes me hope they are teaching kids about mental illness in schools these days.

We all know we never learned about it growing up. But now that we have the knowledge, we have the power. And now that you know, I hope you reconsider your tendency to throw the term around. Before you even utter “bipolar”, ask yourself. Does the glove fit? If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
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