On Difference

Before I begin my extensive research into topics which affect people with bipolar disorder, I wanted to make a generalized statement to you all.

I’m humbled at the outpouring I’ve received over the last five days. There have been so many responses to my philosophies found in public internet forums, in private messages, as well as emails. Via twitter, Google+, Facebook, my website, and email I have heard from so many of you, and I’m grateful that a dialogue has begun and that people have taken the time to interact with me. I am actually exhausted by it all at the moment. Such a wonderful windfall of information and new connections is a very rare gift. I feel very alive, although drained from the pure effort of absorbing the many conflicting opinions and suggested reading.

It should be assumed that people are passionate about the topic of bipolar, and mental health as a whole. Given that, it is not surprising that I have heard from supportive voices whom align with my ideals, well educated non-subscribers, and mud-slingers alike. I am genuinely respectful of all of them. I do accept that by expressing my opinions I must contend with uninvited hostility, by those who haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to disagree respectfully. I’m more than willing to pay this small price, in order to share with people my take on this thing called ‘life’ which is complicated so heavily by bipolar.

I have no doubt that I will produce work that will be considered a blunder by some and an epic success by others, both of which are undoubtedly wrapped up in a single simultaneous moment. This is inevitable, and to be expected.

I want to speak about the notion of inclusion within our community. When I say “our community” I am referring to those who have either been diagnosed with bipolar, or those who recognize an existential difference within themselves, and who refuse to be labeled. Regardless of how you define your “illness” (or lack thereof for some) we have all experienced turbulent emotional distress, and some find it powerful to share those experiences with others, and relate. We are all survivors who can learn and grow from each other, and therefore we are a community in my eyes.

There is connection between us all. It is like a secret-handshake-club where only those who have endured an emotional crisis can truly relate. Here’s the rub: How we approach our dysfunctional states of being are quite varied, and often controversial.

And here’s my point to all of you: Accept diversity of thought. You might learn something that improves your life, or someone else’s.

The state of living itself is a subjective experience only known to the individual, and when you sprinkle in a bit of madness, things really get interesting. Since we know full-stop that one medication can affect (or not affect) people differently, then you can conclude that directing a single course of treatment for everyone would be asinine. Simply stated, what works for me, may very well not work for you. That could be due to biology, value sets, accessibility, or even personal goals. Whatever the reason is for differences in treatment strategies and outcomes, well, it is actually quite irrelevant. What is relevant is that there are choices, and we all should have autonomy in that decision making process.

What I would like to see, as I begin to really explore specific topics, is a level of acceptance within our community for one another. I have heard much from the pro-psychiatry part of the world, and I have heard yet more from the anti-psychiatry cohort. It has this feeling of republican v. democrat. It is fractured beyond belief, and leaves little room for the truly powerful experience of sharing and relating to one another. I feel like I should hand out team jerseys to each side, or draw lines in the proverbial sand.

Let me make my ideals known. I am a fence-straddler. Like that term? I’m sure it’s not proper English but it serves my point well. I am sitting upon the bold red line, which separates these two camps, one ass-cheek on each side. Bam. There I am. Also, I’m probably not moving. I can’t say for certain that my opinions won’t become better developed over time leading me to scoot left, or right, here, or there. But, you will not find that I align solely with the modern medical model for treatment, because I do not refute the potential improvement found in “alternative” methodologies, or combinations of the two. It does us no good to be on one side, or the other! Since we can (hopefully) agree that there is not one treatment that will guarantee “wellness” in us all, whatever that means to you personally, then why can’t we accept that people will go about this differently?

I can only speak for myself, so that’s what I will attempt to do now. I have been saved by modern day psychiatry. I have also suffered greatly while going through the crude routine of “trying” medications. I don’t blame anyone for this however as it was my choice to continue looking for a solution via this method. I take full responsibility for that, and I’m glad I endured it. I feel it is simply where we are in terms of scientific progress and I accept it’s imperfect. I also feel that as a result of that work, I am now in a place of comfort, and peace. I am so very grateful for that, more than I can possibly convey at this moment. I’m grateful for my patient and caring physician, my family and their continuous support, for those who spoke with me, and for my strength of will.

So while I subscribe to the theories that my psychiatrist has discussed with me, others may not. I think there has to be room for either choice to be respected within our community. So-called alternative treatments often have a founded basis in science, so who is to say that adding these to a medical model, or solely relying upon them is wrong? Whatever you “do” that improves your stability, and does not produce harm to others, is a-ok with me.

There is only one notion that I feel is imperative to living with struggle and emotional distress: Make a plan based on your values that will promote wellness, and attempt to execute that plan, to the absolute best of your ability. You deserve it. All those who suffer should explore their options, and act upon their choices. I believe this firmly. To sit passively and be consumed by that which attempts to ruin you, is to give up. I don’t have the ability to give up, I never have. I wish each and every one of you the inner strength to fight.

I detest the forced separation of those who do not subscribe solely to the medical model. This fractures our community and leaves scattered sub-cultures existing on the fringe of society. We are already minimized and feared by society. We are already misunderstood and disregarded as “unwell” and “crazy” and “scary” by so many. What if we could unify these groups with their various beliefs and choices? We would have a more powerful movement if that were possible, and a genuine message of inclusion in society, versus a false double-standard which currently applies.

This concept means everyone needs to exercise tolerance though. It is the same tolerance that we hope our society will grant us, so let’s begin by offering an olive-branch to each other, regardless of your chosen path towards the dream of wellness. I hope you can all, at the end of the day, be able to respect another person’s autonomy.

My next bit of writing will begin to explore the many topics at hand. I’ll be discussing ECT, parenthood, diagnosis itself, testing advances, pharmaceuticals, and much more. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

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