I really don’t have to write this post. Really. And to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure why I am. The topic certainly has no place on a travel blog, and it has the potential to do me more harm than good. Then again, that’s rarely stopped me from opening my mouth before inserting both feet.
If you were near your Twitter feed yesterday, you may have wondered why there was so much chatter about the UK’s favourite uncle, Stephen Fry. People were up in arms at the possibility of Stephen putting an end to his Twitter activity for good, after some dastardly Machiavellian type accused him of stealing babies from the womb and devouring them whole. Of course that isn’t what happened at all; an individual of no more social standing than you or I commented that he found Stephen’s Twitter activity a little drab sometimes. Out of the thousands of tweets that fly past his eyes every day, Stephen noticed that comment and in that moment found it so upsetting that he questioned whether he should continue.
Now you may have had one of several reactions when you became aware of this. I watched the fallout occur in real time yesterday, and my reaction was:
– the BBC will turn this into a news story within the day, despite it being nothing of the sort
– this is going to prove why Twitter, despite everything it has achieved and its potential to achieve so much more, is at the mercy of hypocrisy and mob rule
The BBC once more aligned their output with that of Heat magazine and proved me right on the first point, and seemingly everyone else proved me right on the second. Give Twitter a scapegoat and enough rope, and it becomes a lynch mob. Once again the Twitter community embarrassed itself by taking up burning torches and pitchfolks, and hounding some poor bastard for having a point of view; see here and here for examples of the kinder replies, and the staggering torrent of abuse towards individuals from Alan Davies.
Unbelievable. Seriously, I don’t know what else to say. Fucking unbelievable. And then, moving on to the actual topic of this post, the comments took another turn:
There are plenty more tweets saying similar, but why? What has it got to do with anything? Why are people demonising an individual because he criticised a person who has bipolar, as if those with the disorder should be treated differently, or are in some way different themselves? “Calling a bi-polar person ‘boring’ is as stupid as calling an anorexic ‘fat’.” No it bloody isn’t – individuals with bipolar are very capable of boring the face off a clock.
And if these comments don’t do enough to highlight a complete ignorance of the disorder, then plenty more do:
What stereotype is that, exactly? The one bandied about by half-arsed screenwriters and hacks desperate for a crutch because they can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag? That people with bipolar are hammer-wielding maniacs, thieves or deviants who are a constant menace not only to society, but themselves?
Sweet muscular Jesus.
As you will have realised, this is a subject I feel strongly about and no doubt some of you will have put it all together as to why. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago, although I’m aware I’ve lived with its effects since I was 16. It’s not a fact I’ve broadcast in public until now, but then plenty of people know and I’m not desperately worried about keeping it a secret.
Diagnosis of bipolar leads to understanding, and understanding leads to control. I know when I’m likely to be susceptible to its effects because I now understand what my triggers are, and I’m very capable of controlling it. If I do stumble, I have a small circle of friends who’ll pick me back up. Otherwise, nobody is aware of the condition or judges me as a result, and I’d take issue with anybody who did. There may well be several people reading this post who are wondering whether they were naive to invite me into their homes in March as I travelled the world, but that’s the point. Read the blog entries again and I think it’s very evident the pressure my journey put on my health. There was, however, no trail of canibalised bodies left around the globe in my wake. Not that they’ve found, anyway.
By all accounts, Stephen was having a low day yesterday, and in that situation one tiny, irrelevant speck of inconsequential minutiae can plunge you into the depths of loneliness and despair. That’s what bipolar is – it’s manic depression, with emphasis on the mania. A stranger in Birmingham didn’t know his comment would have the reaction it did, but then Stephen probably didn’t know it would either. And it certainly wasn’t a melodramatic reaction on Stephen’s behalf, not once you understand – I’ve come close to deleting my Twitter and Facebook accounts on a whim because I’ve felt threatened or too exposed. That said, a person with the disorder is perfectly capable of being in a bad mood, just because they’re in a bad mood – we’re as likely to feel fucked off at the world for no good reason as the next person.
So why come out now? Am I so desperate for attention I’ll whore my medical history in public? Not at all. Revealing this aspect of my health certainly doesn’t benefit me professionally or personally.
Yesterday’s baying mob proves there is a desperate ignorance about mental illness. At some point, people need to wake up to the fact that like zombies, happiness ever after and CSI Miami, what they see on television and in films isn’t real. Bipolar isn’t necessary some hellish purgatory that damns the inflicted to eternal suffering, but their treatment by others who blindly accept such stereotypes certainly can be.
If Stephen’s open admission hasn’t taught people that bipolar is no more a social stigma than an aversion to using public toilets or a fondness for corduroy, then clearly there needs to be far more discussion about the issue. It was his openness that led to my diagnosis, and I’m now confident enough in myself to be as forthright. Coming out about my illness will barely make a dent in the public psyche as a whole, but it might help a handful of people understand how dangerous, misguided and upsetting such stereotypes are. Bipolar disorder isn’t a condition that demands pity, tolerance or blind assumptions – only understanding and acceptance.
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