Bipolar - what's wrong with this picture?

When you do an image search for "bipolar",
you get a lot of pictures like these...

i know that a broader dialogue and awareness
about bipolar and other such topics is better
than silence and shame and blah, blah...

... and i'm willing to believe that the people
who created these images - and the thousands
of others quite like them - mean well, and are trying
to get people to feel the pain a little, and it's hard
to express something so inexpressible...

... but as somebody ten years down the road
of the diagnosed... with some experience
in the creation of images and communicating
about challenging topics...

i really don't like them.

on a bad day, i frikin' hate them.


for starters, because they are wrong.

they are all about the extremes.

the 'crazy high' and the deepest darkest of the lows.

and that's not how it is. most of la vida bipolar,
in my experience, is lived between these edges.

by portraying the extremes, they misrepresent
the reality of bipolar living.

by going for the drama, they misrepresent that reality
to those who do not know any better.

there is no line running down the middle of my life
or the lives of the bipolar people i know.

it's not on or off.

it's not digital.

it's not that simple.

it's a continuum.

and scary pictures don't help anybody.


Seeking asylum

i have this habit... well i have a lot of habits,
but the one on my mind today goes back
to studying literature i guess.

i like to look words up in the dictionary.

a good dictionary.

a dictionary like the Oxford, where you get
the definitions of the word but you also get
a sense of where the word came from,
and how it came to be....

so today i looked up...



1. [mass noun] (also political asylum) the protection
granted by a state to someone who has left their home
country as a political refugee:she applied for asylum
and was granted refugee status

[as modifier] : his asylum application was refused shelter
or protection from danger

: we provide asylum for those too ill to care for themselves

2. (dated) an institution for the care of people
who are mentally ill: he’d been committed to an asylum

Origin: late Middle English (in the sense 'place of refuge',
especially for criminals): via Latin from Greek asulon 'refuge', from asulos 'inviolable', from a- 'without' + sulon 'right of seizure'.

Current senses date from the 18th century.

It was more than a romantic 'thing' about language
that got me into this habit. It was a powerful curiousity,
informed by my ongoing (and seemingly endless) problems
dealing with reality, as it is commonly understood.

Words, and ergo language are the building blocks
of thought, and thought is reality.

So if one (ie- me) was having problems with "reality",
or if "reality" was having problems with me,
going back to the source and double-checking what exactly
something was supposed to mean might help.

And it has. It does. 

"the protection granted by a state to someone
who has left their home country

Is it just me, or is there something terribly poignant
about this idea? And although the notion of mental
illness does not come up until "2", is there not something
of the mentally different intrinsic in this primary definition?

Isn't "reality" something we all like to think of as
our home country? Even before we get to the idea
of nation or home, isn't the idea of reality something
we'd all like to think we share?

Because if we don't, aren't we conjuring a kind of loneliness
so profound as to be almost unbearable?

How much lonelier could life be than that?

How much greater need could there be for "asylums"?

And while we all know that there are more horror stories
than we care to consider about the lives that so many lived
in these facilities now only thought of as haunting and haunted, abandoned and gone....

...wasn't there something noble in such grand
attempts to help?

As always, the impulse behind these institutions
outlived the commitment, and they became over-crowded
and fell further and further behind in their ability to help.

They became dumping grounds for unwanted people,
and were misused and subject to the whims of fashion,
to where an ice-pick could be seen as a cure-all
and where fewer and fewer cared about what a "cure"
might mean to the one undergoing it.


But how much worse is it to abandon people altogether?

To throw them out on the street with a handful of pills
and nothing else, to deal with a world they don't understand and who does not understand them, and who doesn't have the time or the inclination to care?

To leave them alone, on the street,
with nowhere to go... no place of asylum?


Mental Health - Facts & Numbers

Vive la difference!


Mental Illness - Facts & Numbers


Robert Crumb on "Normal"

       Kinda creepy, huh?


Bipolar versus Normal

Sometimes i wonder what life would
be like if i wasn't bipolar.

What would it be like
to be Normal?

Not like... forever or anything...
but maybe for a day.
An afternoon, perhaps,
or maybe an evening.

How would i react to things i like?

Would i find Beefheart and Dali strange
all of a sudden?

If i was suddenly Normal,
would i find things that usually make me
want to barf suddenly 'cute'?

Would i find myself more at ease in the world,
or just uneasy in another kind of a way?

Would i stop noticing all the sights and sounds
around me that 'distract' me from 'what's going on'?

Would i think fewer 'dark thoughts'
and more wonderful ones?

Would i feel trapped?


Would things creep me out less?
Or more?

Or would it all be pretty much the same,
only without the meds?


a Bipolar-positive perspective?

i've taken somewhere around fifty thousand
photographs in the last ten years or so.

Somewhere along the line it dawned on me
that it was my way of mapping my world...
of capturing a handful of the thoughts that
were racing thru my mind as i wandered around.

On the rare occasions i ever looked at them again
afterwards, i realized that these images were also
a kind of diary.

This was partly due to the fact that i file them away
by date, but it was also because looking at those images
i could tell you where i was that day, and what the day
was like and what else happened that i didn't take
a picture of and so on.

But in the last couple of years i've also found
myself thinking that these images are also a way
of communicating, in some small way, to other
people what one person's bipolar experience
was like sometimes.

This is what the world looks like to me.

This is what the world looked like to me
wandering around a more tropical zone
than i usually live in ... sort of.

i say "sort of" because my wanderings - and
hence my image-making - are rarely as tidy
or as linear as a posting like this might imply.

Between one plant here and another there
might have been buildings, birds, statuary,
graf, clouds and anything else i might have
stumbled over along the way.

In that sense, just posting all the images taken
on a given walk would be a more accurate portrait
of a/my bipolar experience*.

At the same time there is something to be said
for a thematic approach too, and respect for one's
audience is one of those things. If one is going
to try and communicate, i think it behooves one
not to waste anybody's time...
including one's own.

i don't spend a lot of time trying to "get" a picture.
i may take two or even three photographs of something
trying to capture what i'm after, but that's it.

If i haven't "got it" by the third shot,
then i'm not really clear on what i'm after.

Why do you or anyone else need to see
a photograph that i don't think captures "it"?

Likewise, i don't spend a lot of time fussing
with the images once i've got them. i might
tweak the cropping or sweeten the contrast
or the colour, but if it takes more than five minutes
i'll bail... partly because again, if it needs more
work than that i didn't "get it" and need to work
on my skills, not try and fix it in the mix.

As John Lee Hooker used to say...
"That's the best, and later for the garbage".

None of the above has a lot to do with what
was on my mind when i set out to post these.

What i wanted to do was collect some of the images
on this theme where i really felt that i had got "it"...
(or come very close at least) as a way of speaking
to the perspective that most people - including
many of the diagnosed - have about "bipolar disorder".

i would not for a minute deny anyone else's
bipolar experience or their right to speak
about it in whatever terms they want,
and likewise for their friends and family,
or medical professionals or who-have-you.

The reason i started this blog was to have
somewhere that i could do exactly that,
and what this post was supposed to be about
is that i really really hate having my life,
my experience of the world characterized
as "a disorder".

One of the reasons i hate it so much
is that characterizing this way of being
as a "disorder" can very easily become
a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As soon as one is diagnosed,
one becomes "the other".

Hello stigma.

* hmmm... note to self.


Back to normal?

Walking home from the dog park yesterday,
i found myself wondering what it would be
like to be 'normal', as opposed to say... bipolar.

Not forever or anything- but for like a day,
maybe, or even an hour or two.

What would it be like? Would i be calm?
Would i stop noticing/being distracted by birds
and signs and gum wrappers and everything else
that competes for attention in my day to day?

Would i be more like the others?

What would i do with the money that i didn't
have to spend on medication? Might i be more
sure of myself in conversation, less concerned
that i was sounding like a mental case?

Maybe i'd get all claustrophobic... more aware
of the borders of my perceptions, feeling like
there was something wrong with my ears
because i wasn't hearing all the sounds that
i'm accustomed to or with my eyes,
because i was walking right past flowers and signs
and gum wrappers and most everything else.

Maybe being normal would drive me nuts...

But maybe not. Maybe it would be 'better',
but i think it would just be a different kind
of crazy.