Friday, July 16, 2010
People say crazy things when their relationships head south.
This is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Heaven help if my life were on tape - or yours. Yes, Mel said things you or I would never dream of saying, but we also know - deep inside - that there is not much that separates us. Philosophers have been debating this stuff since the first practical application of vocal chords, and Shakespeare's entire body of work is based on that fine dividing line between the God inside us and the beast inside us.
"What piece of work is man ... "
Bipolar is the crazy diagnosis, not the asshole diagnosis.
I have bipolar, which makes me prone to doing crazy things if I am not careful, and sometimes even if I am. But I'm not an asshole. Big distinction. I sometimes find I have to correct people who get the two confused. They see someone acting inappropriately and next thing I'm hearing the B-word used to explain that person's behavior.
No, that's not bipolar, I cut in.
Then what is it? they ask.
That's being an asshole, I reply.
There exists a whole range of personality disorders that can singularly or collectively be defined as "the asshole diagnosis." In the past, I have received angry comments along these lines: "As an asshole, I take great umbrage to what you say." So let me set the record straight:
We all have personality issues in abundance. The world around us is a very scary place to negotiate, particularly when we lose our sense of control. We typically compensate by distorting reality and assigning fictitious traits to others. The eastern mystics put it best when they say that life is an illusion fabricated out of our thoughts. Inevitably, things go wrong. Some of us are more skillful at avoiding life's many pitfalls than others. Others are not.
It's not easy being an asshole. It's also not easy being around one.
Crazy is not related to personality.
Just about every diagnosis in the DSM notes that the behavior in question is "uncharacteristic of the person when not symptomatic." If you are a humanitarian, then, bipolar is not going to turn you into an anti-semite. If you are a closet anti-semite, however, bipolar may expose you as a raging anti-semite. Something like this happened to Mel Gibson three or four years ago. Who knows what was going on in his head. Bipolar may or may not have triggered the outburst, but his loathsome bigotry was of his choosing.
But crazy and asshole do overlap.
There is no doubt that bipolar both complicates and amplifies the situations in our lives. Anger is often a justifiable reaction to our sense of outrage, but those of us with bipolar are skating on thin ice. We get triggered too quickly. Our vulnerable brains overload, and next thing we lose it. And once we get going, it's very hard to stop. Our racing thoughts take over.
Maybe something like this happened to Mel Gibson. Or maybe he's just being an asshole. When you're on the receiving end, you shouldn't have to make the distinction. I frequently have to remind those with bipolar that when it comes to relationships, "the bipolar excuse" simply doesn't cut it. The best we can expect are certain accommodations.
It works both ways.
Those of us with bipolar are extremely sensitive to negative situations in our lives, whether from the depressive end or the manic end or those hellish mixed states in between. Our built-in amplifier has a way of turning a barely tolerable situation into one equating to being trapped inside a burning building.
Two weeks ago, I had no choice but to end a personal friendship. She was the "normal" one, but she exploded on me. It was a very painful choice, but one essential to my well-being. I may be "crazy," but I don't need crazy in my life. The world is crazy enough as it is.
Also see Therese Borchard's take on the matter at BeyondBlue.