So, I Dub Thee…

It does not matter what I did to pull this image together. We all know I don't own its rights. Also, I grabbed my vector files from

I can’t write this post or start it with that image without at least a little back story: I’m a heavy metal and industrial rock fan who also happens to be musically locked in the ’90s. Also, no one uses the word “anomie” (or its derivatives) with the frequency I do unless they’ve been impacted in some way by Emile Durkheim. About a dozen years ago, I introduced my college roommate to 1990s hard rock. In return she introduced me to Durkheimian theories. The two topics converged in a conversation only bored college students would have about Metallica’s “The Unforgiven.” This morning that conversation occurred to me while listening to the so-called Black Album. I admit the association is heavy-handed and tenuous at best. Further, this is a discussion topic we’ve pussy-footed around, but never outright discussed.

Labeling theory is just what it sounds like. In a gross oversimplification of things that also omits all questions of scale and counterargument, I’ll summarize by saying that labels may self-fulfilling prophesies about human behavior. They may create a set of behaviors by setting the expectation for it. Tell a child she is smart and watch her excel. Tell an offender he’s nothing more than a criminal, and you may have just invented recidivism. To quote Ms. Britney Spears: “You say I’m crazy. I got your crazy.” (Again, gross oversimplification of things, but you see where this is going. For a longer summary — but still a summary — here’s some Wikipedia action for you.) So, labeling may be positive or negative. There is also the thought out there that negative labels may produce positive effects by encouraging people to undo the label, a sort of reverse peer pressure. In the case of the crazy label, it could prompt one to seek treatment.

So, here’s the question you don’t ask in the context of a medical model of mental illness (perhaps downright heretical): To what extent do you think the Mental Illness label affects your behavior,  your future, your expectations for yourself, you? I am specifically not asking whether the label is the cause. You, of course, can address that if you’d like, but I’m not about to assume that anyone is first called “crazy” and then develops a mental illness. Still, the Label concept may very well have ramifications on one’s future.

The next logical questions, then, are To what extent do you think the High-Functioning label affects your behavior, your future, your expectations for yourself, you? Are there operational and/or instrumental differences between those labels? Is either positive or negative? Is either label effective? Do they matter? I will concede to the prevalent “words are just words” responses out there, but am working on the premise that anyone who reads and writes on this site has already gotten to and crossed that bridge with me. After all, this place is called Define “Functioning.” Most of what we talk about are what words might mean and whether those meanings apply. (Also, I’m sorry if anyone is annoyed with my continued Wikipedia links here. It seems prudent for me to provide definitions of sorts for some things when I’m in the middle of talking about talking about definitions. Apparently, I’m feeling extremely meta.)

I have to give this more thought and will throw my answers into the Comments when I have answers to share. In the meantime, I’ll share that I wonder whether my seemingly inherent contrarianism is about to play into my response. After all, it’s the same sentiment of reactionary defiance expressed in the song.

  1. Freed said:

    When I was diagnosed, the officialness of having a label had a significant impact on my sense of my future. In particular how I envisioned being “high functioning” in the rest of my life. Prior to my diagnosis, I viewed myself as unquestionably destined for a position of leadership and power in my professional life. Once I settled into an understanding of myself as mentally ill, I began to look for vocational career pathes. I am not kidding. The internaization of the label took my self-expectations from CEO & activist to hourly wage earner. Thankfully I had some great people in my inner circle who steadfastly reminded me of my intelligence and my competance until I finally expanded my scope of aspirations to include higher functioning accomplishments again. It bears mentioning though that it’s been 2 years since my nervous breakdown and I am working as a server at a restaurant. As a student of sociology, I have studied Durkheim and I have agreed with his labelling theories for 15 years. Not until my own battle with the labels associated with MI did I experience the negative sphere of influence so thoroughly.

    • said:

      Dude. Welcome. So so so so glad to have you here. You said it completely. The label, any label, is definitely one thing…the MI label will take it so much further with a stigma so pervasive, so unchallenged, so insidious, so infiltrating, that it is even something believed by us. “The internalization of the label” is (MAYBE) the worst effect of the stigma, that the label means so very much on such a personal, base level.

      I mean, we’re here in this forum because we’ve found ways to get out of believing all that, right? If we believed all that was said about the MI label, we wouldn’t even get to the point where we wonder about the effect of a ‘high-functioning’ label. But you are dead-on in saying that hearing the label applied to you forces questions about our very selves. We question what was theretofore “unquestionable.” It’s cruel — that it makes us doubt the self we knew moments before hearing those words. The ground beneath shakes, opens, threatens to slurp and swallow you — and what’s left is someone you kinda hate because it isn’t who you thought you were. (Of, if you’re a fan of cataclysm from above rather than below: “The clouds will part and the sky cracks open and God himself will reach his fucking arm through just to push you down.” Sorry. Couldn’t help it.) The label hurts, but it’s also what makes me so defiant. You know I’m a label-defier of all sorts.

  2. Meggy said:

    I’m going to dip my toe into the water here with a brief-ish anecdote/thought.

    I was always an overachiever, and as a result, my parents thought that I’d grow up to be something spectacular. When I went to Yale as an undergraduate, and was eventually put on medical leave due to a second hospitalization (the whole sordid story, along with my thoughts about higher education and MI, is on my blog, here:, their views of me slowly began to change. This was especially the case with my father. I remember him telling me that he didn’t really know me at all as we were walking through the snow — because I was on a chaperoned excursion from the second hospitalization, and he’d flown in from China to help me deal with the red tape.

    While I did graduate from another school of similar caliber, I figured that I was one of those “high-functioning” MI people. Sure, I was sometimes psychotic, and sure, I’d done X Y and Z (you can fill in the blanks), but I landed an excellent job straight out of college. The trouble was that I started butting up against my own limitations. Working at an office job proved to be incredibly stressful for me, and this exhibited itself via episodes and very unpleasant, scary breakthrough symptoms. I began to wonder if my self-concept as a high-functioning person was incorrect. And my parents — the same parents who had, for example, told me to retake the SAT after I told them that I’d scored a 1500 — started to say things like, Maybe you won’t be able to have a job. Maybe you should work in a bookstore. Maybe you should let C (my then-boyfriend, now-husband) take care of you. Maybe we can sell the house and give you some money, and support you. (Because obviously you can’t support yourself.)

    That was heartbreaking for me. The point of this — I hope I haven’t lost my point — is that for me, being high-functioning became extremely tied up in the notion of being able to work a 40 hr workweek. I saw myself as a complete failure.

    Then I went to graduate school, graduated, and moved back to California; I have a job now. It is a 40+ hr workweek job that I like and that contributes to my household. The “stress” of the job (and I put “”s because these are not objectively stressful things, necessarily, such as deadlines — I have yet to pinpoint what, exactly, is so stressful to me about jobs) does cause low-level symptoms, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. But I do it. And when I do it, I feel better because I feel like I am high-functioning, the way that I’ve defined it.

    Thanks for letting me share. I actually have many, many more thoughts about this, but I want to see how the rest of the conversation plays out before I continue. :)

    • said:

      Meggie: This is a complete sidebar (more substantial conversational response to come later) — I have NO IDEA HOW TO HAVE A REGULAR JOB! (I think Meredith will back me up on this, but I won’t speak for her). I just can’t do it. I always work multiple part-time jobs as a consultant only. I make my hours, work from home, and still pay the bills. I keep saying that I just can’t have someone telling me what to do, but I do think it’s more than that. I can’t promise to be somewhere at the same time everyday. I can’t work in a space I didn’t design. I can’t have other people all around me in an office. There’s more. I understand that it’s really hard to pinpoint what’s “stressful” about a job…but damn having a job is really stressful.

    • Jen said:

      I’m sorry your parents were not more enlightened about mental illness. My dad doesn’t even speak to me much and he has definitely let it be obvious he is disappointed in me. He has put forth no effort to learn about my illness at all, even given easy opportunity to do so since I’m involved with NAMI and they have free, educational and family support groups here.

      I just wanted to let you know I understood how you feel, and it is hard to hold a job, too. I definitely couldn’t work full time anytime in the near future, and haven’t been able to, hardly ever.

      • Jen said:

        Sorry, I meant Meggy, not Maggy.

        Also, I left a long post here on this topic about twenty minutes ago, and it never showed up on the site. I have no idea where it went. Anyone have a clue?

        • said:

          Got it for you. After a certain length (or with a certain number of links) wordpress thinks it might be spam and I have to check for it. If I’m not around to do it right away, shoot me an email and I think I can approve the comment from my phone.

  3. Jen said:

    I come from a history of labels. Sometimes when I do public speaking on my mental illness story, I’ll hand out what I call my “Travels through the DSM -IV” – a list of the various and sundry labels that have been applied to, well, me. Or what is wrong in my brain. Which often seems like the same thing as, Me, but really isn’t, technically, in my opinion. I have gone through enough hell to know without doubt that there is definitely something in my brain that is, if not “wrong”, then, at minimum, decidedly “not normal”, and I’m a person who hates the word “normal”, and doesn’t feel it applies to most things in life. But I use it here to explain, when I say I’ve been through hell, I’m talking about hearing constant, yes, constant, auditory hallucinations for years, seeing visual hallucinations from time to time, and having my entire life be subverted by delusional thoughts that have no basis whatsoever in reality yet were my only reality for years. I couldn’t keep a roof over my head, hold any kind of job, go to school, produce friendships between myself and others, and rarely fed myself. I was physically seriously ill but neglected my health, and I was mentally seriously ill, but didn’t know it. I was living in a friend of a friend’s rented room, motel rooms, homeless shelters, a car, my mother’s spare bedroom, hospitals, and assisted living facillity, and a group home, for years this went on, and on, and on, until I got decidedly “better”. I don’t call myself “high functioning”, because I think it’s a bit of an elitist term, but I do understand why it’s used and that there has to be some name for what that term means that we can use to describe people who are able to, well, function, despite being seriously ill. I suppose if I were NOT high functioning, I would have been put into a state hospital a long time ago, and probably gotten worse there, but who knows, maybe it would have prevented some of the hell I lived through.

    My list of labels started when I was suicidally depressed as a teenager, and went like this:
    -Major Depression
    -chronic, recurring depression
    -Anorexia Nervosa
    …then, years later, when I was psychotic, it went like this:
    -Borderline Personality Disorder
    -Bipolar Disorder
    -Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (due to my delusions, which I thought were real)
    -Dissociative Identity DIsorder (when the delusions got worse and I thought I was a survivor of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse and CIA mind control programming).
    …and then, finally: Paranoid Schizophrenia, and then Schizoaffective Disorder.

    By the time they got to Schizophrenia, and I learned what that actually meant by reading about it and watching A Beautiful Mind, a film I could relate to for reasons that I did not understand (*we were both chased by the CIA?? Wow, man. Weird), by that time, I was ready to accept an accurate label and I heard this one, and it seemed accurate more than anything I’d ever heard applied to my mental health status ever before.

    So having the label served, at that time, for validation. I was actually grateful, rather than being looked at as a fucked-up loser, the way my family had thought of me for years, or as someone who was perpetually doing crazy ass shit that made no sense and was perpetually accusing people of things….finally I had a label that seemed, really, accurate. And I was glad. I know that sounds weird. I know we’re not naturally prone to wanting to label ourselves if we’re aware of the oppressions of many kinds that have occured throughout time. I know as a person who is very progressive-minded that I don’t like the history of how people have been treated by the mental health system. But yeah, I don’t mind my label. I believe I do have Schizoaffective Disorder. I did not ever believe I had Borderline Personality Disorder or various other inaccurate crap I got labeled with for being a woman with emotional problems that were chalked up to a history of abuse and not a biological brain disease.

    And I really do think I have a biological brain disease. I suppose the label itself could cause me to think this. But I’m a pretty stubborn person. You’re not going to convince me I’m a closet Republican. You’re not going to convince me I’m a psychopath or a prospective killer. But I have been psychotic, for years, and I know what the definition of psychosis is, and it fits what I lived through.

    To me, honoring what I lived through means that there is a name for it, and there is no other name I know of that fits, for me, more than Schizoaffective or Schizophrenia. I didn’t know what Schizophrenia even was the first time I saw A Beautiful Mind. I literally just thought that this John Nash guy, and I, had run into the same horrible situations. There was no disease model that I got out of watching that movie. It was later, after the disease was brought to my attention in a hospital, and after I had survived some pretty serious suicide attempts that were caused by psychosis, that I finally understood. Yes there is something I have in common with John Nash, and it sure as hell isn’t about Pi or other mathematical concepts. I have an illness he has. Finally, a cause for all these nightmares.

    When I finally got on medication what worked for me (and yes, there have been HORRIBLE side effects, which I put up with), and it eventually began to work, I was able to think clearly again, and hence, able to work part time, return to school part time, and keep a roof over my head. Without the label, I wouldn’t have gotten the medication. So for me, the label was a catalyst for the help I really needed all along. I didn’t get helped by my previous hospital trips because, I always got the wrong damn label.

    I think you have to name something to honor it. And I feel about my hellish years, that they deserve to be honored with a name, and that they deserve to be something I can sometimes talk about, and that I deserve to have an answer for why I thought the CIA implanted microchips in my body and believed I was pregnant with a dead baby for four years. I deserve an explanation for that crap. It wasn’t my fault, or my personality that caused that crap. So I don’t mind this label.

    I know, though, that the society around me is not so enlightened about mental illness, and to them, the label means something entirely different from what it means to me. I think for me it mean, I have a medical explanation for situations that happened when my brain wouldn’t work. But for other people “Schizo” means “psycho killer ax murderer”. And so, that label has been a source of shame. It is a label I hide from most people I meet. I don’t talk about it with anyone where I work, because they are not people who would understand.

    I think that in one respect the label has had a negative aspect, in that I was told I would never recover, and so for years I have been thinking in terms of having to take major medications for the rest of my life, being unable to have a child if I wanted to, and having no other options. I’d like to think this weren’t true. In my experience, going off my antipsychotics does severe damage to my mental health. I wish this were not true. It is possible that I believe it’s true moreso because I’ve been told it’s true by every doctor I’ve seen. It’s possible the label caused me to give up on the possibility of ever having a child or ever even getting married. I doubt those things are in my future. I don’t care that much right now about those things, but if I did care, I’d still think it wasn’t very possible because of the illness. And that is the way that labeling has had its negative impact on me.

    I don’t think that if I had been told, “You can go off this medication any time you feel better”, that I would have had a positive experience with that, because my experience has been that I get very sick when I get off the meds. So I choose to take them, and choose to accept the label. I know everybody here won’t agree with my choices on these things, but they are just that, my choices, and I wouldn’t impose them on others.

    This is a very thought provoking topic; thanks for posting the question!

    • said:

      Wow, Jen. Thank you. This is an unbelievable post. I am not sure I can respond in such a way to do it justice, but will try.

      You most certainly have to name something to honor it. I cannot right now thank you enough for reminding me of that. In my (apparently eternal) search for the meaning of our terms and names, I seem to have forgotten why finding that meaning is so important. It’s not about just understanding, it’s because honor requires understanding. And justice requires honor. That’s incredible insight and incredibly important. I, too, would like to honor those things within and swarmed around my self and my experiences, and while self-assertion and honesty and integrity and even pride are a part of that, none of those things can happen without first naming it.

      I was misdiagnosed at first, but only once. (That’s if you don’t count when I was diagnosed with Seizure Disorder, which I do NOT have, when I went so frickin’ manic I collapsed in a seizure.) I remember needing an accurate label. I remember needing to know what to call it. I remember needing something to point to that was not me. (I remember thinking, “I’m a fucking god. There’s no way I have seizure disorder,” but that’s a different story.) I can’t pretend to imagine what that many misdiagnoses feels like. I can remember feeling desperate when I had paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations. I unplugged the phone but it wouldn’t stop ringing because They were trying to find me. I was desperate not to be found, but I was desperate to know why they were looking for me. I needed that right diagnosis to tell me. I needed the label to free me from my fear. I completely feel you on that.

      But it all changed once I got the label. Telling my mom whose disapproval (despite her complete lack of expectation on most fronts) is something I just can’t abide. Moreso, I knew she would blame herself, and that I couldn’t handle. I knew she’d hear the label, and I couldn’t at all change what that would mean to her. And I live every day knowing that I can’t change what people actually Listen To when they Hear “mentally ill,” “bipolar disorder,” or “psychosis.” And when I started to regain my mind, I started to listen to what they listened to. My first round of meds was TERRIBLE in terms of side-effects, and I believed what they believed about the mental illness label, because I was mentally and physically impaired. I ended up hating the label, the impairment, and my self enough to reject the whole damn thing: Denied my illness, left treatment, convinced I could undo whatever was done to my head. As desperate as I once was for the name, it was how I internalized it that hurt me the most. And, as evidenced by my presence here, eventually it all came back in a way that plunged me back into fear, back into treatment, onto new meds, grappling again with the label. Sadly, this time, I already knew it and it came with no new relief.

      The “high-functioning” label is tricky for me. Clearly, by the recurrent theme for which this forum is named, I am uneasy with it. First off, I don’t think it actually means anything — it’s just a way of distinguishing one group from another in such a way that I personally don’t find healthy for anyone. I agree that it is often elitist — at the very least, it sounds elitist. Those who aren’t “high-functioning” probably find it elitist (I would). In truth, I don’t think there’s anything truly elitist in being able to “pass.” I do think it gives many (not all) MH professionals license to pay attention a little less to HF patients.

      There’s another reason I have a problem with the “high-functioning” label that is related to the elitism question — something I haven’t yet addressed yet on this site (I think), but am planning a post on relatively soon. (No harm on starting it off here, right?) The label when used outside the MI community has another automatic meaning. Without exaggeration or hyperbole, I HATE (HATE HATE HATE HATE) the fetishistic and romanticized view of the so-called “high-functioning mentally ill.” We are not all geniuses, painters, rockstars, and writers. We are not savants. What really makes us “high-functioning” is that other people think we’re not mentally ill. What’s worse (and what I REALLY HATE) is the seemingly universal tendency to attribute whatever exceptional behavior might be exhibited to the peculiarities of the illness. Nash is a genius who suffers schizophrenia — he is not a genius because he’s schizophrenic, which was sadly the movie’s takeaway for too many people. If Van Gogh was mentally ill, he was an amazing painter as well — His illness did not paint; He did. Same with Woolf and Plath and Wallace and god knows how many others. I know a lot of people will not agree with me on this. And while I am no fucking genius, I know that the things I can do are done by me — Not By My Disorder. I know this because my disorder is debilitating, and I don’t produce solidly when sick. I think this is the most damaging part of the high-functioning label in the general public. Not only is our accountability taken away when we’re given the “mentally ill” label [“Oh, she’s not really responsible for her actions right now.”], but we lose credit for those things we work really fucking hard to do [“Well, I could do that too if I were crazy.”].

      Once again, Jen. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I really appreciate the perspective you bring to this discussion…I appreciate how it pushes me to think.

  4. Wow, Jen, what an amazing journey you’re on. I appreciate you sharing it. I will respond later with my own thoughts on the topic at hand but for now I am blown away by Jen’s story.

  5. said:

    I must admit that I’m a little surprised no one has made a comment on Metallica yet.

  6. Thanks for your comments on my long post, and thanks for finding it ∃! I wasn’t going to rewrite that whole thing, so I just figured it was lost forever.
    I can understand why you wouldn’t want to tell your mom. My dad, to this day, is ashamed of me because of this illness, and the label and the crazy things I did before I got treatment. And because he’s a bit of a jerk, and nobody can meet his expectations, so that is different from your mom, but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to tell her.

    I just wanted to say, what really stood out to me about your comment was the last part because I could NOT agree with you MORE on that whole “mentally ill people are gifted artistic geniuses” thing. I know sometimes it is used to make people feel less lousy about being labeled with a mental illness, and I guess I have sort of understood that, but I really do not think that Sylvia Plath wrote great poetry because she was suicidally depressed. I think she wrote great poetry, because she was a brilliant poet, and she died because she was suicidally depressed. The same for Van Gogh, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and so many other people. I know I mentioned that book Touched by Fire as a book I have recommended to people on a list of books in an email I sent you, but know that I think about it, I never actually liked that book much or agreed with its premise. I really disagree with people who say, for example, John Nash one the Nobel Prize because Schizophrenia made him a genius. How the hell somebody can manage to win the Noble Prize while suffering from that illness is something I don’t understand, because I know I surely could never do it, but I know for sure that the illness didn’t help him with that accomplishment, because being psychotic pretty much negates being able to complete great intellectual feats, at least in my experience. There might be people here who do think their illness,or whatever you want to call the “illness” experience if you don’t call it an illness, led you to be more talented. I just have never had that experience. I really could not function when I was psychotic or when I have been seriously depressed, well enough to do anything fantastic at all. Especially with depression, I think people are not able to perform as well as when they are not depressed, and for people who are great artists or geniuses, I think they’d probably be more productive and bigger geniuses without the illness.

    I guess there have been times when I liked to read depressing poetry by depressed people because I could relate to what they were talking about, but I never really bought that idea that it was the depression that made them able to write so well. I was just glad to find somebody putting my experiences into words, so in that respect, I have been glad to find writing by people who had mental illnesses. I just think it does us all a real disservice to assert that the reason they could write well was the fact that they had an illness. That also makes people assume that because I have an illness I must have some artistic genius, and the fact that I totally lack that has made me feel, in the past, like I was a failure for not having the positive aspect of a mental illness and only having the negatives. People shouldn’t be made to feel like failures because of some stupid societal misnomer like that.

    Thanks for bringing this up, because it is something I don’t talk about often but has bothered me for a long time. I really like reading the posts on this forum because you all make me think of angles to things that I sometimes forget or that I haven’t considered enough before.

    • I only realized in the last 2 months how uncreative I was during my cycling.
      I was really pissed after being medicated because I didn’t have the same desire to go into my studio. I knew the meds were dampening that. But I also knew my creativity had been stemming from a place of angst. All my work showed that. I thought that was all I could do, was capable of, because it was all I knew. I stopped working in clay for quite a while and started writing poetry. I am in constant flux with my media now and I realize my creativity comes from a different place, one that I haven’t fully accessed yet. Thank you ∃ and Jen for the continued conversation. And, yes, ∃, I am fully aware that I haven’t actually answered the questions myself yet. :)

    • said:

      Alright. I think we have consensus that the Creativity and Mental Illness topic deserves its own post. Coming soon. Thanks to you both.

  7. Natalie said:

    First off – oh my god Jen, fucking wow. What a painfully amazing journey. I’m so sorry for the endless cycle of shit you were put through, but really glad to hear how much the schizophrenic/schizoaffective label has helped you on all fronts.

    I agree, labels can be very powerful for containing that which we experience as uncontainable, and finding much needed help. Having no name for something that wreaks havoc on your life can indeed make you feel, well, crazy. Nameless crazy, much more personally damning than named crazy. That said, I rejected the label of “mental illness” for much the same reasons cited by Freed. While accepting “bipolar” helped me identify similarities between me and others with a similar diagnosis, and provided a much needed sense of belonging, as well as a framework within which to educate myself and get help, “mental illness” did nothing but make me feel resigned to a diminished life. A life very different from the one I’d always lived and intended to keep living. Rather than contribute to recovery, regaining balance, and going on with my life, it made me feel like I was less than, subpar, diseased, unworthy of high aspirations, incapable, etc. In essence, I didn’t start to feel like I was capable of regaining balance and living a full and happy life again until I rejected that label. And it’s why I don’t fall in line with the views of biological psychiatry, and why I see my bipolar as part of me, rather than a chronic medical condition. Yes, when I’m in crisis, I need help to regain balance, and on a daily basis I work to maintain balance for my own safety and well-being. That’s just what works for me personally, and I realize my experience is very different from someone like Jen, and that probably has much to do with my take on that particular label.

    And now, to make you all hate me even more. I’m one of the annoying fucks who dares to think that our higher than average intelligence, penchant for thinking outside the box, creativity, passion, etc. has everything to do with our particular diagnoses. What if responding to trauma via psychosis (and/or mania, depression, hallucinations, etc.) is inherent in individuals who operate in, relate to, and experience the world in an “abnormal” way in general? Do not most people who excel in any area tend to be perceived by society as a little “out there,” “off,” “radical,” “strong willed”…at least if/when they hear how we really think about the world? And I’m not just talking great thinkers, writers, artists…I’m also talking activists, visionaries, homemakers, CEOs…anyone who sees life through a different lens and says “bring it the fuck on,” whether consciously or unconsciously. I’ve NEVER felt the least bit normal – despite all the outward trappings that have made people think my life is a cakewalk from the time I was a child. And I think that innate part of me, combined with the way my ability to neurologically self-regulate was developed in the presence of childhood traumas, has everything to do with me being bipolar.

    Please note that I am just barely one year out of the psychosis that got me diagnosed, which means a few things:
    1) I’m still on a huge learning curve on this front, both personally and academically.
    2) I have yet to see what I’m truly like after “recovery” from psychosis, as I feel parts of me are still in transition.
    3) If there was a 3rd, I’m not sure what it was now, so I guess I will just reiterate that my above thoughts are a work in progress.

    I’m now going to hit “post comment” against my better judgment. Feel free to commence flogging, but be kind. :)

    • Jen said:

      I won’t hate your bash you for what you said here. It would take a lot for me to hate or “bash” somebody. I just have not had the experiences you have had. For me, I have had the experience of a mental illness, which wasn’t an asset to me in any way, and was, in all ways, a source of intense, prolonged suffering. So I find it hard to understand when people want to portray experiences like mine as catalysts for creativity or as gifts or as a unique way of having a different type of personality and being subversive. I don’t see the connection. I am an activist, and I am kind of the weirdo from a family of conservatives who is an unabashed feminist and hated for it by some family members, and I have known many activists in my life too, but most of them did not suffer from any noticeable or mentioned mental illness at all. They were just people who wanted to be activists, or viewed the world in a different way. I guess I just don’t see where mental illness connects with being different or being an activist or a person who stirs things up. The two might go hand in hand sometimes, but I don’t think they do most of the time.

      But I am only speaking of my own experiences and knowledge, which does not in any way negate your experience or your knowledge. I think it is okay to agree to disagree on things and still be able to keep a safe and open environment for dialogue. So I hope you are not offended by my comments. I just wanted to explain why I view it a bit differently.

      • Natalie said:

        Thanks for such a thoughtful response to my thoughts – I promise I’m not (always) delicate. Respectful disagreement is the ground upon which some of the most profound things tend to happen, so bring it on! :) Our experiences are indeed so very different – the hell you’ve been put through in the system being one of the most enormous, particularly given the fact that somehow I’ve never been hospitalized nor medicated (though my wife came close to having me forcibly locked up last year). That fact and my take on this whole thing probably have much to do with me being raised in a family that rejected that system, based on my mom’s own experiences with hospitalization, meds, etc., and the chronic health issues she now struggles with as a result. My mom is also pagan and kind of out there in many ways, so it’s in my blood.

        And, fuck yes, if I’d had even a fraction of the experiences you describe, I’d probably want to smack someone like me upside the head for trying to claim there is anything good about my condition. So, again, your ability to be so thoughtful is much appreciated, as is our ability to agree to disagree. :)

  8. Natalie said:

    Ooh, ooh! Really important point which Meredith’s comment above thankfully reminded me of – when we are at extremes of imbalance (psychosis, full-blown mania, extreme depression, etc.), it makes sense to me that we would not feel productive or creative or capable. I see these as responses to trauma, stress, etc. (past or present, often cumulative) that need to be addressed to regain balance. And when we start to regain balance to varying degrees, said inherent qualities that I blathered on about above can once again find space and expression. For me, my most extreme states have fueled creativity, thoughts, ideas, etc. that I was only able to fully express once on more stable ground.

    I think that’s it, but I make no guarantees.

    • “What if responding to trauma via psychosis (and/or mania, depression, hallucinations, etc.) is inherent in individuals who operate in, relate to, and experience the world in an “abnormal” way in general?” (and including homemakers, CEOs, etc.)

      What if indeed. Then we would have a lot more people with psychosis walking around because many visionaries are just that, visionaries. They are not psychotic. I just see a flaw in your logic there that, since they are percolating ideas, you may want to rethink. So your bipolar is a coping mechanism for stress and trauma? Are you saying that you only go to one pole or the other in response to a trauma? IME, many times the episode ruled me. Feelings surfaced on their own, even after digging via art/therapy/talking. Very interesting.

      • Natalie said:

        Just my current process. And yes, as I noted, it is indeed a work in progress, so I don’t really need to be told to go rethink. I’m thinking and rethinking on a daily basis. I kind of thought this forum was a place to do so safely without judgment. (I’m not saying my experiences or thoughts are “right” or the “only way”…they’re just mine. And that alone makes them valid.)

        And by no means was I implying that all visionaries are psychotic. I just meant to me there seems to be a correlation of both positive and negative traits of individuals labeled as mentally ill. Why does our only common ground have to be found in that which we experience as painful and fucked up? Is it unfathomable that some of what makes us “mentally ill” may be positive, rather than wholly negative? If so, that seems pretty unbalanced to me.

        And no, I don’t go to one pole or the other – for instance, my last round of hypomania, suicidal depression, full-blown mania, psychosis, followed by lesser episodes of depression and hypomania, came in response to the following cumulative triggers: becoming a parent, death of a loved one, working full-time while also mothering full-time, no sleep as a result of the last one, head injury, etc. And a huge part of my healing from said roller coaster has come in dealing with and finding healing from childhood traumas. It’s all messy and mixed together, never neat and easily classified. At least not in my experience. Kind of similar to my inability to separate physical, emotional, and mental health into neat little boxes. I think they are all connected.

        And indeed, the above episodes definitely ruled me. Violently so. No doubt about it. Another huge motivating factor to find stability, while also embracing myself for who I am, bipolar and all.

        • Indeed Natalie. Sorry about the implied rethinking and I was not judging, just questioning. Trying to understand as it helps me to understand myself (I know you know about that one in general). Hence, the very interesting comment. I am sorry for you feeling judged by me and my comment. I will work on my delivery. I also don’t believe in neat little boxes for us humans. Indeed messy. Well said.

          • Natalie said:

            Thanks, and sorry if I was being overly sensitive or defensive. I’ve become accustomed to being bashed when I come out of my closet within a closet, so I probably projected that onto your response and questions. (My closeted closet being the fact that I’m not only crazy, but that I actually think being crazy is (in some ways) a good thing, etc. – two such incidents were what fueled my “Excuse me while I piddle” post where you, ∃, and I first gathered.)

  9. Ok, now that the wind is out of the sails of this post, well maybe not, I will reply to your questions.
    1. The Mental Illness label has no more effects than the bipolar label. So I will go with that. Being out of control for so long and not being the parent I so desperately wanted to be (different from my parents, especially) led me to feeling complete relief at being labeled bipolar, but that was mainly because I was given reading material on it and I finally fit somewhere. I couldn’t fucking believe it. The label actually threw me for a loop but not for too long, it didn’t matter. I fit somewhere and I wasn’t truly really out of my mind and crazy. And there was help for that, but not for if I was really crazy (meaning I didn’t fit into any category).
    2. I only recently started being able to describe myself as high-functioning post-diagnosis. I was so run-down by the time I was diagnosed, I could not consider myself high-functioning. I had high hopes for myself out of college, to get a phd in genetics at one of the the West’s most awesome schools. That got lost quickly when I cam out here. I had sold drugs for the money to move here and lived off that for a while. Worked at Sprint swing shift, then as quality control in a filter company. Worked at UCD for a while for a BITCH, then cut the strings 6 months later. I worked at a player piano company editing music when I met my husband. I finally did go back to school to become a teacher, inspired by the intolerance of the people I worked for. Teaching, though I did it for 6 years before kids and 3 more after, killed me. I liked the idea of it, just couldn’t make it work for me. My wife offered me an opportunity to do my art and sell it, basically offering to support me. I took it but ended up getting a job at the public library. My masters and school library credential weren’t enough to be librarian so I spent 2 years doing menial tasks part-time. But I liked it. It gave me the space to figure out what I wanted to do. Starting my own business, even before meds, indicates to me that I was high-functioning in some areas, but definitely not in parenting and that’s where I strove for it the most. I like to think I have high expectations of myself, and I do in my work as it is now and my parenting and relationship, but in terms of broadening my business or changing things up, not so much. My therapist is constantly telling me how smart I am but don’t think I am. I don’t see it. Once I came to this forum, and really defined myself as high-functioning, I became prouder because I did choose to define myself as that. High-functioning does not equal perfection.
    3. The bipolar label does not matter as much to me now. For a while, to connect with others, I needed to use it and be out. Now I’m not sure where it will fit in my life. High-functioning and the elitism it brings are starting to drip off me now as well. So both terms were important for me at some point. And as I believe all labels go, eventually I need to let them go.

    So long and thanks for all the fish

  10. Jess said:


    Thanks for this post; I’ve enjoyed reading it. When I was first diagnosed, I viewed my behavior as part of my illness because I had changed dramatically in the 6 months leading up to my diagnosis. When I was actually diagnosed, it was a relief. I FINALLY had a reason for all of my depression…and then my odd behavior which was hypomanic but then moved to mania after I trashed my room and cut my hair etc…

    Now, I don’t define my behavior by my illness. While being BP is a part of me, I don’t use it as a primary label; I guess that’s one thing about not being symptomatic at the moment. I do have trouble self-disclosing my BP unless I am with friends; however, I did do so during my personal statements for grad school and my group therapy as part of a class. It was nice to disclose and not be judged. I hope that I won’t have a depressive episode again, but statistically, I’m not sure how feasible that is. Regardless, I hope to have coping skills that will allow me to not be consumed by my depression. Normally, depression, for me, exists full of anxiety, lack of self confidence (about anything…what to wear…ordering food, you name it!) Thankfully, I have a loving partner who is going to force me out of bed if I ever slip back into depression.

    Take care,

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