>Any inclination of mine to become a famous bipolar author — the kind that writes a best-selling book, gets invited to national conventions, gets coverage in the national magazines, etc. –is curbed by one reality: that I live with bipolar disorder and one of my symptoms is grandiosity. Grandiosity — for you outsiders — is different from narcissism in that the latter is strictly an extreme self-love while the former is a beyond-passionate-conviction in a crusade and the belief that one is ordained to be the leader of that crusade. It is a thing that easily falls into a shambles as people are scared away by our hyper-exuberance. As we ramp up into psychosis, we may style ourselves as prophets or even God him/herself. I have been there — once I talked a Quaker Meeting into sponsoring me for a trip to former Yugoslavia in the middle of the 1992 war when I had no clue why it was important for me to be there, other than it being important for me to be there.
Oh, I developed a rationale for my spiritual mission, and I did interesting things such as become one of the first non-journalists to report first-hand on a crisis using the Net. The governments over there didn’t like me much but that is to be expected when you know the Truth and report it through that warped, half-melted lens. The incident leaves me with several doubts about myself — where was this belief that the Spirit was calling me to do this really coming from? and Should I repay those who financed me now that I am disabused myself of the sacredness of my mission? I believe some people — quite a few — tell you that I did good and maybe I did. Others grew to hate me. Since my diagnosis, I am wary of any motivation which suggests that I alone possess a message that should be heard.
It’s going to happen again with the same reaction by the media. Maybe we will wake up tomorrow morning and see the report in our morning newspaper; maybe we will hear about it from a coworker at lunchtime; or it will be the lead story of the evening news. Mass murder. Mentally Ill Man. The words will be slung together and dished out to a public which has been bred to believe that mental illness and violence are strongly correlated. Politicians, doctors, family members, and activists will devise plans to cope with the problem. It happened with the Virginia Tech shootings, it happened with the recent Germanwings crash. Autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia have all been implicated at one time or another. The mentally ill cannot be trusted, goes the drumbeat. Schizophrenics and bipolars are killers.
Statistics show that about 3% of the mentally ill are violent. We are ten times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than perpetrators. Yet when we are portrayed on television or the movies, sixty percent of the depictions commit crimes, especially violence. So coupled with the way news outlets spin stories about mass murder, the general public believes that we are ax murderers and serial killers.
Some reformers use this fear to drive some very specific agendas, namely destruction of our rights to privacy, forced medication, and the resurrection of mental hospitals. The objective is to control the mentally ill. They might argue that this is the best we can get in a society with our values, but that is a weak defense of some very problematic and questionable policy changes.