The fifth chapter of the Gospeller, St. Mark tells the story of a haunted soul. And a haunting story it is. Jesus finds a man depraved and living among the dead. So haunted is he — he is shackled with fetters and chains. Night and day among the tombs he cries. With stones he beats his breast – in hopes of banishing his demons. Jesus calls out an unclean spirit. And then asks him “What is your name?” The Gerasene Demoniac answers, “I am Legion, for we are many.”
Now history has a legion of haunting stories to tell. Stories about the relative locked up in the attic. Stories about the aunt in the asylum and the sister at the sanitarium. Stories about the brother taken to Bellevue and the cousin committed to St Elizabeth’s. Stories of poor souls confined to St. Mary’s of Bethlehem – from where “Bedlam” gets its very name. Haunted souls like Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Haunted spirits painted in shades of gray and darkest night.
And history also has a legion of names it labels these haunted souls. Some are quite descriptive and some quite derogatory. This is my own DSM-V — my somewhat humorous and yet honest — Bipolar Dictionary – laid out in alphabetical order.
“All in your head” Yes, it is all in our heads. It’s called your brain. This phrase is often used to mean “It’s all in your imagination.” Well, nothing is farther from the truth. “It’s all in your head” is a scientific fact.
“Bats in the Belfry” paints a particularly scary picture where your skull is an empty bell tower and your brain is naught but flapping bat wings. Haunted and frightened and all in the dark no less. This is a phrase best left buried in the Dark Ages. See also the derivative “batty”.
“Bonkers” Rhymes with “Yonkers”. This word implies that you were “bonked” on the head as a baby and so not quite right. This notion is completely bonkers.
“Certifiable” Supposedly a clinical term where a clinician has categorically categorized a person as insane. And we all know that sanity is a relative term and insanity is virtually indefinable.
“Cracked” Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall and had a great fall, the person is cracked and cannot be put together again. While cracked a person’s brain may be, clinically speaking, it can indeed be put back together again.
“Crazy” This universal term is universally applied by universally everyone to all things in the universe that can go wrong with our brains. This catch-all term is better used by the people who are crazy than the people who would call them crazy.
“Cuckoo” As in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both a book and a movie full of truth and full of fairy tales.
“Demented” Rhymes with “fermented”. People may wrongly assume that a confused person they call demented has been drinking drinks fermented. Not necessarily so. A broken brain can shatter one’s thoughts as surely as a shot of bourbon.
“Insane” Categorically indefinable but often used to describe a person devoid of reason and incapable of discerning right from wrong. Neither of which is true of the Bipolar Brain. The Bipolar brain is brilliant and it’s moral compass true. Well just as brilliant and as true as anyone else’s.
“Loco” Not short for locomotive, but the Spanish equivalent of “crazy”. The employment of this term is often accompanied by a hand motion — circling the ear with one’s index finger. A bit loco, don’t you think?
“Loony” This term is likely derived from “luna”, Latin for moon. And we all know the dangers of exposure to a full moon — lunacy. It will turn you into something like a werewolf — politely referred to as a “lunatic”. For more information see “Looney Tunes” and specifically “Daffy Duck.”
“Maniac” Now we’re getting somewhere. Maniac is of course the noun for someone in the throws of mania. But what could be used as a term of understanding instead implies that the maniac’s behavior is absurd and beyond all understanding. So don’t go around calling anyone a maniac.
“Melancholy Baby” Once again we are on the right track. “Melancholia” is an ancient diagnosis of the soul. It literally means that our bodily humors are out of balance. Truer words were never said. But just don’t call me “Baby”.
“Mental” This one word phrase is shorthand for someone who is believed to be mentally ill or for someone who should be in a mental institution. Most of the persons who use this term know nothing about mental illness or mental health institutions of any kind.
“Not playing with a full deck” A poker metaphor that implies that a person missing the Ace of Spades is forever at a disadvantage. Sometimes Bipolar life is like a game of “52 Pickup” where all the cards are dropped and not all the cards get picked back up. Or at least they get picked up in a very different order. Reshuffling the deck is often a good thing.
“Neurotic” This is where we insert a photo of Woody Allen. Obsessively self absorbed he over analyzes his every waking moment and crazily (yes crazily) interprets his every dream. See also “narcissism”, a disorder of the personality. Not a disorder of the mind.
“Off your rocker” Now this one has a nice bipolar ring to it. Rocking back and forth and to and fro between the ups and the downs. The person who uses this term however doesn’t realize that they too ride the same rocking horse.
“Out of Your Mind” This phrase I am especially partial to — as long as I can apply it to myself. As in “Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of her Mind” (see May archives). Yes, five times I have lost my mind and five times I have gotten it back. I am batting a 1000. See also “out of your skull”.
“Possessed” As in the Gerasene Demoniac, an ancient and biblical understanding of mental illness that implies possession by evil spirits. Well — my bipolar brain is possessed by my spirit and by my spirit alone. And my spirit is possessed of a superior intellect, great compassion and an awesome sense of humor.
“Screw loose” This mechanical metaphor implies that the brain is made of widgets and gears held together by screws. When a screw is loose the gears go flying out of control — hence the derivative “screwy”. The brain is the most complicated machine, the most complicated anything in the known universe. Downloading only a few synapses requires digital resources to the gazillionth, gazillionth, gazillionth power. Only a simpleton with a screw loose would use this simplistic metaphor.
“Touched in the head” This is not the same thing as “Touched by an Angel”. Touched in the head implies inferior brain-power and irrational thinking. “Touched” by who or what is not at all clear. Whoever thought of this is most certainly themselves touched in the head.
And my favorite … .drumroll…..
“Unhinged” a door swings freely but unpredictably off its hinges. A hinge is one of those elementary machines like a pulley or a plane. Unhinged, the bipolar brain, like the door, is free and unpredictable. Elementary mixed up with exemplary. Here is where you insert a picture of Joani.
The names are legion and the names are many.