Bipolar: contemplation about the psych label

Contemplations on the label bipolar…

I listened to my friend Chris Cole,  speak to his embracing (reappropriating) the term bipolar in this podcast. I was deeply moved and spoke a response in the night, dictating it into an iPod. It has turned into an article.

This is what the podcast website (Mindful U at Naropa University) had to say about the interview:

There is more to bipolar than just pathology. People are familiar with bipolar as a disorder that used to be called manic-depressive disorder, or maniac depression. Bipolar Order is a declaration of that, and a necessary bridge for people meeting the criteria for bipolar disorder, and particularly bipolar disorder in remission, to be empowered. Chris Cole is trying to activate and inspire people to be empowered, be bold, and be bipolar strong. Listen to Cole’s podcast – Waking Up Bipolar – for more insight, and visit his website ColeCoaching for more information.  (listen here)

Chris is a close friend. We’re going to be launching a project together (along with Ian Scheffel, too)  by the end of June. (stay tuned). We are working out our differences together. Not in order to change them but to embrace one another even when we have different narratives. Our project will be inviting others to join us in this practice of loving each other…all of us who’ve been labeled or not labeled by psychiatry. In particular the project will be for those who have also experienced that which gets labeled psychotic (or altered states that were perhaps never labeled) It will be for those of us who understand our extreme states (perhaps among other things too) to have profound spiritual significance. We want to be inclusive and we’re starting with the three of us discussing our own experiences so that we can hold a container for others.

So, as I listened to Chris, loving so much of what he was saying, I also felt the below and allowed it to flow. I’ve shared it with him too and we’ve done lots more discussion with Ian too. This is an exciting time.


In response to Chris discussing reappropriating the word bipolar. I wrote spontaneously the following words:

I have a defiance…the defiance is where I am most soft…the defiance is where I am most vulnerable.

I have no interest in reappropriating a word that was used to poison my innocent body.

I have no interest in reappropriating a word that was used to almost kill me…more than once.

I have no interest in reappropriating this word and yet, I love this man, my brother, who chooses to reappropriate this word for himself.

There is no conflict here. Indeed, when we understand that those of us who’ve been labeled Bipolar, whether we buy into the psychiatric establishments interpretation or not, we’re subject to the very similar realities, then any language used to communicate with others ceases to matter so much. We start seeing our similarities and respecting our differences.

So while my friend’s stance raises this defiance when I’m facing the world, I am always soft  and vulnerable and safe when I speak to Chris.

Chris has a vision and a capacity, and an understanding of my vision. We share a vision and we have different ways of interpreting our own experience. Our different experiences and our different ways of interpreting our experience has led us to this same place at the same time. This is what our work is about. It is about inclusivity and loving one another even when we disagree. (read interpret our experiences differently…it’s not really disagreement at all and we see that clearly because we feel one another beyond the words.)

And here we are practicing our vision as we discuss how these issues are alive in our lives. We are creating the world we wish to live in by doing it in the relationships we’re fostering as we get our project off the ground.

So how can this be?

How can it be that this little soft wounded part within me — this heinously wounded part — can feel safe with someone who embraces the very word that has been used as an excuse to hurt my body–my integrity–so much.

It’s because as I became friends with Chris, I discovered that when we spoke that no one I had ever spent time with had ever held my entire experience with such delicate reverence. There is sacred space between us. We see one another and that goes beyond language.

So, to say that we disagree is not  accurate — the language we use — that feels most resonant with our internal experience that we project into the world by articulation differs…and it differs because the context of our lives differ…our kaleidescopic realities are endlessly different even while on the surface much appears the same.

Through our experiences we’ve been brought to serve and interact with different people up to this point. We’ve been in somewhat different fields of influence … energetic fields of influence and now we come together and we bring our fields together (at least in part…energetic fields are fluid and amorphous) and when we do that we can embrace a whole lot more people and for the time being as I feel into this delicate place that still will not, does not want, indeed cannot reappropriate the word bipolar, I simultaneously feel a larger capacity to embrace my human family, with all its complexity . There is no conflict  between Chris and me.

The conflict I feel is between me and my projected self into the world…which is pretty much an illusion anyway. It’s an important illusion, created and sustained so that I could heal from profound trauma. And to be clear, on the level I’m speaking all identity issues such as these are illusions. Bipolar/Not Bipolar etc. My projected self helped me find my grounding and I’m still in process with this healing a lifetime of traumatic insult.

I predict and sense that the defiance will continue to soften so that the vulnerability can just become raw strength. It doesn’t mean that I will fundamentally change my position. I don’t think that will be possible at this point.

I know what I know because of what happened to me and so many others and what happened is real. It’s why I can advocate so well for others who’ve been heinously wounded by psychiatry too — others who also do not want to subject themselves to the language of psychiatry for that and other reasons. As I soften I will less and less have to defend myself in the face of those who don’t share this particular woundedness. I will however, always, acknowledge and validate others who are still in process healing traumatic wounding by psychiatry. Society validates this wounding and compounds it with bigotry directed at all who have labels given to them by psychiatry. 

Chris and I do have somewhat different varieties of woundedness, however we’ve both been wounded profoundly enough, deeply enough, to understand the universal nature of human woundedness in all it’s guises and flavors and so we can hold one another in the ways that we sit differently with our interpretation of our woundedness in the face of psychiatry…we have much in common and yet we still interpret things differently. Our uniqueness in how we interpret is part of how we function in the world and how we serve others.  We bring those strengths to our own friendship.

the individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. if you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. but no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. — Friedrich Nietzsche

Epilogue: I am life. I am psychedelic. I am kaleidoscopic. I am conscious. I am aware. I am chaos. I am silence.  The term bipolar *disorder* attempts to diminish. Two poles? In a world of endless spectrums all interlacing into oneness? What nonsense. The term bipolar is attached to people like me because we frighten those “treating” us. We are sensitive, open, people in need of shamanic-like guidance. The current psychiatric regime doesn’t know how to support us in profound ways. We are finding out how to do that for ourselves and with each other.  I do not identify as bipolar nor do I identify as *not* bipolar. I’m just another little human being and so are you. Please don’t project your pathology onto me.

oh, and for the record I undiagnosed myself many years ago.  This site was brand new and I was still feeling my way around what I was discovering. 11 years ago now. Wow.

My vision of how to start supporting one another


For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page or scroll down the homepage for more recent postings. 

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