Rhetoric and Mental Illness

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Rhetoric towards any matter is crucial to the understanding of an issue or topic at hand. Your words matter. Without effective speaking or writing, which is the definition of rhetoric, we, as bipolar humans or those with mental illness will never get to live in a world where normal folk comprehend where we are coming from. They cannot understand our struggles and adversities without knowing of them, first and foremost. But if we are not intentional in the way we speak, the way we write, the way we act; we are fighting an uphill battle.

A group I admire when it comes to rhetoric is the LBGTQ+ community. Folks in this particular community have their rhetoric and terminology down and are actively teaching binary, cis-gender folks how to accept them for who they are and love them for who they are. Not only that, they are educating people who do not understand their terminology because it is so different than what the media tells us about.

But, the LBGTQ+ community does not do this educating in a divisive, exclusive way. They correct people as they go along. For example: let’s say Sally is born a female, but identifies as non-binary, meaning they don’t personally identify with the terms “male” or “female”. This individual uses pronouns such as “they/them/their/they’re”. When you go to the bar with Sally, you say to the bartender, “She and I would like I drink…” Instead of criticizing you, Sally pulls you aside and tells you that their preferred pronouns are “they/them”, not “she/her.” You quickly apologize and when the bartender returns, you ask “they would like a beer on tap and I would like the cider on tap.”

With this change in rhetoric, it is not exclusive to Sally, it is inclusive and in the future, the bartender can use the correct pronouns in regard to Sally. In this scenario, Sally was not offended by your lack of knowledge of their preferred pronouns because you didn’t know any better. As long as you make the contentious and conscious effort to use the right terminology or rhetoric, no offense will be taken. As long as you are not actively disrespecting Sally by using the incorrect pronouns, Sally will see and be appreciative that you are trying to respect them.

This active use of correct and inclusive rhetoric can be used in regard to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.

Below I will list some terms that create divisiveness among bipolar and non bipolar folk:

High Functioning Bipolar

Although this may sound like a compliment to some, it really hurts those you would consider to be “low functioning” folks with bipolar. I know I have fallen victim to the concept that I am high functioning for a disorder where not many people expect much of you. I have personally called myself “high functioning” because I am not on disability, I have a job, I have a good relationship with my boyfriend, family, and friends, I get out of bed everyday, etc.

But what is so wrong about having bipolar and receiving disability benefits? What is so wrong with not having a stereotypical career, and instead having a part-time job that works around your illness? Why would we disrespect our fellow humans who are taking medication and still struggling?

I no longer use the terms high and low functioning bipolar disorder because it is disrespectful. Even I, someone who has been on medication for years, has access to proper mental health care, has a good support system, still struggles to get out of bed every day, to do chores, hell, even I applied for disability for my lack of ability to hold down a job for more than six months.

It’s like using the term high and low functioning in terms of autism. Diego’s little ten year old brother, named Juan Pablo has down syndrome and autism. They say it is severe because he doesn’t talk and he doesn’t play with toys or interact with other kids his own age. Instead, he plays with a little ball of jump ropes, phone chargers, shoes, anything with laces or strings. It got all tangled together and he holds it and stares and feels at it for hours. He likes it because it’s tactile; he can feel the bumps and textures of the different materials and it is very therapeutic for him.

But he listens. He is very empathetic. If his mother cries, like she did when her parents died within 5 weeks of each other this past year, Pablo will also cry. If everyone is laughing at the dinner table, he will laugh the loudest. If someone said something rude about him, he would internalize it and would be so hurt. He is not lesser than for not speaking. He communicates with others, you just gotta listen for it. But can you see how our rhetoric affects people?

Bipolar Is Not An Adjective

“She is sooooo bipolar! Isn’t she?”

No. Just nope.

You can’t just diagnose a person because they are a little moody, or have one singular trait that is conducive with bipolar disorder. I can’t fucking stand it. There have been many a times when this was said about me before I was diagnosed bipolar.

Nothing makes a bipolar person more mad than being called bipolar. Imagine if I wasn’t actually bipolar and to have this negative stigma wrapped around me because one ignorant human wants to name call you bipolar, especially when that isn’t the case.

As bipolar people, we already have enough on our plates. Not only battle our own demons, fight off our symptoms, and address the inequality we face due to the stigma that is associated with this disorder, we also have to teach your stupid ass to be kind to one another. It would be one thing to say something once to a person, to get them to stop using the term bipolar as an adjective. But it is never just a one time thing.

If I address your incorrect rhetoric, you will then go and talk about me behind my back and say “how bipolar” I was being for bringing up such a ludicrous idea, God forbid YOU do something wrong.

I know I am being a little dramatic, but I say these things because I have either a) been through it or b) witnessed it happen myself. But I digress.

Ignorance is not bliss

My former employer, who was an attorney, always said ignorance is a lack of knowledge. If you break down the word ‘ignorance’, you get “ignore” and “ance”. Then you get the definition “to intentionally disregard” and “denoting an action”. Bring it all together: Ignorance is acting on your intention to disregard or failure to consider something.

It was ironic that this boss in particular was so ignorant towards me. He fired me because I was bipolar.

I struggled with this for such a long time. I posted a series of photos on Facebook where I finally embraced myself in that I am bipolar and once he saw those, he thought I was jeopardizing the company and suspended me, and proceeded to fire me. Then when I filed unemployment for unfair termination, he tried to fight me on it and I had to make a case to the state of Washington on how he discriminated against me.

Fortunately, I won my case and received my benefits until I could find a temporary job. The state of Washington found not one, not two… but five different statutes that supported me in my case. For being an attorney, he wasn’t the brightest, especially in terms of employment law. Yet somehow he is still in business….

Bottom line here: please educate yourself in regard to bipolar and other mental illnesses before you judge or discriminate against others unfairly. It takes maybe an hour to research and find out nearly everything you need to know about bipolar disorder, but one sentence, less than 60 seconds, to hurt a bipolar person due to poor rhetoric and the effects of that poor rhetoric can have life long effects and even life ending effects.

As a Bipolar Individual…

If you hear rhetoric that is hurtful, discriminatory, or plain wrong, SPEAK UP. Please, do not remain silenced in fear of “outting” yourself. If you want change, you must be the change in the world and that change starts with your actions, and more importantly, with your rhetoric.

I have quit jobs because I have been disrespected and my mental illness was not treated with any respect or importance. Trust me when I say, there are other jobs out there and yes, it does indeed get better. You have one physical life and while you are here with bipolar, it does not mean your diagnosis is a death sentence.

Strive for more. It does get better. It all stems down to how you see yourself. How you envision yourself is how others will see you. You matter. Your words matter. Your actions matter.

Go get ’em.

Til Next Time,


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