Life With The Tiger

Background information: – “the lunatic is in the room . . . “

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression. Experiencing a bipolar mood cycle is often described as Riding The Tiger. Quite a metaphor, but then a cycle of mania, depression, mania, depression mania is quite the experience, I can tell you. I know because I am one of the millions of people across the globe who have bipolar disorder. That implies that I’m not alone, one of millions. But the reality is that Riding The Tiger is a singularly lonely life. We isolate ourselves as we are shunned by a society that has branded us “unclean”, or that at least, is our subjective interpretation of the state of affairs surrounding our existence in Society.

So, I’m a manic depressive. What does that statement say about me? It sounds eerie, almost as if I’m some sort of a maniac. Somehow it seems to be a state of being of which to be ashamed. It’s an admission of the socially unacceptable. It’s a Mental Illness; an abdication of one’s status as a useful member of Society. It is the assumption of a mantle of disgrace; the wearing of the sobriquet Mental or Lunatic as befits a person of lesser worth. As if anyone is “worth” less than any other person. What a crock!

Well, yes, this would be true if we were living a hundred years ago. In “the old days” families used to hide their “odd” children out of sight. You know, the neighbourhood gossip would come out and say something like; “Have you seen it? The Kingsmans down the road. They have a faulty child. And here I thought they were decent people!” When, all that the Kingsmans, or whomever, had was a perfectly delightful child with Down’s syndrome.

We, as a society, used to lock Down’s children up in the house lest they be seen by “polite society”. Horror of horrors; what would people think? What would people say? Down’s syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, poliomyelitis; they all leave their visible marks on the victim. It makes the afflicted or affected ones easy to spot if you’re after a bit of spite ‘n’ hate. The outward signs of their uniqueness make them easy prey for the bullies among us. Children will stare at those who are different from them because they want to understand why the person looks so obviously different to what they are used to. It is Society’s responsibility to teach children how and why some people are “different” and that they are not defined by their “differentness”. Failure to educate our children in this matter assures that the cycle of bullying and prejudice that people who are different must endure will continue unabated. Insensitive behaviour is bad enough when it’s by children but when adults do it, it is especially hurtful. After all, grown-ups are supposed to protect children and the less fortunate from the nasties. And most of the time the majority of adults do a pretty good job of it. And sometimes they don’t because the pre-teen bully of today is the adult bully of tomorrow.

What happens though, when an individual is different in an invisible way? When the differences are not apparent. Hidden from view. Then, even the “good” adults tend to team up with the nasties and the meanies because that which makes the people in question different frightens them. Yes, I’m talking about mental illness. How the conditions that people suffer from are misunderstood. How people are branded and maligned by a Society which is ignorant and fearful. Yes, there is nothing that fuels fear more than ignorance. It’s like the average person’s immediate reaction when confronted with a snake or a spider. “Kill it!” Even though the vast majority of snakes and spiders are useful to us and in no way potentially harmful to humans. That’s ignorance at work. And so it is with Mental Illness where the sufferers are discriminated against in  all walks of life, socially, professionally and, in some cases, even by the medical professionals appointed to care for them.

A case in point is the current investigation vis-a-vis the deaths of patients transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni facilities to questionable private so-called “mental health care facilities” in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Thanks for dropping by. More on this subject next time . . . until then, sayonara.

Peter Mark Wells-Garnett © 01 March 2017

Photograph by Cheryl-Lynn Cranfield © 2016


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