4 MIN READ | Mental Health Stories

Ekaterina Netchitailova, PhD

Bipolar and Stigma: Let’s Unpack the Dilemma and Rewrite It into More Manageable Terms

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Ekaterina Netchitailova, PhD, (2020, November 9). Bipolar and Stigma: Let’s Unpack the Dilemma and Rewrite It into More Manageable Terms. Psychreg on Mental Health Stories. https://www.psychreg.org/bipolar-stigma/
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was a famous sociologist, called Ervin Goffman who pointed to us the problem of stigma. He explained stigma as a phenomenon where the person is ‘disqualified from full social acceptance’.

It happens when you are a queer, it happens when you have a disability, and it happens when you are simply different.

Our society is based on ‘normality’. It was also Ervin Goffman who, in his brilliant book Behaviour in Public Places told us about the phenomenon of ‘front’ and ‘backstage’. In the front stage behaviour, we act for the sake of the public. A good example can be found in a restaurant, where the waiter who serves your table is expected to be always polite and friendly. However, when the waiter retreats into ‘backstage’, such as a room that is not seen by the visitors, he can stop being friendly and polite, because he might have a bad day, and not feel happy

In our lives, we constantly exercise front and backstage behaviour. We are different in an office environment for ourselves at home. We are supposed to behave well in public, and we are supposed to follow the ‘rules of the game’ when we find ourselves in a crowd, such as while travelling on underground, in a theatre, or at school.

In my case, the division of frontstage and backstage can sometimes blur. Officially, I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which belongs to my backstage pack. I am not supposed to talk about it, because it makes people, playing in the frontstage game, feeling uncomfortable. It is the stigma attached to the diagnosis of bipolar, and any psychiatric diagnosis, in fact, that prevents me from adjusting my own persona to my very best.

I want people to know, and I want people to accept me as I am. I am slightly weird, I am unusual, I am funny, and I am unique. The fact that some of my utterances, such as when I say ‘I am Jesus Christ’, find themselves into the online domain when I am ‘psychotic’ shouldn’t make other people feel slightly embarrassed on my behalf. Yes, I am a true Christian, and yes, you can say that ‘Jesus is in you’ when you feel total faith. But when someone proclaims oneself as Jesus, it sends people into a panic mode, because it isn’t something that we accept at the frontstage behaviour, where everyone should act as normal.

I am really tired of the shit of the normality play, and I am tired of playing, and I am tired of the stigma.

Stigma is not what we might think it is. It is not being not accepted by people you like or admire. It is more to do with what is written about some psychiatric conditions in the press and elsewhere, projected by the psychiatry that makes any psychiatric diagnosis evil, and that creates stigma in the first place. 

I don’t recognise myself when I read about bipolar, and I don’t want to. It is not me. They say (the psychiatrists) that people with bipolar disorder exhibit strange, weird behaviour, are sexually promiscuous, can overspend their money, have problems to maintain a stable life, and die early.

From this description, I rewrote my own treatise, where spending money when you have some, is allowed, where sex is good (and who judges the promiscuity, excuse me?), and where I am blessed with incredible travel adventures, and stability in beautiful amazing friendships, and a home that I manage to create: nice, cosy, friendly. The fact that it is the diagnosis that creates a problem, and not people who judge you based on that, is not MY problem, but I have to deal with it.

So, how do I do it, you might ask? For years I played a game of ‘hide and seek’. I created a blog some years ago, telling about my adventures of being ‘bipolar’. I removed the blog once I saw what the psychiatrists write about ‘bipolar’. Oh my god, I thought, if my colleagues or friends read that and learn that I am bipolar, they will never accept me.

I created another blog, until next time I was confronted with my ‘diagnosis’. But that time all my friends knew and really didn’t care. They accept me as I am. I have indeed amazing, incredible friendships around the world because I lived and worked in four different countries.

Still, I told myself, what if I look for another job and they learn I am bipolar? I removed the blog.

But then I created another, and another, and I sent articles for publication, and asked a month later to make them anonymous, because I was, oh so afraid, so afraid of stigma, of people knowing the truth that I am bipolar.

Until a day, this last October when I decided enough is enough. I am no longer hiding. I am bipolar.

So, what is bipolar? I can only talk on my behalf, because every ‘bipolar’ is different, but here is my story: 

I love life. I enjoy every moment of it. I speak to nature and nature speaks back to me. I understand the language of birds, and their singing. I talk to flowers and to cats. I hear sounds, and I am in constant dialogue with God. I met the devil, several times. I believe in Jesus. I am also a pagan. I am Celtic Christian and I am a Russian Orthodox Christian. I am also Catholic, and I believe in the power of the Church. I am a white witch, I remember my past lives. I was Anne Frank, and I was Princess Anastasia.

In my daily life, I am a good teacher, a writer, a mum. I take care of a cat taken from the shelter when she was 7, now she is 15. I take care of my son as best as I can. I create new, beautiful friendships, often, and for life. I fall in love and out. I like coffee and red wine. I enjoy good food, good conversations, walks in nature, dancing and water. I live an incredible life, where I earned a PhD, two master’s degrees, a bachelor in interpreting and where I speak four languages fluently: Russian, French, English, and Dutch. I love reading and staring at the sun and the moon.

I love living. 

Ekaterina Netchitailova, PhD runs the blog RussianPatient. You can connect with her on Twitter @Chitailova.

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