On Subjectivity & What We Call Bipolar

There is no contesting the very real ways that Moods have molded me. Mania has marked my life with heightened creativity, incredible sensitivity, and boundless energy; the madness that follows has brought broken hearts, financial worries, totaled cars, and disordered eating. It has, oh so often, been the gates to depression which pulls me out of my high and into the darkest corners of my mind. My experiences of emotional extremes are concrete. Still though, bipolar is just a category and diagnoses aren’t finite. My supposedly objective Moods—my most intimate experiences of both self-loathing and self-aggrandizement—are part of larger systems at work.

Bipolar disorder is a constructed category, a group that—although based in tangible emotional experience—has been created in order to control and profit. Bipolarity, and what we call mental illness more broadly, is part of the medical industrial complex (MIC), a web of institutions, fields, professions, organizations, and notions that are about profit not well-being —read Mia Mingus’ piece on the MIC for further wisdom. The various facets of living with Moods—healthcare, psychiatry, psychology, hospitals, prisons, holistic healing programs, dieticians, etc.—are all produced by and producers of systems of capitalism, war, and imprisonment. Our quest for wellness is beholden to colonialism, white supremacy, reproductive oppression, gender, eugenics, and slave-holding.

What we refer to as bipolar is not singular or fixed. It’s useless to think that a universal bipolar experience exists because Moods are susceptible to the tropes that govern society. I mean, let’s consider how whiteness sugarcoats my bipolarity, makes it palatable and acceptable, shields me from long-term institutionalization, incarceration, and even death; how legacies of constructing white womanhood as The Victim shape hegemonic perceptions of my illness by painting me as moral and good and to be taken care of. Let’s consider how the rage, desire, and impulsivity that characterize Moods don’t mesh so well with the construction of girlhood—sadness is feminized because of its implied weakness but passionate moods are not thrown in the basket of femininity because they are loud, dangerous and unpredictable—which leaves my behavior to be deemed unusual and dangerous. The ways in which bipolar is understand and subsequently addressed (as well as how and when it presents itself) is influenced by systems and histories that funnel resources, power, and care away from some and towards others.
















So, I’m attempting to locate myself in relation to my own experiences of melancholy and mania as well as within ideologies and structures that create and perpetuate the MIC. I am beginning to formulate a way of being that treats my extreme moods as symptomatic of an ever-changing category that we call bipolar disorder. I use this category in ways I find useful and necessary; we do, after all, exist within systems that rely on this language and it is therefore helpful to refer to the diagnosis “bipolar” in order to conceptualize my experience within them. But, I also refuse the imposition of bipolar, recognizing the ways in which themes surrounding Moods—mental health, recovery, treatment, happiness—are wielded to maintain control and fuel greed, as well as used to further define what types of bodies are desirable and what types of bodies are wrong.

In many ways, doctors and their treatments helped me through various crises. They kept my heart beating when I tried to stop it, stabilized frenzied mania, and gave me semblances of coping mechanisms. Still though, hospitals are bleak and doctors often don’t recognize the many paths of healing from trauma. Robots in white robes asked me to spill dark secrets and then, in hopes of fixing my so-called troubled mind, they sold me pharmaceutical drugs. I certainly have met nurses who resemble angels and their wings often kept me afloat but, when I was at my most vulnerable, care meant clinicians and clipboards not community or accountability.  Psychiatry and its many related components remain steeped in the systems that dominate us and so I focus on the category of bipolar in hopes of both personal healing and collective liberation. I wrestle with Moods to keep myself alive. I work with, and through, extreme periods of melancholy and mania in order to understand my own chemical makeup so that I can take increasingly better care of myself, so that I can heal, so that I can be well. I turn to bipolar to understand the role of mental health in retaining power over others, because Moods cannot be extricated from our notions about—and activism regarding—care, well-being, and health.

Words: Taliah Mancini, Image: Theo Goodyer

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