“In our family “whim-wham” is code, a defanged reference to any number of moods and psychological disorders, be they depressive, manic, or schizoaffective. Back in the 1970s and ’80s – when they were all straight depression – we called them “dark nights of the soul.” St. John of the Cross’s phrase ennobled our sickness, spiritualized it. We cut God out of it after the manic breaks started in 1986, the year my dad, brother, and I were all committed. Call it manic depression or by its new, polite name, bipolar disorder. Whichever you wish. We stick to our folklore and call it the whim-whams.”
— David Lovelace, Scattershot: My Bipolar Family
Speaking in code is often our way of communicating to those who are curious. We seldom tell anyone we have bipolar disorder outright. Some of us tried, and failed; we fall back to “I’m just a little blue today,” or the classic, “I’m just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” We really can be somewhat disingenuous.
All too often these are half-truths that deflect the sticky issues of a mental breakdown. We seek to salvage some kind of dignity, or evade the inevitable stigma that would certainly come if we told the truth. We choose to evade, but at a cost.
I struggle with the stigma of both bipolar disorder and epilepsy. I’m still uncomfortable when others seem uncomfortable with me. So, I have developed a general rule:
Bryan’s Rule #14, “Never reveal your illness, except to qualified people.”
I suppose this adds a layer of personal security. The occasions I have violated this rule have resulted in awkward pauses and odd looks. Afterwards, the relationship changed. It was as if I suddenly sprouted a second head, or something.
As Christian believers, I know we are supposed to walk in the truth. But exactly how truthful am I supposed to be? I’ve always had an iconoclastic streak, and I love stretching the social boundaries of others. Bipolar disorder has been an illness made-to-order for people like me.
Bryan’s Rule #15, “Openness can be a true step toward my healing.”
But it take truth to change. We really need to be honest by bringing things into the light. Obscuring the truth keeps us isolated and distant from others. Will speaking forthrightly about my bipolar disorder be a challenge? Of course. But necessary if I want to heal and cope.
I’m not advocating making a big sign and parading down Main Street. Just to be a bit more honest with others, and ultimately with ourselves. Let’s be comfortable with our own personal “whim-whams.”