As I weave in and out of social justice spaces at the University of Kansas and its town, Lawrence, I regularly track what conversations are most prevalent and determine what the culture and nature of social justice rhetoric is around me. “Intersectionality” and “respect” are often thrown around in social justice conversations here. Not respectability, but respect for the lived experiences of marginalized groups as authentic and real. I fully appreciate these concepts as central to my experience as queer and bipolar.
Social justice widely believes in the idea of intersectionality: acknowledging the intersections of identities and how they interact. I don’t exist as queer in one space and bipolar in another; I exist as both simultaneously, always. Yet, I notice a significant lack surrounding my own intersections within almost every single social justice conversation I’ve had and continue to have. Mental illness is overwhelmingly ignored. I’m one of very few who discusses its impacts. This routinely takes me by surprise, seeing as mental illness can impact anyone regardless of creed, class, or other social identifiers. Mental illness fully embraces intersectionality in those it affects.
I am a loud voice. People have recently referred to me as a “strong voice.” I rarely back down, and I make myself heard. But does anyone around me listen? My so-called allies have a knack for ignoring how mental illness actually impacts me and those for whom I advocate. They can handle people with anxiety: “Just spend some time off of social media!” They don’t really know what to do for depression. And they have no idea how bipolar even manifests.
I recently became enraged over the reaction of my “friend” from social justice spaces who didn’t support the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage. Seeing as I am a part of the LGBT+ community, I didn’t take kindly to being told my humanity is worth less. Here comes the fun part: bipolar. My anger didn’t subside for hours. I aggressively expressed this anger to a lot of social justice friends via social media because of how I felt personally dehumanized and devalued for my identities. I recognized how angry and anxious I felt as part of my irritable hypomania. The person’s rejection of my humanity triggered my irritability, and because I’m a loud voice, I let it be known to those who I thought would understand.
I sought support and validation in my mood swing from my friends who have listened to me speak on behalf of my experience with bipolar before. My anger was policed by one individual and ignored by almost everyone else. A select few offered me kind words, but all in private. Publicly, I once again became the angry bipolar trope that can’t calm down and needs to be medicated. From here, I had to backpedal in order to avoid being forever condemned to the permanent label of “angry bipolar kid.” I had to articulate how triggers for mental illnesses operate on a completely derailing plane, SEPARATE from how neurotypical people experience “triggers.” I sacrificed my safety by making myself incredibly vulnerable to avoid being the angry bipolar trope. This space that I had long considered safe became another in which I was left without support or awareness from my peers, which put it on my shoulders to be the educating voice. Again.
A close friend of mine holds to the belief that safe spaces do not exist. I have come to agree with her since this recent development. Safety is conditional wherever I go. I may be accepted as bipolar by a doctor, but queer? I may be accepted as queer by someone else within the LGBT+ community, but when do I bring up bipolar, and how do I avoid being told I’m too crazy or angry? I may be accepted as both by someone, some day, but will they acknowledge how they interact?
I will not advocate for respectability as the medium by which I operate under the label of bipolar. I am sometimes angry. I will not let a debilitating trope of “angry bipolar kid” force me into the unapproachable box of bipolar that stigma dictates. My anger does not weaken my words, my voice, or my convictions. Being triggered may result in anger, but that doesn’t mean my anger loses the passion or justification behind it. The fact of the matter is: I cannot actively control when I’m angry. If you see that anger manifest destructively for me, let it run its course and do not pretend that my anger is unwarranted. I’m entitled to my emotions as much as any other person; bipolar doesn’t change that.
Read the rest of Mark's posts here.