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Not an Asshole, Bipolar

......talk to the hand, I'm not at fault

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 14, 2005.

There are many upsetting aspects to the news air marshals killed a Florida citizen who may – or may not – have been manic-depressive and simply off his medication. That’s what the man’s wife said, and absent other knowledge it looks like the marshals may have over-reacted.

The marshals first claimed that the man ran from the plane, had made a move to grab something in his backpack, and had yelled he had a bomb. But other passengers who heard and saw it denied those claims. In any case, the man was simply upset and wanted off the plane, but didn’t obey marshals’ instructions. At least, the story thus far.

What bothers me about this is the manic-depressive excuse for his behavior. If you’re ill, mentally or otherwise, it’s your responsibility and damnation to make sure it doesn’t become a burden to others. Burden – not inconvenience. If you know your behavior can become an issue nobody wants, you should take the medication. If you willingly don’t take it, you have no excuse if your irrational behavior causes you problems, and culpable if it causes others. The man and his wife were irresponsible in making a flight when the man was so agitated people had noticed him in the restaurant before the flight as such. That’s pretty agitated.

Nobody thinks the man should have been shot and killed. The question is who’s responsible for it. According to one organization that represents those with mental illness, the air marshals should be trained to deal with people so encumbered. That would be nice, but it’s outside their job and irrelevant to it. In a question of seconds, it is not possible to do a diagnosis requiring six years of medical training, compile and adjudicate within yourself various scenarios and triage them when lives are on the line.

If he was off his medication, why was he off it? If he needed it, isn’t it his responsibility or his spouse’s to make sure he’s on it? Oh, by the way? He and his wife were missionaries who worked with the mentally ill. They have no excuse whatever.

But was manic-depression responsible for this, anyway? It isn’t called that, anymore, it’s called bipolar disorder, and just like hypoglycemia years ago, it’s an all-purpose and rather meaningless diagnosis currently made by mere therapists, and not necessarily doctors. Hypoglycemia is simply chronic low blood sugar, by the way, not uncommon in diabetics taking insulin. Somehow, it morphed into the favored excuse of the fat and lazy, elbowing aside as former favorite the pituitary gland when medicine clarified that promising exculpation with statistics of its extreme rarity.

And same for bipolar disorder, which is probably an actual disease in about the same miniscule percentage of cases as pituitary disorder is for the obese. I can speak with some authority on this. I was sorta/kinda diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my years of incarceration, and watched the spectacle of one end of the State and your money, represented by the Public Defender’s Office, try to get me diagnosed as mentally ill, while the other end, represented by the DA’s office, objected. I’ve always referred to myself as manic-depressive in the lay sense of moody, and I have had deep depressions and periods of elation, neither justified by then current circumstance, so it sort of made sense. There was an effort to put me on the salt medication of lithium, which I refused. Just knowing there was a physical basis for my moods was helpful enough, in my case, and I adapted procedures to deal with it.

I refused treatment because of this: In my first appearance with my public defender after my sentencing, he got up to object to certain rulings, and when queried about them could only blurt out “ …..blue sky, Your Honor,” by which was meant boilerplate objections with intent to score on at least one were coming. The court accepted this, and when I read the transcript later, instead of the previous exchange, there was a monograph of hoopla that read as if written and delivered by Pitt the Elder. It was mere procedure in CYA mode to be able to prove you’d done something.

And I suspect, at least to a degree, that was the bipolar pitch as well, part of the blue sky. It cannot be disproved or proven, and it comes down to having the more impressive witness on the stand, I’d imagine. I wrote out that I thought the diagnosis both probably true to some degree but meaningless, since everyone feels those symptoms in greater and lesser degrees. And the court, in refusing to officially care, pointed out my opinion as a compelling reason. But no doctor had diagnosed me one way or the other. And if I were mentally ill, what in god’s name difference should my opinion have made? The whole thing was an expensive farce.

And we hear bipolar trotted out a lot these days, don’t we? And always as sort of an excuse, or even as a sort of status in some circles. Or a justification for medication. ADD is the new bipolar which was the new Road Rage which in turn was the new hypoglycemia.

We’re a nation of hypochondriacs.