No laughing matter

Posted Monday, March 5th 2012 at 6:21pm

By Arley Hoskin
Today I want to give a wag of my finger to Mr. Stephen Colbert.
Last week Colbert interviewed Claire Danes about her role in the Showtime television show Homeland. Danes plays a CIA agent who has bipolar disorder. 
“You play a character with a set of particular emotional issues,” Colbert starts the interview.
Is he really going to talk about bipolar disorder and be able to make it funny, I thought as I watched the clip from Homeland.
The clip showed a hospitalized Danes frantically begging a nurse in a psych ward for a green pen. They had given her a blue pen but that wouldn’t work. It had to be the green one. The blue one doesn’t even make sense, Danes' character says. The character becomes irate. Clearly she’s insane. 
Danes pulls off the bipolar character well and makes me want to actually watch Homeland. Colbert, unfortunately, did not get through the interview without offending almost anyone who is bipolar or has a loved one with the disease.
“What’s wrong with her?” Colbert says with a laugh after the clip ends. 
Later in the interview Colbert jokingly asks Danes, “Is there anything bipolar in you?”
“I really, really hope not,” she replies.
I watch the Colbert Report almost every night. I’m a fan. I even thought about donating to his Super Pac. But poking fun at people who have a mental illness is just wrong. Period.
Do I have a double standard about poking fun of politicians, celebrities and billionaires? Absolutely. People who go into politics or reality TV put themselves in the limelight. People who have a mental illness on the other hand, typically pray that they are able to stay under the radar, at least as far as the mental illness is concerned.
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million adults. Most of these people don’t talk about their illness because there is so much stigma and miseducation about the disorder. And interviews like the one on the Colbert Report only drive people who suffer from bipolar disorder even more into isolation.
I know because I have bipolar disorder. 
I was diagnosed with this condition at age 22 after a six-month bout with severe depression followed by a full-blown manic episode. For those of you who don’t know what a manic episode is, imagine smoking crack and tripping acid at the same time. Speeding thoughts, hallucinations, paranoia and endless energy. It seems fun at first until you come down and realize you have lost half your friends, compromised your career and made a fool out of yourself to everyone you know. 
Picking up the pieces of my mania felt like starting over. With the help of family, the friends who stuck around, and a very gracious editor, I was able to get back on my feet.
Over the years, I’ve made new sets of friends and continued to pursue my career. And as I’ve done so, I’ve managed to keep my disorder a secret for the most part. With lithium on my side, I’ve avoided any major depression or manic episodes.
The truth is bipolar disorder is extremely treatable. But people often don’t get treatment or don’t stick with treatment because of the stigma. No one wants to be crazy. No one wants to be the girl who needs the green pen. 
Well, I am that girl. When I saw that scene from Homeland, I saw myself. And it wasn’t something that I wanted to laugh about. Or hear other people laugh about.
Would Colbert laugh about the fact that Laura Linney’s character has cancer on The Big C? I doubt it. Because we don’t joke about cancer. And we shouldn’t joke about a disorder as serious as bipolar either. 
I wrote this blog because I no longer want to stand by when people make uneducated remarks about a condition that has so vastly affected my life. I wrote this blog because I want people to know that it’s OK to have bipolar disorder. I wrote this blog because I want people to realize that, yes, we are crazy at times, but we are also treatable, competent, creative, successful and all-around awesome. 
P.S. I would also like to give a tip of my hat to all the people who have bipolar disorder and continue to take their meds and hold their heads high.
Follow Arley on Twitter at @ArleysWords


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