Bipolar Terms: Bipolar By Any Other Name Would Be As Crazy

November 26, 2010 Natasha Tracy

Should people claim to be mentally ill or have a mental illness? I have no problem saying I'm bipolar and I wish people would stop insisting that I not say it.

I am a word-fetishist. I adore words. They are my playthings. They are my blankies. I generally mold them, shape them and occasionally break them at my leisure.

But I also respect words. I respect their meaning and their use outside the bounds of current politically correct, self-help thinking, but somehow the rest of the world wants to complain because I call a spade a shovel.

Disregarding Politically Correct Bipolar Terms

I Am Mentally Ill, I am Bipolar

It is correct to say that I am mentally ill. It is also correct to say that I have a mental illness. Yet somehow the former is considered “bad” and every time I write it someone insists on “correcting” me. Somehow saying I’m a redhead is OK and people don’t insist I say I am a person with red hair. “Red hair” doesn’t define my character any more than “mentally ill” does.

I Am Not a Bipolar “Survivor”

I do in fact live, and I do in fact have bipolar, but I’m not a bipolar “survivor”. If you want to make it sound like I lived through a rabid grizzly attack, I think you’re mistaken.

I am bipolar; everyday. There’s no through, just in. I am a person living with a disorder, just like every other person living with a disorder. If you want to be honest about it, I’m a bipolar “liver”, but no one seems to insist on saying that.

I’m also not a sexual abuse survivor, a bad childhood survivor or a kidney infection survivor. Those things happened, and now they’re over. I don’t feel the need to claim great championship over things I had no control over in the first place.

Our Choice of Bipolar Terms Should Also Embrace Reality

Oh, I know, we’re all supposed to be running around rearranging words and spellings and sentences to reframe issues in our minds. Well here’s a thought, how about everyone just embraces reality. Instead of rearranging, try accepting. Lying about language and then imposing that lie on others is pious and really rather weak. Perhaps everyone missed the class where Shakespeare mentioned that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Words don’t judge people, people judge people.

This week I used the word “failure” in an article and someone was inclined to tell me to get CBT for my negative thoughts. Well, for the record, my thoughts weren’t negative, they were accurate. Failure is a word. I have failed at many things. It’s not something to be afraid of and it’s not something to be therapied out of. It’s reality. In reality, I fail stuff. Just like you. Just like everybody.

And acknowledging a feeling of failure while not, in fact failing, is not indicative of a problem either. Yes, I had an irrational thought. Those are quite common. I’m aware and did mention that it was irrational. I don’t think I should have to repress it or not express it just because someone will interpret it as “negative”. It’s just a thought. I’m not the one with a judgment about that.

Go Ahead--Use Positive Verbiage! But Don't Expect Me to Jump on Board

Look, I’m not going to take away your words, your rearranged sentences, your self-help books or your politically correct terminology. If you think they help, you can clasp them under your covers each night. This isn’t a problem for me.

I do wish, however, people would stop telling me I have to engage in and encourage the same behavior. I am quite capable of looking at reality, addressing it as such, and carrying on. If you don’t want to, that’s your business, but stop judging me for using language the way it was intended.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, November 26). Bipolar Terms: Bipolar By Any Other Name Would Be As Crazy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

November, 16 2014 at 8:06 pm

Since the word bipolar is an adjective, the sentence 'I am bipolar.' cannot mean 'I am A bipolar', thereby identifying yourself as a mental illness. Keeping in mind that bipolar is an adjective, the sentence 'I am bipolar.'
means 'I have the characteristics of bipolar illness.' which is presumably accurate. The statement "I am bipolar." may be mistakenly read as one of identification when it is actually meant to be descriptive.

October, 3 2014 at 1:10 pm

I've learned that this issue with what to say and what not to say is a catch-22 with us. On the one hand, I use gallows' humor to cope with my various conditions. However, there is a line with gallows' humor that I do not cross, mainly I keep the gallows' humor to myself. But if I'm not careful and I crack a joke or laugh at something, someone who isn't in on the joke thinks its okay for them to crack jokes about it, too.

January, 29 2011 at 12:54 pm

I like to tell people about my bipolar by saying, "I have this brain disorder, the doctors call it Bipolar Disorder, but I just call it a pain in the a$$!

Natasha Tracy
November, 29 2010 at 9:05 am

Hi Holly,
Thanks for your thoughts on this. Maybe you're right, language becomes less important as acceptance increases. Once you know who you really are, how people say it becomes much less important.
- Natasha

Holly Gray
November, 29 2010 at 6:47 am

Hi Natasha,
I really like what you've said here.
I confess I used to be very hung up on these "I am" versus "I have" distinctions. I was pretty insufferable about it too. Many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder will say "I'm DID." It used to set my teeth on edge. "No one IS their disorder," I'd say disdainfully.
Today I couldn't care less. "I'm DID," "I have DID," whatever floats your boat. And I can't help but notice that this change in attitude occurred naturally in conjunction with my own acceptance of my diagnosis. I think that's pretty significant. I resisted identifying with DID on every level and deep down I believed everyone with DID should do the same.
I respect your refusal to redefine your experience to better align with how some others define theirs. You don't go around saying, "No dear, you're crazy" when someone says, "I have Bipolar Disorder." It's not ridiculous to expect the same respect in return.

Natasha Tracy
November, 28 2010 at 8:09 am

Hi Castorgirl,
Yes, I think questioning thoughts connected with language can be useful, I just refuse to be afraid of the English language.
Yes, I have the cynicism-pore-dripping issue too. In all fairness to the fake-happy care people out there it's better than the alternative of them thinking you're a lost cause.
I do agree that respecting others is always important which is why I would never use language in referring to another person that I knew was a problem for them. I do genuinely respect how sensitive this issue is for some people.
That being said, I would appreciate the same respect when I use technically correct terms to refer to myself of populations at large. Sheesh. You wouldn't think that would be such a problem for people.
(Don't worry, I think we all know great teachers, and those who are not-so-great.)
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
November, 28 2010 at 8:01 am

Hi Martha,
Well thanks :)
- Natasha

November, 26 2010 at 10:41 am

Ooops... before I'm flamed by kindergarten teachers... there are excellent genuine kindergarten teachers (who deserve double their current salaries), and then there are the not so good ones (as with every profession). I was referring to the kindergarten teacher who plasters a fake smile on their face, rather than genuinely interacting with the children.

November, 26 2010 at 10:37 am

Language can be emotive and descriptive... that's why I think people's need for different terminology changes depending on where they're at. Sometimes the language of DID helps me, as it helps me to reality check what I'm experiencing. Sometimes, the language is a barrier due to it's limitations.
I love what you say about getting to CBT about your negative thoughts... I've just encountered a CBT occupational therapist; and I can just tell we're not going to get on. I have cynicism dripping out of every pore (which doesn't hurt, surprisingly enough); whereas the OT may as well be a kindergarten teacher for all her fake happiness.
The language we use, like so many other issues, comes down to our ability to respect ourselves and each other...

November, 26 2010 at 9:52 am

One Word: Awesome!

Leave a reply