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OPINION: Out Of The Closet

I have been having a breakthrough over the past couple weeks of great importance to me personally: I have finally started talking freely about the fact that I have bipolar.

By "freely" I do not mean that I have been telling everyone whom I have encountered about my condition.

Rather, I have decided that I must not be ashamed to discuss if it is helpful to do so, and I have begun talking about it to the extent that it is relevant to my personal - friendly and romantic - and professional relationships.

I realize that it has been shame that has kept me from being open about my bipolar these past nine years.

...a person with a serious brain disorder was treated by the Michigan criminal justice system as if he were entirely normal, which led to his death...

Why it has taken me so long to realize that this embarrassment is ridiculous-and in fact violent to myself and other people with bipolar-I do not know. The shroud of secrecy is finally dissolving, and I feel better about it.

Mental illness, like interracial marriage, is still taboo in our society, and this is unfortunate. We need to recognize that a mental "disorder" is really just a type of physical disorder (in that it is a function of brain chemistry), and therefore the humane and responsible thing to do is to encourage people to discuss it openly and without reservation.

Indeed, people with "normal" illnesses like MS and cancer are not nearly so inclined to hide their conditions from other people as are those with mental conditions, because our society at large has grown more or less comfortable with those illnesses; we are able to acknowledge them as widespread sources of suffering and thus target them effectively-both at the level of treatment and management. I am arguing that people with mental illnesses ought to be fully embraced by our society as a community of medical sufferers and encouraged to "come out of the closet."

The writing of this article has been partly triggered by my having watched video footage of a 21 year old man with bipolar disorder named Timothy Souders dying of dehydration in a Michigan prison after being chained down to a bed for 6-17 hour stretches of time over a period of months.

It was his bipolar disorder that caused him to behave erratically upon first arriving in the prison (apparently, he had tried to flood his cell) and that therefore led to his being put in chains. Furthermore, it was his bipolar that had (partly, at least) caused him to commit the crime of shoplifting and resisting arrest that landed him in prison in the first place.

The fact is that he never should have gone to prison at all; he should have gone to a mental institution. Without a doubt, it is because our country has not adequately come to terms with the reality of mental illness that this kind of mistake was made. The people in the prison-though they behaved abominably (a federal court has now prohibited the use of chains to restrain inmates)-did not intend to murder Souders; it was because they did not recognize his condition that they treated him the way that they did.

Our awareness of mental health issues, in other words-or, rather, our lack thereof-was the cause of Souders' death. The fact that a person with a serious brain disorder was treated by the Michigan criminal justice system as if he were entirely normal-which, in turn, led to his death-is a reflection of how poor a job we in America have done to date of coming to grips with insanity.

I have only recently learned to live up to my own commitment to speak the truth about mental health realities, so I must not be judgmental of those who are not yet where I am. As a person with bipolar myself, I now realize that I have an absolute responsibility to reconcile the gap that currently exists between mainstream American conceptions of mental illness and the Truth.

Bipolar, and other mental illnesses, are like any other physical diseases, and those who suffer from them should be provided an opportunity to suffer with dignity.

I regret my silence all these years.

Adapted from an Opinion by Daniel Nelson as submitted to www.thecoolgroup.org

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A Dog Has More Feet

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The optometrist who got caught in the lens grinder made a spectacle of himself.

It's always darkest before dawn. If you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

In football, why does the running back run forward?

You read about all these terrorists - most of them came here legally, but they hung around on expired visas, some for as long as 10-15 years. Now compare that to your bank; if you are two days late with a payment, those people are all over you. We should put banks in charge of Immigration and Homeland Security.

That guy is so vain - he won't wear his glasses, but needs them to drive, so he got a prescription windshield.

The constipated composer couldn't finish his last movement.

A woman longed for the pitter-patter of little feet, so she got a dog. It was cheaper, and she got more feet.

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