Today is World Bipolar Day, an initiative created by many international organizations and celebrated each year on March 30th, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh.* To commemorate the day, I’m reprinting the Afterword from the 2015 reissue of my mystery novel Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. The novel was inspired by my outrageously discriminatory experience at a psychiatric social club in upstate New York where I worked around the turn of the millennium. All the characters in Mood Swing are entirely fictional, and I relocated the club from Troy to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Today, for the first time, I’m identifying the organization where I was fired for telling a client I was bipolar, but you’ll have to read through till the end of this post for the revelation.
When I first published Mood Swing, I concluded my afterword as follows:
Society’s intolerance and fear of people suffering from mental illness has scarcely evolved at all. Erika’s uneasiness about disclosing her bipolar disorder is all too realistic. If anything, people’s acceptance of her illness after she “comes out” is perhaps too idealized. There is still a powerful stigma surrounding mental illness. And although mentally ill people are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, all too often the media – in both fiction and non-fiction – portray them as crazed, violent criminals.
When I published a new edition in 2015, I added the following:
Afterword to the 2015 edition
Sadly, what I wrote above is all too true today, almost a decade later. The stigma about mental illness persists. What’s changed is my willingness to talk about it. As I noted above, this novel was inspired in part by my experiences working at a psychiatric social club in upstate New York. Like Erika, I disclosed my bipolar diagnosis – not on the evening news, but to a club member who shared the diagnosis, whom I thought might be helped by my willingness to share. She passed this juicy tidbit along to someone I supervised, who in turn passed it on to my boss at the agency.
When I got home that evening, there was a phone message instructing me to report to Human Resources the next morning. There, without warning, I was summarily fired. When I protested, I was told that my termination had nothing to do with my disclosure that I shared a diagnosis of mental illness with many of the club’s members. No, it was my overall performance they found inadequate, despite the fact that I’d worked there for nearly a year with no hints of dissatisfaction from the higher-ups.
I consulted lawyers, but they told me my case would be almost impossible to prove, and that things could get nasty. So I nursed my wounds in secret, until the passage of time gave me the strength to turn my experiences into fiction. When I first published Mood Swing, I was still in the closet regarding my bipolar diagnosis, but gradually, at readings and signings, I began disclosing my story. Almost invariably, people would come up to me afterwards, saying “I’ve never told anyone this before,” then tell me that they or a close friend or relative were also diagnosed bipolar. Many bought the book in hopes of learning more about the illness, or helping a loved one understand. So now at last, I’m out and I’m proud, and I hope this book will help give others the confidence to go public too.
Not long after they fired me, the agency that ran that social club shut the place down. Clearly mental health wasn’t high on their list of priorities, but I wonder whether all those club members found another place to go. Prison, perhaps, since that’s where our country chooses to house countless thousands of the mentally ill these days. But that’s another story, for someone else to tell.
March 20, 2017
Today, for the first time, I’m revealing the identity of the agency that fired me: Unity House of Troy Inc. You can check them out at www.unityhouseny.org. Mental health is still near the top in their mission statement, and I don’t doubt they provide many worthwhile services, but I’ll never forgive them for the trauma they inflicted on me. It’s time to speak truth to power.
World Bipolar Day (WBD) – an initiative of the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD), the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD) – will be celebrated each year on March 30th, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.
The vision of WBD is to bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and to eliminate social stigma. Through international collaboration, the goal of World Bipolar Day is to bring the world population information about bipolar disorders that will educate and improve sensitivity towards the illness.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. It is estimated that the global prevalence of bipolar disorder is between 1 and 2% and has been said to be as high as 5% and, according to the World Health Organization, is the 6th leading case of disability in the world. In order to address this global problem, we need a global solution. With support from leading experts from around the world, groups like ANBD, IBPF, and ISBD are supporting efforts to investigate biological causes, targets for drug treatment, better treatments, better methods of diagnosis, the genetic components of the illness, and the strategies for living well with bipolar disorder and this is just the beginning. Collaborations between research and advocacy groups are continuing to grow, and WBD is a tribute to the success of this strategy.