I can't remember who said it, Tolstoy maybe: All unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. But all happy families are the same. In mine, the siblings, of which there are four, dislike each other intensely. Still, and alas, every once in a while, one of us succumbs to a hallucination and imagines this is not the case. Injury, death--all the usual things seem to trigger these hallucinations.
During one of our inevitable fights, just before my asking her to leave 24 hours after she'd arrived, she accused me of being bipolar. In her view, that was the only explanation that could account for my having treated her so badly.
This has confirmed something I've been suspecting for a while: Bipolar disorder is the trendy mental illness of the aughts.
For those of you behind in your syndromes, bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. It is characterized by radical shifts in mood, from suicidal depression to energetic periods that last for days, characterized by intractable urges to do things like go out and tar the roof at 2 a.m. I had a bipolar philosophy professor; he embraced nihilism half the time and pantheism the other half. Realistically, it's a nasty disease, and in the end, he embraced an overdose of Seconal and vodka.
But lately, it seems like everybody is bipolar.
I first started to get an inkling of this latest trend when I started seeing ads for bipolar medication in hip magazines like People, Cosmopolitan and even The New Yorker, featuring lithe, happy people--walking across fallen tree trunks in the forest, dappled sunlight streaming through the canopy--definitely not swinging from one extreme mood to another. These ads show mothers gamboling with their bright-eyed children on warm, breezy beaches trying neither to drown them by walking into the sea, nor challenging them to a swimming contest out to that supertanker 10 miles offshore.
The thing that stood out to me most about these ads is that these new drugs promise you won't gain weight on them. Weight gain has always been the primary complaint of people who take the traditional treatment for the disorder, lithium. It also apparently takes the lead out of your pencil, if you know what I'm saying. The ads for these new medications don't say anything about whether they still do that.
These ads have cinched it for me: Bipolar disorder has arrived.
My prediction is that bipolar disorder will define the aughts like unipolar depression defined the '90s. Has anyone else noticed that before the '90s, hardly anybody they knew were depressed? Now, everybody is. I'm not saying that everybody actually being depressed isn't possible. I mean, some days, it seems like the only thing that makes sense. But man, everybody is on Prozac now, or Celexa, or Effexor. If you haven't been on one or the other of them, then you've either got no health insurance or no street cred at all.
The abundance of bipolar disorder nowadays says something important about American culture. In the '90s, we'd settle for being down. In the aughts, we're well on the way to stark-raving mad. We'll all be tarring our roofs at 2 a.m. I predict there will be a plethora of individuals in the next 10 to 20 years making decisions and acting so crazy that the entire world will take notice.
Americans are finished with settling for gloomy and hopeless. Now, we're gonna be seriously deranged. I mean, you can't get more nuts than being bipolar, unless you're a paranoid schizophrenic.
When the pharmaceutical companies come up with a non-weight-gaining remedy for that, we're really going to be fucked.