A Bipolar Male Archetype
In the large university town I live in, I was looking for a specific type of book, something on men’s bipolar disorders. After reading a recent eloquent and moving book on men’s depression, I was hungry for more; something that addressed how men cope with the mood disorder that has dominated my life. I had expected to find some literature on male mood disorders in a “Men’s Issues” section; surely, I reasoned, it could be found in one of the many diverse and esoteric bookstores nearby.
To my disbelief and disappointment, there was no “Men’s Issues” section in the bookstores. In nearly every bookstore, I found long well-stocked aisles of books addressing women’s issues for every physical, social, psychological, and spiritual dimension. But at best, there would be few out-of-date men’s books stashed down on an indistinguishable bottom shelf, as if the staff had neglected to carry them back to the stockroom.
Men seem to have no edifying gender identity in contemporary literature, even less so when we face serious psychological issues. More bipolar men could begin to confront their illness if they could talk about it with men they respect and trust, men who empathetically understand mood disorders, who can support them through the painful labyrinth of recovery. But men don’t reveal their emotional chaos, especially those with a bipolar mood disorder. For many men, admitting to their mental illness is a shameful weakness, and to reveal that our bipolar illness causes us to swing between depression and mania is the double-jeopardy loss of manhood and credibility. Our archetype is not the all-seeing Janus, but the isolated Phantom of the Opera.
An isolating loneliness is a warmer cloak than toxic shame. Perhaps that is why many of us are drawn to reclusive careers in literature, art, music, science, and other fields that encourage deep emotional reflections punctuated by periods of intense creative activity. They are unpredictable cycles, these mood swings, when our mind turns on us and drags us through the fire and ice. But every sufferer of a mood disorder feels compelled to hide and deny, and to leave everyone with the impression we are “normal”.
Possibly what is needed before men reveal the truths about themselves and their bipolar illness is an archetype, an image people can envision that brings some measure of empathy and admiration. Once native Shamans or mythical wizards were a type of bipolar archetypes that a tribe or culture could revere. I prefer the image of a spiritual warrior, a type of “Warrior in Darkness”. But this is the 21st century, and mystical male archetypes have disappeared. Yet a useful archetype could help us find our unique inner strengths, enlightening us to a path for effectively living with our disorder. Perhaps, if we could learn how to explore, reveal, and embrace our inner demons and warriors, we might even get a place on the bookshelf.
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