On Jesse Jackson Jr. and Being Bipolar

It's no excuse for what he did, says the author. She should know -- she lives with the disease, too.

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

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I returned to my parents’ home in 2007 with only three pairs of shoes and two tons of self-loathing that I pushed around in some Sisyphean quest to accept defeat. My mother told me that living with me when I was alternating between being hysterical and completely comatose was like living with an alcoholic who wasn’t drunk.

All the selfishness with a lot less booze.

Bipolar sufferers, when at their lowest and most self-pitying stages, are like smarmy reality-show contestants — we aren’t here to make friends. Depending on how it manifests (because everyone is awful in his or her own special way), you might be alternately too smelly, rude, angry, sad, violent, neglectful, selfish or obnoxious to love. Which is tragic, since typically the best indicator of being able to survive this disease is being able to care about something or someone bigger than yourself and how horrible you feel.

Even though I feel unconditional love, I always fear no one else does. Therefore I believe I have to earn the love I receive from others. I’m like a houseplant that lets you know it needs to be watered by throwing an elaborate party in your honor, then cleaning your house.

The only thing that kept me from being an a–hole was that I was convinced my mother and father wouldn’t put up with it and would abandon me.

Even though they explicitly said they never would.

I still pulled myself together by 2009 anyway. Just in case.

Not an Excuse

At a press conference following the hearing, Jackson Jr. attorney Reid Weingarten said Jackson’s health problems contributed to his crimes. “It turns out that Jesse has serious health issues,” he said. “Those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That’s not an excuse, that’s just a fact.” –the Chicago Tribune

When it was revealed that the Great Missing Jesse Jackson Jr. Mystery of 2012 was about the Mayo Clinic and bipolar disorder, I heard my fair share of people scoffing. And that was to be expected. People often conflate mental illness with the word “excuse” instead of “explanation.”

You don’t have to be bipolar to spend money that isn’t yours, lie to those closest to you, cheat on your spouse, be grossly irresponsible and blunder your way into one of Illinois’ many corrupt governor scandals, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

And you can be bipolar and hold down a job; be a productive citizen; help many people; be brilliant; and be successful, envied and admired.

Bipolar and success. Bipolar and failure. They aren’t mutually exclusive. One doesn’t cause the other; one is simply present no matter what environment surrounds it. One simply provides the shades of color the other comes in.