A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. What About ‘Indigo Rose’?


By including manic depression, AKA bipolar disorder, within its purview, the writers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have finessed the issue of whether bipolar disorder is an illness, i.e., a mental illness, or a disorder, i.e., a mental disorder. They seem to be favoring the ‘disorder’ label even though within the DSM they refer to it often enough as a mental illness. So which is  it, a disorder or an illness? It seems to me that we who are atrabiliously disposed should be the ones to decide this, this our affliction. our condition. Some professor at UCLA, whose name escapes me at the moment announced to the scientific world couple of years ago that in fact it isn’t an illness. I apologize for not being able to remember his reasons for saying that, but never mind. I think the writers of the DSM favor this view, too, for within its pages they often put quotes around the designation mental illness.

I recently ran across yet another name for it in Howard Becker’s “Outsiders”, in the chapter on labelling theory. He used the term “mental difficulty.”  “We see that activities thought deviant often require elaborate networks of cooperation such as could hardly be sustained by people suffering from disabling mental difficulties.” Other possibilities abound:  disease, infection, complaint, condition, affliction, malady, sickness, illness, ailment, infirmity, irregularity. Malady has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It has about it connotations of suffering, no? And I find that most satisfying. Some others don’t mince words:  derangement, insanity, madness, unbalance, but these seem so negative to me, so tainted with stigma. The fact that the DSM long ago finessed this whole issue by labeling it a “disorder” has occurred to me, of course, but for the moment I’m choosing to ignore that.

At a recent pdoc appointment, I looked across the desk at my pdoc and announced to him that I was “insane,” something that only recently occurred to me. I wasn’t expressing an opinion as much as I was testing the waters, so to speak. I wanted to see his reaction, for I expected, or  half expected or hoped anyway that he’d demur at it, that he’d reassure me that I wasn’t insane or words to that effect. but no, he didn’t. He just nodded his head in agreement, with maybe a faint smile glimmering there for the briefest of moments on a face which is usually devoid of any expression that could be construed as judgmental. I was disappointed. So, dear boys and girls, what say you? What shall we call this thing, “this hidden impulse, this incalculable force –this thing [we] care for and [don’t] talk about—oh what is it?” This last is a fairly accurate paraphrase of something Virginia Woolf wrote in “Day and Night.”

Well, in the end, to quote Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So, then, instead of referring to it as bipolar disorder, what say we refer to it as the “indigo rose?” A mighty smiting thing, this indigo rose, for sure.

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