“I Am” vs. “I Have”

Sometime between my childhood and my adulthood, the terminology of the culture around me changed. When I was a kid, the world was “I am:” I am bipolar. The people in my life were defined by those things too: the bipolar kid, the blind guy, the weird dude.

By the time I entered the workforce, that was now offensive. The guy was no longer “the blind guy;” he was “the person who is blind.” I wasn’t “the bipolar kid,” I was “the person who has bipolar disorder.”

The shift in verbiage is so minor, but it speaks volumes to me. While we’re advocating for people to accept mental and physical disabilities, we’re also in a way separating ourselves from our afflictions. I have to wonder if it’s because in the dark recesses of our minds we consider those identities negative.

It’s bizarre. “She’s bipolar” is negative to the point of insulting for some people, but “she has bipolar disorder” is somehow more positive even though it all means the same thing in the end: there are chemicals doing a rather annoying dance within my brain that might cause me to binge on activity and creativity for 48 hours straight or sit in catatonic depression until someone literally drags me to my feet.

I’m curious. I know there’s quite of a few people who follow this blog that are part of the mental health community: what’s your take on this cultural change? And for my writer followers: have you ever developed characters who identify in one of these two ways? I’d love to know.

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