KAGAN: In my culture and lineage, uh, people don’t really speak about mental illness very much.
There’s a lot of silence about it. People tend to sweep it under the carpet or hide it from the public. They’re ashamed if a family member has a mental illness.
Yeah, as a spokesperson, I find that I don’t mind calling myself mad or crazy. It’s a badge of honour, or pride. I say: “I’m crazy, crazy about life.” Or: “I’m mad, I’m mad about life.” There’s a sense of mad pride about it. But it’s different coming from someone without that lived experience.
I kind of call myself a born-again, out-of-the-closet, flaming manic depressive. Half-jokingly, you know, over the years as a spoken word slam poet, I’ve become known by my peers and my community as the bipolar poet laureate.
I think maybe the older generation there’s a greater sense of stigma and shame. ‘Cause I know of relatives who had mental illnesses and I didn’t find out about them until much later in life. Because they were almost kept a secret, you know, this secret taboo subject.
I have had, uh, in-laws tell their daughter – my ex-partner, my ex-girlfriend – that, you know: “Kagan is mentally ill. He has manic depression, which is a lifelong illness, an incurable illness. You know, if you had children, they would have a twenty percent chance of being mentally ill. Would you want that?”
Sometimes people are afraid to disclose that they have a mental illness because they’re afraid that they’ll be discriminated against. But, to be honest, I see it as a mutual litmus test, in terms of they might be discriminating against me but I’m also being discerning. So, it’s a way of weeding out the wheat from the chaff, separating the light from the darkness, the good from the bad, the positive from the negative, the people who are worth associating and people who I’d rather avoid. And the people that do remain tend to be more supportive, understanding, compassionate, kind, caring. Instead of having a legion of acquaintances, friends and family that you have a superficial relationship with, you can have a more authentic and genuine relationship with people who are more real and authentic with you.
It’s really interesting, people often talk about the stigma and the curse of mental illness, as if it’s a great burden, a cross to bear, you know. But what they don’t realize is with every negative there’s a positive, there’s a yin-yang to every relationship. People who suffer can empathize and relate to other people who have suffered. So, they extend themselves to others more. Um, hypomania for example can lead to incredible flights of fancy and inventiveness and creativity and some of my best work has come out of those states of consciousness. Obviously, people sometimes get addicted to the highs of hypomania or mania, and later on they crash and experience depression. But I’ve learned how to experience hypomania and bring myself down gently.
My mom, my mother, once said to me: “Of all the four sons that I’ve had, you’ve been dealt the worst hand… of all the cards… of all the brothers. But you’ve played your hand extremely well.”
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