In the ancient world, and I am talking like the first books of the Old Testament here, pre-Illiad, Epic of Gilgamesh stuff, it was common practice for an army to march into battle with a statue of their god. In some cultures the statue was just a symbol, while other cultures believed the god lived inside of it. Another common practice was that the victor of the battle would carry away the statue as part of the spoils, literally saying ‘my god is better than your god’. And at times these statues were so invaluable to the society that the plundered city put priority on recovering the statue over rebuilding, like when Assyria destroyed Babylon in the Bible.
It may seem silly to us now, clearly no god was ever in any of those statues. They were, at best, symbols of a higher power, and could easily be remade. But the concept of holding man-made constructions of man-made ideas precious still resides deep within us. Why does burning a flag matter so much? Why do people ‘swear to god’ or on a Bible? Why are often the most effective military targets the largest cultural ones?
I think this is most evident today with words. In a lot of ways, words are the little god statues we carry with us into battle. And people like to get precious about them. When I say bipolar, I am owning that, I am placing that on myself, that word is in my corner. But if that word is taken from me, and used against me, then it becomes a tough pill to swallow.
I have talked a lot on this blog about the dangers of language. Misuse of mental health words can cause people to not seek help, or to feel even worse by being singled out. It leads to suicide, and poor treatment, and bad health. It can also lead to distrust, loss of jobs or responsibilities, can lead people to judge.
But that is pretty much where the stigma ends. Any power the misuse of those words has over you is brought on by no on other than you. I say that I am Bipolar. I don’t say that I have Bipolar, because it doesn’t always affect me. A person says ‘I am diabetic’, right? They don’t feel a stigma with that. They don’t feel ‘owned’ by their disease. They feel like they own it! I feel like I own my disease, just like I own any other aspect of my life.
This disease is not just happening to me, I am engaging with it.
And one day, when I feel that the fight is over, I can say ‘I beat my bipolar’, because it was my battle. My little statue that I bring into battle with me everyday, it stays in my corner. And if anyone ever tries to use that word against me, fine. It isn’t my loss. Any person that doesn’t realize I am more than the disease I have is not fighting the same battle I am, so why should I care what they think? As long as I own the word, no one can harm me.
No one can lay siege to my statue.
We have to remember that the word is not what is precious to us, it is the fight. Just like the Babylonian god did not reside within the statue, the power of the word does not reside within the letters that form it. It resides in us, our fight, our resolve. Try not to get too precious over man-made constructs, and remember to rebuild the city first.