K. Michelle, best known for fighting most of her cast mates on Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta told Joi-Marie McKenzie of ABC News Radio Online that this may be her last season on the show, but not her last season on reality TV. She alluded to possibly joining the New York cast of the popular reality franchise. Perhaps to also fight with everyone there, considering how wild cast members like Erica Mena, Raqi Thunda and Rashidah Ali can get.
But I can’t think about K. Michelle (or most reality show cast members) without thinking about how often the word “bipolar” is thrown around on these shows in relation to people like K. Michelle or Renee Graziano on Vh1’s “Mob Wives” or Kenya Moore on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” There’s no official diagnosis and definitely no real understanding of the disease. It’s simply become a lazy way to call fellow histrionic cast mates “crazy.” (Also, the world “bipolar” has the distinction of beginning with the letter “b,” causing for some punchy, crass alliteration with the word “bitch,” which is also thrown around a lot on these shows.)
But I honestly wish they would go back to saying crazy, since saying Renee, Kenya and K. Michelle are “Bipolar” do nothing for the real stigma people who live with this – at times – life threatening illness. It’s a serious diagnosis, not a joke. But you wouldn’t know it from reality TV.
As some may already know from reading my blogs on blacksnob.com and on BP Magazine’s Bipolar Blog, I live with Bipolar Disorder, Type II. For me, at times it has been life threatening as when you’re happy, you’re ecstatic, but when you’re depressed you’re near catatonic and my depression was devastating. Even right now I’m going through a bought of mild depression that has impacted my writing and productivity, but I’m managing through the support of my family, exercise, taking care of myself, therapy and medication.
The extreme behaviors of reality show participants (and the personality types these show attract) often have little to do with mental illness, yet cast members are quick to turn into amateur psychiatrists and diagnose their “out-of-control” peers, often ignoring the fact that the very nature of a reality show is to push people into emotionally intense situations to get the most extreme responses possible out of them.
Marriages often suffer on reality shows because in real life we don’t have cameras filming every moment, magnifying the flaws and fights that happen from time-to-time. But reality TV needs drama to get ratings, so pushing cast members into emotional frenzies are par for the course. Some need less pushing than others, but I can’t help to think of how Chrissy Lampkin, during the season two recap of Love & Hip Hop, refused to sit with Mona Scott-Young, the show’s producer. Lampkin was still upset that she was forced/tricked into being near a cast member she was feuding with 24 hours after she’d just gotten engaged. She went from being happy and touched to trying to Hulk Smash her fiancé’s former manager, Yandy Smith after explicitly telling Scott-Young she did not want to be placed in the same room as her.
These shows make me thing of how often, since high school, have we had to be around someone we didn’t like on a regular basis? Where they were unavoidable because you’re in a class together or assigned to the same home room? As adults if we don’t like someone we can easily stop seeing them, stop being around them and avoid them and they can do the same for us. But to call Kenya Moore “bipolar” when the show, by design, wants her to act this way, is wrong. She’s only doing what is demanded these days of people who come on these shows – be dramatic, be emotional, be fiery, be entertaining, be bitchy, because if you decide to “be boring” you will be off the show and out of a check.
So are these women “bipolar” or are they just high-strung people in high-strung situations, still hanging out in a televised high school by virtue of a nice payday and the business opportunities that come from being on a “hit” reality TV show?
Bipolar isn’t just another word for crazy, just like diabetes isn’t another word for “fat.” Because diabetes, as a disease, is much more complicated than the kind you get from being obese. There are different types of diabetes and they affect people in different ways. But no one goes around slinging the word “diabetic” as slang for overweight and out-of-shape because that seems ridiculous. It should also seem ridiculous to use something as complicated to diagnose as Bipolar Disorder as a catch-all for any and every bit of outrageous behavior. You can have Bipolar and be an introvert. You could have it and be an extrovert. You could lash out at others or you could be the type who only self-inflicts their pain. You could be living with the disease and perfectly functional. Or you could be at the whim of its cycles, riding those dangerous waves of mania and depression.
But it shouldn’t be the hip, new way to say “crazy,” and I wish the women of reality TV understood that.
Some of us are trying to live out here.