Her Own Voice: Coming Out in Academia with Bipolar Disorder
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Autoethnography is a powerful tool for fleshing out one’s sense of self in context with other selves, for creating empathetic bonds between writer and reader, for interrogating difference, and for challenging the dominant narrative. For example, through autoethnographic research, one has the authority to confront pervasive stigmas linked to mental illness in academia, where mental illness is discussed largely in third person. As evidenced by the pervasive themes of narrative identity/reclamation in mental health rhetoric, there is space in English studies for both the genre and topic. Margaret Price, in her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life, discusses ways that persons with mental illness make rhetorical gains through writing. Further, Linda J. Morrison argues that narrative is essential to empowering the Mad studies movement. This thesis attempts to get at the ways a student-scholar can challenge misrepresentations of individual and group identity in the dominant narrative. In it, I bear down on issues of agency in self-representation by asking, how does a person with bipolar disorder carve out a narrative space for herself in a culture that shames, devalues, distrusts, or otherwise ignores the mentally ill? Because of the connections between mental illness, counternarratives, and “rhetoricability,” the author is positioned to help shift the conversation from rumor and “the chart” to language that is more inclusive and humanizing.