Mind games

26th July 2013 at 01:00

My husband thinks he's bipolar. I expect he'll grow out of it, like he did his previous delusions, such as thinking he was God's gift to women, a dab hand with a drill or the next George Clooney. Interestingly, his most depressive episodes coincide with our domestic to-do list; his darkest moods manifesting when I ask him to mow the lawn.

I find his self-diagnosis irritating, particularly as it's hard to refute. Three of the presenting symptoms for manic depression - overblown self-importance, irritability with people who don't share your ideas and spending all your money - have been there throughout our marriage, so it's hard to judge whether he is truly bipolar or simply a selfish git. Given the many glib claims they make about being "bipolar lite" or "on the Asperger's spectrum", I suspect men are simply looking for medical labels in order to get their own way.

The desire to be seen as barmy is not just a modern occurrence. Way back in 1827, Coleridge bragged, "I have a smack of Hamlet myself." Why he'd want to be associated with a dithering, self-absorbed serial killer with an Oedipus complex is anyone's guess. But in a similar egotistical vein, most men would sooner be seen as "Byronic" than "Keatsian"; in their league table of attractive manly traits, ploughing your half-sister's furrow beats writing odes to nightingales.

In recent times, our love affair with madness has spiralled out of control. It has been X-Factored on to the main stage and surrounded by backing singers, adoring fans and a confetti cannon. Warhol's dictum that one day everyone would be famous for 15 minutes failed to predict that this would be for their neurological disorders rather than their talents. Television companies are the main culprits. Schedules are bursting with programmes about people who eat too much, hoard too much or indulge in too much sex: it's a form of TV bedlam where obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers are paraded for public entertainment. And, embarrassingly, I'm one of its most ardent fans.

It's bizarre that I find the sight of people clambering over empty cat food tins to get to their front doors, or eating their own body weight in poppadoms such compelling viewing. Maybe because it makes the six packs of cheese I keep in the fridge or the three mountainous baskets of laundry that occupy the kitchen seem normal in comparison.

And now, thanks to Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, I've discovered a whole new compulsion: matching members of my school against a 20-point checklist for psychopathic disorders. The list reads like the person spec for a school senior management post: superficial charm (check); grandiose sense of self-worth (check); lack of empathy (check); parasitic lifestyle (check). Worryingly, it also describes my husband to a T. No doubt he'll use it as a future excuse for not emptying the bins.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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