I’ve known for a good few years that I have bipolar. It’s made itself very apparent during the course of my life.
I think there’s a lot of misconception and misunderstanding surrounding the topic of bipolar. The second I communicated to someone that I believed I had bipolar, attitudes towards me started changing.
It resulted in me denying that anything was wrong, it just turned into one massive head fuck to be honest, and I wished that I had never said anything about it.
I’m just gonna speak my piece on it because this is something that is always in the back of my mind to talk about despite how much I try to repress and run from it.
The stand out thing that really pissed me off about ever expressing my concern that I might have bipolar, is the way that people responded to it. All of a sudden, everything I did was either manic or depressive. People thought that they were entitled to tell me what was wrong with me and stop listening to me because clearly, I ‘was not in control’. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, its being condescended. That would piss anyone off, but because I’m bipolar, or perceived as bipolar, me having something to say about the way I’m being belittled renders me ‘mental’.
Though it is probably progressing with time, the treatment of people with mental illnesses is just stupid.
While I understand that mania or depression can make me insufferable to be around, it does honestly add fuel to the fire to react to my behaviours in this condescending way. As I understand my bipolar and integrate it into a healthy lifestyle, the one thing I will tell anyone wishing to express a concern to a bipolar person regarding their behaviour is to have understanding. Talk to them in a calm and rational manner. You can’t react to emotion with emotion, but you can rationalise with the irrational if you go about it correctly. Ask rather than tell a person how they’re feeling and co-operate.
It is in everyone’s best interest to communicate in a way which is rational, and understood. While it may be difficult to understand the way I’m acting, I still have my logic. I’m still a perfectly capable human being.
I watched a movie recently which really relit this passion within me to discuss this topic. It’s called a touch with fire, my Dad introduced it to me.
The film is directed and written by Paul Dalio, a man who himself has bipolar. It’s a based off of a book by Kay Redfield Jamison (another creator with bipolar) who explains bipolar from a different perspective. I recommend watching. For me personally, it helped me to accept the way that I am perceived by some people, and it helped me identify with some behaviours.
Thomas Szasz is a psychologist who theorised ‘the myth of mental illnesses’. I love this theory. He basically says that the idea that we’ve labelled people and categorised them into being ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ is absurd. People just are who they are. If we were to accept people for who they are, and understand/ come to terms with a way that we can relate to each other, there would be far less conflict, or shame, or aggressiveness to deal with.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t receive help to reach equilibrium. It’s just to say that we shouldn’t disregard what people have to say simply because they have a ‘mental illness’.
The fact of the matter is, we’re just people. Of course, we’re all going to be different. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
What is Bipolar?
For me, that which we call ‘bipolar’ is a heightened awareness of the duality within this world, and I see it as a gift. Not to romanticise mental illness, but to accept me for who I am.
Accepting it allows me to use it to my advantage. We’re just sensitive. I’m not gonna wear the ‘I’m ill badge’ because that’s just not what I want to identify as. I want to wear the ‘I’m improving and learning everyday’ badge. Educating myself on the ‘illness’ helps me do that.
With bipolar, there is mania and there is depression.
There is an equilibrium which we are actually capable of experiencing if we maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. It just takes us more effort (and in some cases, medication) to get there.
Manic episodes feel like you’re on top of the world. Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love being manic. It feels amazing, it just eradicates all fear. Everything makes sense, you feel like you can do anything. You don’t doubt yourself, and you just don’t give a shit. It’s just so comfortable to be hyper.
Manic episodes can make us really difficult to be around though. Because we are so engulfed in our reality, we can lose our ability to communicate effectively with people. We can lose our sense of self awareness, and it can be hard for us to understand why people are acting a certain way towards us.
What goes up, must come down.
Depressive episodes are very painful. During a period of depression, I can’t see past what I’m experiencing in that current moment, which is just total abyss and feeling lost. I find that I usually become depressed because I become aware of a reality outside of my vision, and it makes me feel lost and it makes me struggle to get to grips with my place in the world. It makes you think in a really profound way.
Bipolar and Art
As highlighted by ‘touched with fire’, both the book and the movie, there is one thing that an unusually big chunk of successful artists have in common.
Amy Winehouse, Vincent Van Gough, Russell Brand, Ada Lovelace, Robert Munsch, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Albert Einstein, Florence Nightingale, Sinead O’Connor. The list goes on.
Here’s my take on why I think this is.
We experience extremes, we learn from it, and we create with it. The challenging bit is connecting back to self. We absorb so much from the external that we lose sight of self.
As I get to grips with my bipolar and accept it as part of my identity, I learn how to deal with it. More specifically, I learn how to integrate it and use it to my advantage.
I may have bipolar, which means my emotions are heightened, but I also have an undeniably logical mind which allows me to see things for what they are.
The interference which makes me come across as ‘mental’ is the way that my emotions respond to the logic, and whether I act on them.
Usually, my emotions are so overpowering that I do.
It’s the way that I respond to them which determines what I make of these episodes.
Mania eradicates fear and gives you energy. You do not doubt yourself. You just listen to yourself. Either you go with it or numb it.
Attempting to numb it is self-destructive and usually results in substance abuse which lands you in a depressive episode. It’s not worth doing.
Going with it is the more effective option, but you need to use your logic to determine how this will work.
(If necessary, do take prescribed medication. I cannot stress enough how much I am not discouraging anyone from taking medication if they really need it.)
The reason why these creators and artists are so successful is because their emotions were so strong that the only thing left for them to do is pour all of that fire into their art. The mania gave them a go getter attitude which ultimately connects with people and lands them in success.
Use that mania to do something, don’t use it to bombard people with messages or blame people for the way things are. Don’t numb it, don’t use it to act out and do something that you know full well you’ll regret later. If you have enough logic left in you, use it. Create with it. Own it.
Make art with the mania.
What goes up must come down, but depressive episodes are not a healthy way of grounding yourself.
Here is where it’s time to disassociate from your art and try to come to balance with the bigger picture. Accepting things for what they are, and asking ‘how can I be okay with this?’
Bipolar is a really complex thing, and it’s okay to need help.
The art is an expression, it’s not complete truth. It’s your perception, which can be changed.
Utilising your mania in a productive way will lessen the hell to pay when the scales are balanced out. There’s less shit to clean up. Depression may become less intense. Not for all, but for some.
(Again, this is just my 2 cents on the topic. My word is not gospel.)
When you stop worsening your imbalance by consuming excessive amounts of substances which mess with your brain chemistry, the depression will become less impactful.
Stop running from yourself and accept what is.
Depression is also caused by a degree of narcissism. Struggling to see how any perception that isn’t yours may be true. Struggling to understand a reality which doesn’t affect your emotion in some way. At least that’s what I have found.
With every cycle I go through, I learn something new.
I am made aware of another aspect of my life that I need to find balance in. Work and life, art and logic, passion and balance, fun and discipline. Myself and the world.
If I didn’t have bipolar, I doubt that I would constantly be on this journey striving to be the best version of me possible. I love having that challenge, it gives me a sense of meaning and purpose in life. We shouldn’t feel bad for that.
I’m not here to fix depression, or bipolar, or anything like that. I’m just here to talk about it. I just want to encourage people to accept themselves and learn to work with whatever cards you’ve been dealt, because I know how shit it can feel.