According to curetogether.com, which aggregates the responses of thousands of patients.
1 – Creativity. Visual arts, performance, writing, music; in all the arts bipolar talent is common and sometimes exceptional. Patty Duke, Ernest Hemingway, Trent Reznor, Sylvia Plath, many more. The link between bipolar disorder and creativity is well-established, though further study is needed. One research finding: as many as 60% of people with bipolar disorders are writers.
2 – Energy. Not sleeping for two or three days without feeling effects is even better than modafanil (Provigil). People take all sorts of stimulants attempting to experience similar energy; if you could bottle this symptom of mania and hypomania, you’d make a mint.
3 – Exuberance. Kay Redfield Jamison, prominent psychiatrist who studies and has bipolar, wrote the book Exuberance: The Passion For Life in celebration of the passion and joy in mania and hypomania. “Exuberance,” Jamison says, “is an abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion.” And it’s contagious. Bipolar disorder spreads happiness; think Mary Poppins.
4 – Unlike Mary (well, we don’t know for sure), lust a.k.a. “hypersexuality” is also a prominent feature of hypomania. People with bipolar disorders tend to be dazzling, passionate and adventurous lovers.
5 – Perspective on emotions. What goes up, must come down, and back up again. Viewing life and issues from both ends makes you more philosophical about the meaning of things. Would this matter when not depressed? Would that seem a good idea when stable? Emotions become illusory flavourings.
6 – Proof of the biological basis of mental illness, especially this one but it disproves dualism in general. More scientific evidence and ongoing research plus personal anecdotes asserting internal causes and correlates of depression and hypo/mania (as well as some environmental interactions, it’s not totally reductionist) than you could ever hope to read. Hands down, no debate here, it’s physical.
7 – Lots of bipolar celebrities. “Did you know so-and-so had bipolar disorder?” is an easy conversation starter, raising an eyebrow, implicitly comparing yourself to Marilyn Monroe, Florence Nightingale or Winston Churchill.
8 – Depth of experience. You’ll not meet more experienced, well-travelled, multi-dimensional people. Exceptional and often unusual stories to share. Could be because people with bipolar disorders, so often adventurous, tend to be high-achievers and leaders with above average intelligence.
9 – Courage. Tied in with bravado and gradiosity, at its most severe it can be dangerous risk-taking, but at its best it’s inspiring and heroic.
10 – Depression. What’s good about depression, you ask? Light needs shadow, and the most profound understanding includes both. It illuminates the whole human experience.
Poem that received honorable mention at the 2013 Adult Mental Health Poetry Contest sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services Mental Health and Substance Abuse Division
by Judy Eron
Jim and I, we had a life that you would not believe.
Found at once what it takes others lifetimes to achieve.
He said he had found his twin; I said much the same about him.
It worked well for me and Jim—for me and Jim and lithium.
Four pink capsules every day. He said it saved his life.
Thirteen hundred milligrams, and it was joy to be his wife.
Love is strong and love can last, but mania can kick love’s ass,
Which mania did to me and Jim, when he stopped his lithium.
I know Jim stopped his medicine, longing for the high,
Forgetting all the messes that his illness would intensify.
I tried to help but all in vain; I had no chance against his brain.
I’d have moved the earth for him. But I was just not lithium.
We missed the chance to have the talks that likely could have led
To a plan to deal with what would happen if he stopped his meds.
If Jim were here, he would have cared and helped others be more prepared.
Believe me, you’d have loved that Jim—the one who took his lithium.
By Sonnet Fitzgerald
I have bipolar 1, and when I am really manic I can even go into psychosis. My mental illness is pretty severe. (And that’s ON medication, which I take every day.) However, as my psychologist says about me, I “present very well.” This means that to most people, it’s not apparent on meeting me or talking to me that I have a mental illness at all.
Actually, now that I think about it, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of mental illnesses wouldn’t be apparent to the casual observer. I mean it’s not like you get a little “crazy geiger counter” pinned to your lapel that starts to click and beep if your neurons are starting to misfire or your seratonin levels are dropping. When we picture obvious mental illness, like people shuffling about talking to themselves, we’re usually thinking about schizophrenia if I am not mistaken. That leaves a whole heck of a lot of other diagnoses that can affect you without people stopping in the street to do a double take and whisper “look at the crazy person” behind their hands.
A mood disorder is just that: It affects your mood. Your mental and emotional state get all scrambled up. That can be excruciating to deal with, but it doesn’t make you do crazy things. It just feels bad.
I know I tend to go all ‘gatekeeper’ on my symptoms. I try not to expose the people around me to the worst of my symptoms, so when I am feeling off, I stay home and isolate myself quite a bit until I have recovered my footing. When I am feeling hypomanic, people think I’m just cheerful and funny and I sure do get a lot done! None of that signals “mentally ill” to most people. If I have a major problem, I call my doctors or even take myself to the hospital – people in my circles don’t see or deal with me when I’m in those states, because I get help right away. I wonder if this is the same for you? You have symptoms, but you get very good at managing them in a social sense: at hiding the worst of it from those around you. It’s not a bad thing, it can be a great coping skill actually, unless you are using it to avoid treatment in the first place.
I will give you a word of caution: Once you become good at presenting well and keeping up a normal life, people get quite shocked when they find out you have bipolar, and I have encountered some people in my life who were almost offended by my diagnosis. They don’t believe it and seem to think that I’m making it all up. Which is amazingly difficult to do with a team of three psychologists, psychiatrists, and a hospital involved (not to mention my health insurance) but hey! You just might want to prepare yourself for that a bit. At first it’s this fear that anyone will find out. Then you tell people and they don’t believe you anyway. Bugger all.
In any case. It doesn’t hurt anything to get yourself checked out. I mean, say you go to a healthcare professional of some sort and explain your symptoms and they say, “Nope, not bipolar at all, you sound very normal.” Well then you haven’t lost anything – you can put your concern aside and breathe a little easier and know you’ve got nothing to worry about. And if you do have bipolar, you can start figuring out treatment that will help you feel a bit better. So win-win, really.
I felt really bad when I met Eric Clapton at a Test match at Lord’s a couple of years ago. Not bad as in depressed; in fact, I was rather happy. But bad in that since 3 March 1996, I have always associated Eric Clapton with deep depression, and a desire to match up dead feelings inside with an external reality – aka a suicidal thought.
It wasn’t his fault. He was his usual brilliant self, delighting thousands in a packed Albert Hall. It wasn’t my fault either. I was just depressed. Seven out of 10 depressed. I grade my depressions. Eight and a half is can’t-get-out-of-bed bad. Nine is can’t open my eyes, dress, shave, brush my teeth. At seven out of 10, with Clapton getting the rest of the crowd going, I could not hide how low I felt. Conversation was impossible. Other people’s enjoyment and laughter drove me down. Any attempt to draw me in served only to push me further away. I recorded in my diary that halfway through I said I was going for a pee, and went off on my own, hanging around outside. I was “just disengaged, dead inside, and desperate to get home. It was a real ‘life is a bitch and then you die’ moment”.
That was the moment I thought of when I heard Stephen Fry’s observation that sometimes he can be laughing and joking as he presents QI and inside he is thinking: “I wish I was f**king dead.”
I wished I was dead when Eric Clapton did “Layla”. Again, no offence Eric, and I felt especially bad that it was his concert that was driving me down, he having suffered what I imagine to be the greatest loss of all, that of a child. But when the depressive downward spiral hits, there is nothing you can do to stop it, and everything you try just seems to make it worse.
I knew I shouldn’t have gone, but I also knew that would disappoint friends who had invited us, and I was already disappointing my partner Fiona who could tell I was mid-plunge. She thought maybe going out would help. I knew that it wouldn’t, and the moment we left the house, I longed for the evening to be over. I am often asked by families of depressives if there is anything they should do to help. Be there for them when it starts, I say. Be there for them when it is over. Don’t make them do things they don’t want to in between. Don’t tell them to pull themselves together. Do suggest they get proper professional help. I ignored that one for many years.
Fiona and I have a rhythm with my depressions now. I tell her it has struck. It helps to tells someone. She asks what triggered it. I say I don’t know. She suggests I go and see the man I go to see when I get depressed. I go. Sometimes I take medication – which I hate taking, but it does help – sometimes I tough it out. Always, I know it won’t be the last time. It is part of who I am.
“Real struggle to get out of bed,” I recorded of the morning after the Clapton concert. As he, his wife and I sat watching the cricket, I thought about telling him about that awful night, but decided against. I find it hard to describe depression when, as now, I am not depressed. It is the mental health equivalent of childbirth. You have to forget, or else you wouldn’t be able to face it again.
I have faced it many times, though for years I drowned it out in drink, and perhaps at other times crowded it out with work. You hope it helps that you can say to yourself: “You have been through this before, you can do it again.” But when the moment comes, when you know that depressive cloud is moving in, and you cannot stave it off, and it is going to enter your head, your chest, your guts, your legs, your toes, your bones, your teeth and every fibre of mind and body, it is like the first time all over again. Dead and alive at the same time.
Stephen Fry said that perhaps if he had children, it might make him less suicidal when in the depths of a depression. He is probably right. I can’t remember how much I thought of my children when Clapton was performing, but I know I will have done. They are adults now, and I know that when they were young it was an unfair burden to place on them, but they were the only ones whose company could sometimes lift me when I was down.
Yet, of course, some parents do kill themselves. I remember several years ago, a leading politician telling me a friend had taken his own life, and the politician had harsh words for this act of “cowardice and cruelty”.
We ended up having a row. “Who are you to say he was a coward?” Back came the answer. “He had a good job, a nice house, great wife, two lovely sons – what did he have to be depressed about?” We hear it less than we used to, but hear it we do. Stephen Fry is often called a national treasure. He is clever, witty, hugely successful, massively popular. So “what does he have to be depressed about?” Nothing. He just is.
It is to change the attitudes of those who think “what does Stephen Fry have to be depressed about?” that the Time to Change campaign exists. We are a long way from the goal of parity of understanding and treatment of physical and mental health. You would never say: “What does he have to be cancerous about, diabetic about, asthmatic about?” That bloody Stephen Fry, always going on about his rheumatoid arthritis, his club foot, his bronchitis, his Crohn’s disease.
Nobody ever gets blamed for getting physical illness – even when those illnesses do result from lifestyle choices – so why on earth do we still talk about depression like it is the fault, and the lifestyle choice, of the depressive? Believe me, nobody who has had it would choose it for themselves, nor wish it on their worst enemy.
My wife has a small YouTube channel and recently shared her story with Bipolar. I thought it was incredibly brave and I’m really proud of her for doing this. For the record, we’ve been happily married for almost 2 years and have known each other for 4. I couldn’t picture my life turning out any other way or with any other person.
By Maria Diaz
Here is a common scene: I go to my friendly neighborhood chain retail store. I wander the aisles and pick up chips, a bag of Lindt truffles, a totally useless item like a Pedi-Egg or serenity fountain, an Essie polish in a futile attempt to do my own nails, and I finally head to the back, to the pharmacist, to pick up my bimonthly dose of antipsychotics.
The pharmacy clerk always gives me the once-over once I make my way to the counter. Sometimes they speak in a hushed tone usually only reserved for Plan B purchases. “Lithobid?” they ask, referring to my medication by its brand name, in an attempt to be discreet. I nod yes.
The bottle they hand me however, makes no such pretenses: it calls my crazy out, plain as day and is marked Lithium Carbonate in big, bold letters.
Admitting you take lithium is not an easy thing to do. Even in our happy pill-popping times, lithium is seen as the final frontier of brain meds, instantly lobotomizing those that take it and turning them into a zombie.
Lithium is for BATSHIT INSANE people, not for girls like me.
It turns out, lithium IS for girls like me, girls diagnosed with bipolar 2 (this is also called “soft bipolar” and just reminds me of softcore porn).
Girls who thought that it was just their luck they spent most of their life depressed and anxious. Girls who felt weird impulses every once in a while where they didn’t sleep, spent lots of money, and suddenly became much more interested in pursuing sex only to be followed by months of panic attacks and can’t-get-out-of-bed sadness. Girls like me need lithium very much.
I’ve been on lithium for almost a year now. Sometimes my hands shake. Sometimes the room spins. If I don’t take that little fucker with food, I pay for it later.
If I don’t drink enough water, it makes me feel hungover without the added benefit of getting drunk. Sometimes it makes me really fucking tired. But as long as I can obsessively reload Twitter, I don’t consider myself a zombie of any kind.
When I tell people Im on lithium, they either act like they don’t care, or they express concern that it’s “gotten so bad.” The truth is, it had gotten that bad.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 at the age of 29, and tried three other medications before settling on lithium. Within two months, I knew that lithium was my medication soul mate, I knew she was “the one.”
As it turns out, lithium is pretty fucking cool. It pulled me out of an extremely deep depression where I was convinced that my life was effectively over at 29. It gave me the ability to think clearly. The cobwebs that had built up in my brain from years and years of untreated mental illness just started to disappear.
For the first time since I was 13, I was not fighting a constant, pervasive, low-grade depression. I was not casually thinking of suicide every day.
This is one of the weirdest parts of mental illness; what I think separates me from someone without a fucked-up brain. I used to think of dying constantly. Sometimes I would jaywalk and barely miss a car hitting me, and I would think, “It wouldn’t be so bad if that car hit me. At least then this would be over.”
When the lithium really hit, I stopped thinking these things.
In “An Unquiet Mind,” Kay Jamison’s bipolar memoir, one of her rules for lithium users is to keep your medication hidden, so lovers who come over don’t see the bottle and assume the worst. For the past year, I’ve told a few friends I take it, and they’re never sure what to say.
One friend asked to see the pills up close, like you’d ask to see an engagement ring. I’ve told a couple men about it, and none of them seemed too fazed. Then again, I tend to date men who are either similarly medicated or in dire need of medication themselves, so it ain’t no thing.
But, still, I feel that shame sometimes. The shame of needing this medication, and the shame of being “crazy.”
So many people worry they’ll lose some essence of themselves when they take psychiatric medication. For me, the parts of myself I have given up to lithium are not the parts that are worth saving.
Living in constant depression is painful, but when you live it your whole life, it becomes comfortable. Conversely, the person I was when I was hypomanic can be fun, but she is mostly incredibly anxious. She doesn’t sleep, she paces up and down the apartment, she melts down at any sign of rejection, and spills out her Xanax on the kitchen counter and lines it up, “just in case.”
They’re not worth sticking by. I’ll probably have to take lithium or some form of psychiatric medication for the rest of my life, unless I want to fall down the black holes of bipolar disorder over and over again. I’ve already lost so much of my life to it.
Instead of thinking of what medication is taking from me, I like to think of what it’s giving me, what I have yet to uncover because of it.
At this point, I’m done being ashamed about a pill that saved my life, or a biological disorder that I was probably destined to have thanks to my genetics.
This is the real me, with a little help.