Bipolar disorder is too often demonized as a horrible mental illness to live with. Oftentimes, that characterization can be true, especially if a person is in the depths of depression or the highs of a manic episode.
But sometimes, there are good things about bipolar disorder too. And they get short-shrift in the narrative about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder, day in and day out.
Here are my top 10 things that I think are terrific about bipolar disorder.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Possible 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Depression. What’s good about depression, you ask? Light needs shadow, and the most profound understanding includes both. It illuminates the whole human experience.
Your experience may differ, and I respect that. But for me, these are the things that bring me hope in living with bipolar disorder.