The Gifts Of BipolarWhat is the nature of disability? What does the idea mean?
It is a statistical concept, I think. Which is to say, it is a measure of comparison. We can only be “disabled” in comparison to a group of others who have more ability on this particular measure.
Everyone can be considered “disabled” in comparison to someone else who is better abled than they are. Even those who are the best abled on some measure are certainly disabled on another. We simply can’t all be best or even good at everything.
So “Disability” is a social term. We place the label on skills where we have a general consensus that we must be able to do these things in order to have an acceptable quality of life. Of course, “acceptable” is a moving target. So are the sets of skills that are deemed “essential.”
The definition of a “disability” is a moving target. It is susceptible to different ideas. It is not inevitable. One person might think something is a disability and the next person might not consider it one. Outsiders might look on the disabled and label them disabled, but the person so labeled may not think they have any problem that is much different from anyone else.
Bipolar disorder is an example of a “disability” that might not be considered a disability by those with the diagnoses. In fact, we could go another step further, and say that some people with these “disabilities” might actually consider them valuable abilities.
I don’t consider my bipolar disorder to be a disability. It hasn’t really harmed me all that much. Yes, it led me close to suicide, but I didn’t kill myself and I got treated and now I’m just as capable as I ever was. More capable, in fact, because my journey through this illness actually taught me some very important things.
I didn’t know what else to do about it, other than to get what I could from it. I didn’t have a choice about having it, so I might as well see what it has to give me. As it happens: a lot!
So much so, that I am proud of having the disorder. I am proud of being crazy. Or at least of having crazy inside me. I don’t feel like I’m crazy, except in certain, positive ways. I think the disorder plays a role in my creativity. I was always willing to think differently, but now I use my disorder as an excuse to not stop myself from thinking the way I do. This kind of thinking is my strength, and if others don’t think it is a strength, at least it is entertaining, to me.
Bipolar is also associated with intelligence, whatever that is. I choose to think of it as an ability to solve more kinds of problems than most people can solve. It’s not up to me to say if I am intelligent, but I do think that the feedback I get justifies the idea that I am a pretty good problem solver.
If I didn’t have the genes for bipolar disorder, would I be as good a problem solver? Would I be as creative? I think there is a good chance that I wouldn’t be. So I can embrace this “disability” which for me, is a special ability.
There’s more than one way of looking at anything. If you’re depressed, you will look at things negatively. If not, positively. If I’m depressed, I will deny my abilities. I won’t even see them. They will become negatives: reasons to die.
There is nothing inevitable about how we look at ourselves. It’s up to us… our creativity… and our brain chemistry. We can choose to see things as we want, insofar as brain chemistry allows.
Brain chemistry can be changed. It can be changed by meds. It can be changed by social support. It can be changed by love. When I was sick, I instinctually sought out love. Perhaps it kept me alive until I could get a diagnosis and meds.
Therapy and yoga and exercise and meditation can also change brain chemistry. Belief (as in religious and/or spiritual belief) can change brain chemistry. I used all of these techniques to try to stay alive. I was committed. Even when I was ready to die, I was still committed to life. My mind was a strange place to be in those days. I never really wanted to die. I only wanted to stop the pain. Death seemed like the only way to do that, but I did not want to die. I don’t know if that makes sense. It was weird.
If someone came along and told me I could get some gene modifications that would reduce the risk of further episodes, would I take it? I don’t think so. I would be able to stop taking lithium, a chemical that could be killing my kidneys. But what would happen to my problem solving and my creativity? What would happen to those moments where I feel brilliant and clever? Where I can keep people laughing as if they had buttons to push to make them laugh?
Even a disability as seemingly bad as paralysis has gifts. I don’t know what they are. But a person who is paralyzed and who has the right attitude can tell us. Every human condition has gifts. The trick is learning how to see them, and not being pollyannaish, but in finding the sincere positive elements to any particular condition. Even torture gives us gifts, I believe.
This is not to say that I want to be paralyzed or tortured or to have bipolar. But if I have to be in these conditions, then I want to get something out of it because that’s the only way I know of surviving them.