The Gifts Of Bipolar

What 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.
wundayatta wundayatta
56-60, M
13 Responses Feb 21, 2012

Oh my gosh, I'm almost crying. Today I've been manic depressive and just wanting to die but wanting to live. I'm printing this and taking it with me because you're right, in some ways it is a gift. I never saw it that way before. Thank you.

I would agree that the hypomanic mood fosters glibness and cause creative juices to flow and heightens our awareness of those abilities. But I dread the mood swings that are inevitable for me. My manic highs went beyond creative and I lost a marriage and went to prison because of these true crazy highs. My hypomanics do not reach the distorted heights of that craziness that I have seen in my severe high moods. Then there is the inevitable drop to the depths of depression where I have had 5 suicide attempts, badly burning myself in one. I understand the point being made and the attractiveness of the creative opportunities but would give up those temporary creative moods for normalcy. I know for certain from experience i will hit uncollected highs and lows.

I think you are right. This is a gift. But it can be a dark gift, too. I spent years not living up to my potential because I was so ill with depression. However, if I weren't like this, I wouldn't be as brilliant as I can be when I'm at my best, or as interesting, or as passionate. So is it an illness? For me, I think it is, to some extent. But it's also a mindset that I've lived with, often uncomfortably but sometimes with great joy.

At any rate, thank you for your thoughts. They've been inspiring.

I loved the post, it brings me hope. I love beng manic at times.

This was a very beautiful post to read.

One attribute of bipolarism that I love possessing is the confidence that accompanies mania. If I did not have this confidence, I wouldn't take the big risks that I seem prone to taking. Whereas some risks may be harmful, most risks I end up taking are extremely rewarding.

The only problem is that some view my heightened confidence as narcissism or grandiosity.

Perception can be debilitating -- whether its how we perceive ourselves or how other perceive us. You say tomato, I say tomato. You say narcissism, I say confidence. You say manic episode, I say creative enlightenment.

Before I was diagnosed, I just though I was different -- weird. But, now it's nice to know that I'm not alone :)


Wonderfully put and states my opinions feelings and thinking exactly Be proud to be Bipolar and the rest is easier Life is meant to be led Bipolar or not and I am just learning to love and live my life dispite having a "disability" Thanx for this story enlightening and very well said

i found this very revealing into some of my own mechanisms of thought, i spend each day running further from the origins to find control of that special power, but each time you feel it in your grasp the the laws of the world send you hurling back to the depths of your hole, so we start again forever and ever i will never sacrifice the creativity for sanity all i hope is to put enough content into the world that maybe someone somehow takes the good and uses it to better themselves for i have hurt enough people already and i know this brain modification shall claim my life someday. the worst part is noone i know even understands what is me becuase that would be painfully unbearable to accept.

thumbs up. not much more i can say. you've taken the words out of my mouth.<br />
try doing the same with your depression : ) take the same concept you abstracted in this story and apply it to your depression.

I totally agree with you and have been the minority for so long for thinking this way about being Bipolar by both "normal" people people with other issues and other Bipolars Is there an answer that then can understand There is always the comment I have met stupid Bipolars I am creative and I am not Bipolar all the who says you are it shows in everything I do I attempt the impossible and achieve it but I am considered disabled unable to do any sort of work at all Yet I can write be creative with my hands mind and have control a lot of the time even though I am unstable I advocate for myself I have casemanagers who do nothing but gather information about me and I am tired of them Sick and time of the place where I put myself in because of high rent and now I want out but I put myself there and have to get my way out Do I have a disability yes according to Social Security Hud The doctor and the other people in my environment But I consider them gifts also and I would never never take a pill that would cure me of my Bipolar disorder I am happy with my life I have had to learn things the hard way But is not it that way for everyone I am Bipolar and proud of it Thanks for letting me vent a little Great story

I too am somewhat ambivalent about what I would do if there were a "cure" discovered. Part of me says, "Screw the creativity, you could unchain yourself from your meds, stay up all night if you want, get off this roller coaster!" But another, perhaps deeper, part says, "But what if your bipolar brain chemistry is what makes you YOU? What if you gain a cure but lose your unique self?"<br />
Luckily that is not a trade-off I foresee ever being called on to make. So I work with things the way they are. My meds keep me within normal limits, but I still have my imagination and creative spark. I still have what makes me ME. I'd never want to go back to the hell I was in before being diagnosed and finding the right meds, but I'd never want to be just another drone like so many "sane" people seem to be. Maybe I have it about as good as could be right now.

i think it is important to do what's necessary at the time in the different states of the disorder ,i've learnt to be kind to myself when i'm depressed ,i meditate ,or go find some peace and tranquilty in nature ,when i'm manic , i'll exercise, walk the dog ,write story's ,play guitar /drums ,put my creative mind to use it's all about chanelling your energy's in a positive way ..

I agree to a great extent. I have said for a long time that the world is simply not made for people like me. If it was, I could be amazing and I wouldn't be the only one who knew it

Rated up. :)

Well written it's always our mind set that makes us successful.