This bipolar life
Being bipolar (or manic depressive) is a blessing and a curse. First of all, for those who don't know, there are two main types of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar I: You suffer from manic episodes as well as depression
Bipolar II: You have hypomanic episodes (a milder form of mania) alternating with depression.
I am bipolar II, which means that my life is chock full of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Here are the main pros and cons of this illness:
MAJOR DEPRESSION: THE CONS
In my case, this is no little old case of the blues. I become psychotic, which means that I enter into a vegetative state. I become suicidal and delusional--and often very paranoid. I am completely in my own little nightmarish world of obsessively negative thoughts, which consist of horrible guilt (I've ruined everyone's life and/or career, as well as my own); suicidal ideation (mulling over my "preferred" method, which is jumping out a window); hopelessness (this will never get better); inability to think, function, speak, or get out of bed (going to the bathroom is the day's major accomplishment). I am all too aware that I have literally "lost my mind." It is sheer hell on earth. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
MAJOR DEPRESSION:THE PROS
The only one I can possibly think of is that I have developed a lot more empathy for those with mental illness, as well as others who struggle with life in general.
For instance, there was a Vice President at the university I used to work for. It seemed like she "had it all." After working there for decades, she had achieved a prestigious, respected position, had several children, a great apartment, and a boyfriend who was also a successful VP.
One day this woman, who lived in a university-owned building a block away from our office, went to her balcony and jumped.
When my colleages heard the news, they were naturally shocked and dismayed. But what infuriated me beyond all reason were the responses:
Oh, I'm so mad at her for doing this!
What a selfish thing to do! Think of her children.
Mind you, these were people who were colleagues of the woman: not close friends or relatives. So I said to one of my co-workers, who did not know the woman personally: "When you are in a deep depression, you can become delusional. You may think that your family is better off without you. She must have been in a great deal of pain."
How do I know? Because I've been there. I just never had the "guts" to carry out the jumping off a building part, for which I thank the Lord. But incidentally, in the last year or so there have been a rash of student suicides at the same university. All were jumpers.
For an example of how cruel and ignorant "normal people" can be, check out comments 7, 8, and 9 on "AA: Threat or Menace?"
HYPOMANIA: THE CONS
Since I "suffer" from a milder form of mania than the full blown variety, I can only speak authoritatively about this variation. In a nutshell, people with full blown psychotic mania might think they are superman and jump off a building--but not for the reasons my colleage did.
As far as hypomania, it is kind of like your brain is producing speed tabs, because that's what it feels like. You become euphoric. You have lots of energy. You don't need to sleep a lot. You are bursting with ideas.
Thanks to my hypomania, I did some very foolish and regrettable things. I alienated friends, family, and colleagues by being obnoxious and belligerent. I put down a $3000 deposit toward an elaborate wedding reception even though I had always eschewed marriage as being too bourgeois. (And since I didn't want children, what was the point? I lived with my ex-boyfriend for 20 years--longer than most marriages--without benefit of a piece of paper.) In any case the wedding plan was aborted after I plunged into another major depression. More recently, I almost bought a second coop which would have left me financially strapped.
HYPOMANIA: THE PROS
First of all, it feels good. And you don't want to listen to anyone who tells you you're manic. They can all go fly a kite. (In fact, that's a good idea...)
Your thoughts race a mile a minute. In my case, I start to get a zillion writing ideas faster than I can scribble them down. You have mind-blowing insights (or so you think). You feel invincible, brilliant. Life is a song.
If I had never experienced hypomania, I might never have had the nerve to push hard for a well-deserved, long overdue raise. I might never have pursued writing and getting published in major NYC papers over 90 times in 18 months. I might never have started this blog (is that a good or bad thing?) I might have continued to stay in a 20-year toxic relationship with my ex-boyfriend, instead of getting back into the dating world, meeting new people, and eventually finding my crazy and wonderful Bowleg Guy.
The thing with hypomania is that "sufferers" tends to walk a fine line between normal "high spirts" and creativity and plain old bad judgement. I found that at least as far as my work life was concerned, my hypomania served me well. I have read that many successful people and artists suffer from bipolar disorder, and many celebs are now coming out of the closet about their condition. So my supervisors loved my productivity and great ideas. One of them explained away my volatile temper by making allowances for the fact that I was creative--and everyone knows artists are tempermental. But he also told me I was scaring all my co-workers. And indeed, I was contemptous, insufferable, egotistical. I slammed doors a lot in explosive fits of rage. Some people continued to be wary of me for years after one of my hissy fits.
I may add more to this post later, but here are some links of interest:
A new book by John D. Gartner, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America, explores how hypomania leads to significant accomplishments, innovation, and creativity.
See also Celebrities with Bipolar Disorder
I hope some fellow bipolars will contribute some thoughts and share some experiences. But all are welcome to comment.