8 Reasons I Find Beauty in Bipolar Disorder
When I was a kid, I used to lie on my back and watch clouds, puffy and brilliant white, glide across the sky. They were constantly morphing, changing shapes: a dragon, a rabbit, a face. They were becoming something new over and over again. Even storm clouds, while gray and ominous, had their beauty, in that they promised rain the earth needed, and when they passed, the clear sky behind them seemed that much bluer and more beautiful.
That’s how I feel about having a mental health diagnosis, I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and I almost let it destroy me. Like storm clouds, it can be ominous and scary, especially in the beginning when I had no idea what I was dealing with. And I felt like I was always changing, becoming a new (and sometimes not improved) version of myself every day, or sometimes even every hour.
But over time, I have found many reasons why I wouldn’t give any of it up. It has taught me to see the silver lining in everything that happens to me, no matter how bad it is. There is even the smallest sliver of good that can come from anything– even if all I can say is “I survived, I am stronger, and now I can relate to and help others.” It’s this attitude that has helped me accept and embrace any challenge in life. And while I appreciate everyone’s journey and symptoms are different, and many people may wish their mental health issues away, I want to share the reasons I find beauty in my bipolar disorder.
I am more creative
I wasn’t surprised when I read that 30% of Pulitzer Prizewinning poets are Bipolar. From Van Gogh to Hemmingway, and Virginia Wolff, the list of creative people with some form of mental health issues is extensive. And those are just the ‘famous’ ones. There are likely thousands and thousands of us whose creative floodgates are unleashed during bouts of mania.
Why is this so? While there are several theories, one study published in nature.com’s nature and neuroscience journal concluded that people working in a creative field (dancing, acting, music, and writing) are up to 25% more likely than non-creative people to carry genes associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
And while I’ve certainly had my ups and downs with my mental health, one thing I can say is I’ve been able to tap into the avalanche of creative energy that comes with it. When my mind is on fire, my ideas, enthusiasm, and ability to pull it all off seems limitless. For me, I have been able to accomplish an unusual amount when I’m in that “sweet spot” or hypomania to be exact. True, my mind was once a chaotic and disorganized place, but once I learned to harness the creativity and direct it toward a goal, I can pursue the things I want in life.
I am less judgmental
Because I’ve been on the ugly end of some unfair judgment, I am now hyper-aware of the difficult circumstances of others. I believe once diagnosed with a debilitating illness; you inherit a deep sense of humility. I try not to feel superior to anyone, regardless of where they are on their journey toward self-healing and have enormous respect for those who are seeking to get better, no matter what methods they employ.
I can also appreciate the bare honesty of those challenged by mental health issues because I know how difficult it can be to accept your disorder and understand you aren’t a label but a unique individual who fears judgment, alienation, and stigmatization.
I am more empathetic
My mental illness didn’t just disrupt nerve cells in my brain and cause my depression; it also expanded my heart. I’ve learned to trust my intuition and read other people’s emotions more accurately. I feel it enables me almost to feel others’ pain almost vicariously and allows me to be a better listener, helper, and advocate for those going through the same highs and lows.
I am no longer afraid
I have found once I swing on the giant pendulum of a mood disorder, the fear of almost everything, including death itself, is muted to the point of non-existence. With both depression and mania, situations can still be somewhat alarming, but the fear that may cripple others is simply not there. Perhaps this is because I have been through it all, crossed that line of fear already, and now all I want to do is live life to the fullest. I’m not afraid to take risks, seize opportunities or jump into situations when I can’t always predict the outcome. I don’t let fear itself, steal my potential or opportunities anymore.
I am grateful
Like the blue sky after a storm, the joy and happiness that comes from a severe depressive episode are beautiful. But it often takes the absence of joy to be genuinely grateful for it when it returns. It also has made me grateful for the relationships it didn’t destroy, for the friends who didn’t run. For the life, I’ve managed to reclaim and renew. Because, as Brigette Nicole puts it, “Anyone can show up when you’re happy. But the ones who stay by your side when your heart falls apart, they are your true friends.”
I am more confident
With the recognition of my challenges have come a newfound confidence in myself. I am OK with who I am and proud of the strength I have gained. I can use the word “Proud” because I’ve taken the necessary steps toward mental health recovery but most of all accepting and love myself.
I am more focused
At times, I have a heightened sense of focus, allowing me to be extremely productive and accomplish things more efficiently. When coupled with confidence and creativity, there are certainly times when I feel almost unstoppable.
I can help others
Helping others, I think, is the real soul of why I wouldn’t trade my mental health. Because of the support I have received, it has allowed me to give help to others. I can relate to the struggle, anticipate the obstacles and sometimes even inspire those who may feel hopeless and like life has given up on them. Just as I have been inspired by others who have thrived in spite of the same, I do my best to be a light to those going through their dark days.
What all of this boil down to is acceptance. I have accepted my disorder, agreed to the fact there is no cure but there is recovery, and feel liberated. For 20 years, I tried to rationalize my behavior and its effect on my life, but that helped no one. Now I am learning to maintain balance through the recovery process and find beauty in bipolar disorder. Not just through medication and therapy, but through a holistic lifestyle, including meditation, exercise, proper nutrition, educating myself, and connecting with a healthy support network. Everyone else who is battling mental health issues deserves to enjoy a beautiful blue sky.