Bipolar Disorder is Not a Gift

I wish I could put more expletives in the title and still have it be acceptable through common social distribution channels. Bipolar Disorder is a brutal mental illness that can result in suicides, deaths, destroyed quality of life, abuse, substance abuse, destroyed relationships, and so much more. What ingenious think-tank decided it was a good idea to promote a mental illness that regularly features delusion as a gift to be cherished!?

And why is it, that every time I see one of these pieces come out of some advocacy group, they always use the most well-adjusted and healthy looking people to promote it? The last one I saw featured an aesthetically pleasing woman with a gleaming white, broad smile. Nary a trace of coffee or cigarette stain to be found! You know what that makes me think? They hired an actress and gave her a script.

Why not show the OTHER faces of Bipolar Disorder? The mentally ill that end up homeless? The mentally ill that end up disconnected from reality and turning their families inside out? The people that cycle in and out of mental institutions or prison?

I suppose “mental illness can be hell” isn’t as great of a promotional point and slogan.

I have to wonder what demographic of people they are trying to reach with this narrative. The people who are not diagnosed? That can’t be right because they wouldn’t have the context to understand the message. The people who are diagnosed but not seeking help? I don’t know about you, but it was a rare time I would have considered Bipolar Disorder a gift when I was alternating between suicidal depression and hypomanic instability and rage. That doesn’t seem right either.

The only groups it seems to be relevant to are the people who trend towards euphoric escalations and the artsy types who view mania as their muse. Or, maybe, they simply chose that angle because it has such a dominant narrative in Bipolar communities and social media groups around the internet? I don’t know, but it’s an ignorant message that I believe alienates more people than draws them in.

Why not present a realistic message? Why not something like: “Hey, Bipolar Disorder is a brutal, difficult mental illness that can destroy your life. Seek help so you don’t wind up insane, homeless, and with a family that hates you by the time you’re 50, assuming you don’t kill yourself by then, because you didn’t do shit to try to control it.”

And I feel reasonably certain I’m going to get angry comments from people who experience euphoria about how it feels so great and is their muse and blah blah blah. Just because something feels great doesn’t mean it’s good for you. If you have anyone in your life that loves and cares about you, I would be willing to bet money they are scared shitless during euphoric escalations because who knows where the limit is at?

Mania as a muse? No. Mania is a creative crutch that far too many Bipolar artists milk as their “tragic gift”. You want to create interesting, inspired art? Practice. It is so very common for unstable Bipolar people to circulate lists of artists or other creators as personal validation. And it’s not.

Those people were not special because of their mental illness. Those people were special in spite of their mental illness.

Bipolar Disorder is not a gift. It’s a challenge that needs to be controlled and overcome. And the stakes are far, far higher than any of those idiotic campaigns ever insinuate. Be greater than the Disorder by working with your mental health professionals to combat it.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking that the pain and misery of this mental illness is a gift to be cherished. It’s fucking not.


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20 Responses to Bipolar Disorder is Not a Gift

  1. Julie N. says:

    Wow. Love it

  2. Julie N. says:

    This is really timely for me right now, even though I have been of practicing too. Thank you, Dennis

    • Dennis says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Julie! It’s one of my irritations.

      Also, when you’re talking about mental illness online, do NOT use your full name. I edited your posts to remove it. Google will eventually associate your name with the posts and turn it up if someone were to Google your name; like a potential employer or family member.

  3. Rem says:

    People with bipolar , can they also become paranoid and think everyone is after them or would that be another disorder? Ty

    • Dennis says:

      That can happen during Bipolar escalation or extreme instability, Rem. For people with Bipolar Disorder, it typically goes away when the person’s mind restabilizes. If it doesn’t, then it may point to a different mental illness. If you (or your loved one) is having problems with paranoia, it is definitely something to discuss with the doctor as soon as possible.

  4. jo says:

    i love the realistic perspective. Besides medication, how does one combat this illness and overcome it? how can family members help them?

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Jo. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed my article.

      People with Bipolar Disorder needs more knowledge of how their mental illness affects THEM SPECIFICALLY. Because all of the generic information in the world really doesn’t mean a whole lot compared to how it functions and drives the person’s perspective and emotions. Therapy is a great place to start working this out, figuring out what may be triggers for unwellness, and learning management techniques that can help the person derail unwell thought processes before they take off into a full-blown cycle. I highly recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to about everyone; because it focuses on learning how to manage and affect your emotions and emotional responses. I feel like there’s a lot of normal people in the world that would benefit from that.

      If you want to suggest that to a loved one, don’t just say, “You should go to therapy.” Because a lot of people mentally equate therapy to just sitting around and talking about their problems; which a lot of us do not want to do. Instead, say something like, “Have you considered going to therapy to better learn how Bipolar Disorder affects you?” And then you can open the door to the conversation on how therapy can help the person manage their mental illness more effectively; assuming that they are diagnosed and accept that they are mentally ill.

      The absolute best way to help your loved one is to develop healthy boundaries and keep YOURSELF healthy. Why? Because Bipolar Disorder is for life. It’s a long, hard journey and it will take a toll on you as well. So, if you want to stay present and stay at that person’s side, make CERTAIN that you are taking care of yourself, too. There’s a lot of different ways to go about that. But, in my experience, quite a few supporters and family members have very poor boundaries because they want to be compassionate to their loved one. That’s fine, well and good. But, it’s very easy for Bipolar Disorder to overrun flimsy, poorly reinforced boundaries.

      As an example. These are some of mine.

      1. I will not sacrifice my own stability for another person. If I’m starting to get unstable, I will inform them and take a step back to work on myself.

      2. I am not here to save anyone. My goal is to enable people to better help themselves. I’m not going to do the work for them. I’m not going to beg or plead with them to do the right things. If they don’t want to, then that’s their choice.

      3. I will notify authorities if the situation requires it with zero apologies. One, I’m not qualified or certified to handle that. And two, it keeps manipulators from using the threat of suicide to manipulate me.

      These are hard and fast boundaries that allow me to stay healthy and doing what I do. You need some of your own, too. Everyone needs some because everyone has limits. You may want to talk to a counselor yourself for help in developing and enforcing yours. It can be a hard thing to do when someone you care about is suffering; but ultimately it is for the best for everyone involved.

  5. L says:

    Wow thank you for the honesty. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life and it’s the same thing. It’s not a curse or a gift it’s a condition like any other MEDICAL condition. It’s not to be taken lightly or made to seem glamorous, those of us who actually struggle with mental health issues know this.

    • Dennis says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, L!

      And you would be surprised at the number of people who struggle with it but don’t know it; particularly the high-functioning who are able to hold down careers but regularly blow their personal lives up on a regular basis. There can be a pretty wide divide thanks to the contributions of delusion and false feelings created by mental illness. It’s very unfortunate all around.

  6. Houstonia says:

    I think putting Bipolar Disorder in such a context is part of a larger, maybe societal change in the way we look at disorders.

    I think it might be an attempt to move away from the dark past of putting relatives in attics or “hospitals”, or the bullying and teasing of kids who were different in school.

    I have mixed feelings about it. I definitely want us, as a society, to embrace and respect and support people with disorders. But I think we also need to be responsible and research the causes and possible environmental causes and impacts of these disorders. Instead of saying, “I’m such-and-such and that’s the way God intended me to be” and just stopping there, how about saying, “I’m such-and-such and that’s the way God intended. BUT, it’s difficult and if I can help other people avoid it or find a cure, I’m going to do it.”

    If that makes sense?

    I mean, we look at things like diabetes as something we live with, but something we are trying to find a cure for. How come we can’t (or won’t) look at mental/emotional disorders the same way?

    • Dennis says:

      I would disagree with your original sentiment. I don’t think it is a part of a larger shift, because it’s not applicable to a majority of people with Bipolar Disorder. It’s really only applicable to moderate percentage. If I had to state a guess, I would say 10% or so. The problem is that it is an “easy” positive to try and associate the Disorder with. It’s clear, easy to point to, and the people with the platforms or who are functional enough to have resources to promote it push it because it makes them feel okay about it. But there are a whole lot of people with Bipolar Disorder who are not artistic or geniuses or whatever. And for every one “genius” there’s who knows how many thousands who can’t identify with that message at all because their quality of life or functionality is garbage.

      In my experience and from my observation, people don’t look at mental illness and physical illness as the same because they don’t fully grasp or appreciate the complexities of the human brain. It’s really strange to me how many people can’t wrap their own minds around the fact that a brain, much like a heart, kidney, or lung; can be diseased or just not built correctly. I suspect the reason is that most people are filtering their experiences through their own perception of reality if they don’t have enough experience to understand what they are looking at.

      As an example. Most people wouldn’t look at a severely manic person as “vulnerable” because they can be a ball of rage, impulsive decisions, and regularly on the offensive. Less knowledgeable people would write that person off as nuts, angry, or just fucked up. Whereas people that do understand the symptoms and how the mental illness drives the person understands that they are in a very vulnerable state, because the person isn’t able to think rationally at the time.

      I think the problem is just how intangible mental illness is to people that don’t experience it or understand it very well.

      That’s why I use so many analogies and metaphors in my work; to try and put things in a context that someone who doesn’t experience it can understand.

  7. lou says:

    Extremely well said. Couldn’t agree more.

  8. Jerry says:

    Lol …..this just came to me….
    You think the delusion they have and attempt to spread on the so called joys of bipolar….hmmm….in just wondering if these people are suffering from some kind of mental illness…

    Sounds like the beginning of some twisted cult that usually ends in mass death

    Personally I’ve never see anything positive from having an episode….usually the conquences are severe and damn well unrepairable.

    • Jerry says:

      As far god and the whole religion concept

      *sometimes in comfortable with the thought of God but usually in so mad at sometime beinging this way that i choose to distance myself from religion and just make it thru a whole day without any type of bullshit cyclin and that’s kinda hard to accomplish but doable on my mind…
      Why would someone want to eat an apple pie from someone when the first one they received was rotten

      Of course this is just my 2cents.

    • Dennis says:

      Eh, I wouldn’t go as far as it being a Jim Jones situation. But definitely yes on the mental illness part; Bipolar and all. Ha.

      There are some people with Bipolar Disorder who experience euphoria and grand feelings while escalated, where everything feels amazing. Sex is better, food tastes better, sensations are intensified. It’s an easy thing for some people to get addicted to. Then, you have the “creative” types who use their accelerated state to produce a bunch of art. When I’m hypomanic, I can write for 14 hours a day and not become mentally exhausted.

      Therein is a big problem with Bipolar Disorder. We all experience it in different ways, thus it can be hard to get people to understand it because once you think you know it, there are a bunch of other factors and considerations.

  9. Erin Dawn says:

    LOOOVE this! I am envious of people who say “I use my bipolar to write or create art”. I’m like “I use my bipolar to make excessive lists, create web sites in my head and post BS on facebook”. Thank you for your honesty.

  10. K.68 says:

    During my worst manic episode I felt like a creative genius…too bad I could barely read any of the pages of my handwriting HA. Definitely not a gift…my best writing occurred while I was stable…unstable I can barely function let alone think about being productive with any creativity I am feeling. Thanks for your honesty Dennis…right now being bipolar feels to me like a lifetime of emotional setbacks while struggling toward progress and stability in the face of much shame and guilt.

    • Dennis says:

      I hear that. When I’m hypomanic, I can write about 12 hours a day – and quite a lot of it is incomprehensible garbage of barely strung together thoughts that don’t make sense when I’m balanced.

      I had similar feelings about Bipolar Disorder early in my journey. This mental illness has cost me quite a lot over the years. The good news is that I eventually found peace with it, mostly by learning better ways of doing things and finding success in them. There are still some things I feel guilt and shame about though. Some wounds just end up burned in you and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it past continuing to move forward as much as you can.

      All you can do is the best you can. Sometimes it’ll be great, sometimes it won’t be.

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