I see a lot of articles that attempt to explain “the good side” to having bipolar.
They mention things like creativity, and focus, and drive, empathy, compassion, and strength.
All of that is bullshit.
I have yet to meet a bipolar person that would honestly describe themselves as any of those things. I’ll start from the back and work towards the most repulsive:
No one that is bipolar feels strong. Sure, you could argue that having been through deep depressions or mind-frazzling highs requires strength. But I never summoned up my strength and pulled through; I cowered in bed and cried until it was over. I don’t feel less fear about the prospect of doing it again, and I certainly don’t consider myself to be stronger than other people that haven’t spent a week in bed crying.
Compassion and Empathy are certainly something that you could imagine comes with the territory of suffering through some pain. This is a bit of a mixed bag. Some people are overly so, constantly concerned with how others are doing. But this can also be part of the disease. Most people though, myself included, are far too vapid to care about others around them, especially other bipolars.
Focus and drive are the opposite of what you have if you are bipolar. Bipolar crushes these parts of you. At my times of remission, I have been a very focused and driven person, always achieving success in academics even at high levels, or accomplishing what most do not with my musical pursuits. But any hint of the disease that those things are the first to go. It is impossible to focus on a goal when you don’t want to wake up in the morning, especially when you are actively praying their wont be a morning to wake up to. Even more so if you don’t even realize there will be another night coming (it gets difficult in a manic state to understand time). No drive, no focus, these are the opposite of bipolar.
Creativity is the most common benefit linked to bipolar (all mental illness really). It is true, and unexplained, that there is a higher rate of creativity within the bipolar community than the ‘normal’ community. That is to say, where bipolar affects about 2.5% of adults in this country, while the artistic community is… well…. supposedly higher, maybe, we think, basically we know that Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, and Hemmingway were challenged in various ways. So we make an assumption based on that, I think. You would think that psych wards of hospitals would be full of creative people, they are not.
Virgina Woolf is an interesting case, one that is backed up by Sylvia Plath, where she was incredibly stable and productive for practically all of the years that she created important works. Plath went on to kill herself, unfortunately. But her creative years appear to be years of remission.
That is basically all you hear about this disgusting correlation: the highest points of creativity comes from points of stability during remission or transitioning into a hypo-manic state.
So basically, when these people aren’t being affected by bipolar? Great. Maybe you should put that in the headline next time.
There is some new research that might link a physical deformation o the brain to bipolar disorder, moving it from a mental illness to a physical one, which is interesting. I’m not totally well versed in this but it appears that there might be diminished regulation of systems that affect the subcortical communication processes. They believe this might be due to an enlarged amygdala and damaged striatum. Basically, your brain does not transmit information correctly. These portions of the brain also control self-control, decision making, and emotions.
Why do I tell you this now and not in its own essay? Because it is possible that bipolar people get into creative fields at higher rates because they are less inclined to be worried about failing, or less concerned with what other people think. They might be interested in the field at the same rate as everyone else, but have less inhibitions regarding working in it. And that would be where the disparity comes from.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am my most creative when I am also cycling out of a depressed mood and into a hypo-manic state. I am practically never creative (at least not that is any good) in a depressed state, and it is far too difficult to do anything in a manic state. So basically, I am most creative when the disease is affecting me least. My longest period of unbridled creativity was design school, where I was creating architecture, photography, and making music at unprecedented rates that I have not been able to replicate since. That was also my longest period of remission. Just proves my point.
There are no good things about being bipolar, with the singular exception of perspective, which takes years to achieve, regardless of the depth of your suffering. A cancer survivor would invariably give you a ‘perspective’ answer when asked what good things come with the disease. Bipolar is not some magical ailment that makes life better and in turn makes you a better person for having it. It is a terrifying sickness that maims all that it touches and should never be glorified or romanticized by its involvement with positive aspect that people try to attach to it to make it a less scary thing.
It sucks, in every way, move on.