If I did not understand how to function during depression or, worse yet, still clung to the notion that it is not possible, I would have been a burden to my family instead of an asset. Most people fear they will break down and become a burden on those around them or that their bipolar loved ones will break down and add to the already difficult situation.
Chock full of eminently practical advice on how to cope with the dangers of narcissism, in ourselves and others, Rethinking Narcissism brings much needed compassion and clarity to one of the most vexing problems in mental health without ever resorting to false hopes or naivete. In that way, the book itself is special. I consider it a ‘must read’ for everyone.
There is one specialized type of knowledge that trumps all of the others during states of mania and depression, knowing how to function while in the state. While all the other types of knowledge are interesting, knowing how to function can literally be the difference between life and death.
Manic-depression left a decisive scar across generations of my family. For each of us who bears that mark, moods have conferred advantage, as well as disability. I don’t mean the energy of hypomania. That’s a fun enough ride, while it lasts. But it’s nothing compared to the unexpected and enriching gifts of depression, like patience, humility, insight, and empathy.
Do you have bipolar disorder or know somebody who does? What would change if you could learn how to turn depression and mania on and off whenever you wanted to? The entire way we look at bipolar disorder would change in profound ways. Some are beyond most people’s imagination, but a simple illustration will help you to see why some of us say bipolar is an advantage.
The diagnosis of mental illness is the most dangerous time for many of us. Overwhelmed by fear, confusion and the numbing effect of over-medication, we are vulnerable to messages that can have long-term negative consequences. It was during my first months after diagnosis that I fell victim to the messages that perpetuate the myth that we cannot change our condition.
Always appending disorder to the word bipolar is akin to always appending accident to the end of automobile. In other words, saying “bipolar disorder” is the same as saying “car accident” every time you mention a car.
Robin Williams killed himself yesterday. I tried to kill myself August 8th of 2005 so I know perhaps a little bit about how he felt. My best friend Santiago killed himself in November 2005 so I also know what it feels like for those who are left behind to sort it out.
“It’s not their pain you are afraid of. It’s yours Charles. And as frightening as it may be, their pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it. Embrace it. It will make you more powerful that you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have - to bear their pain without breaking. It’s born from the most human power - Hope."
A few years ago I discovered a major breakthrough that has completely changed my life. It has brought my life into focus in many ways. I share it with you in hope that it will help you to see better too.
We all mentioned that the mainstream belief is that we would be triggered into uncontrolled depression if we saw anything sad; so, we should be watching comedies to help us get out of the depression. We concluded that we prefer sad movies because it helps us to explore the richness of the experience and become more clear about it; comedies seem inappropriate for the state.
One of the main stumbling blocks to getting Bipolar In Order is the belief that we have no choice in how we react. When presented with the fact that we do, I always hear “what about the times when it is too intense?” or “what about when I go to bed happy and wake up depressed?” “Surely we have no control then." We always have control when we learn how.
Bipolar people who have their condition in order have learned important lessons that can be applied to most of our experiences. For example, since we understand bipolar so well that we can function highly during depression and mania, we can also handle more intense states of anger without losing control.
When the APA finally changed their stance about homosexuality, the argument was the same one I make about bipolar: “Clearly homosexuality, per se, does not meet the requirements for a psychiatric disorder since, as noted above, many homosexuals are quite satisfied with their sexual orientation and demonstrate no generalized impairment in effectiveness or functioning.”
Individuals and organizations throughout the world are dedicated to the important work of removing the stigma that affects people with depression and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, too many of them are replacing one type of stigma with another type that is making the situation worse.
Mindfulness does not lead to happiness. It sometimes leads to greater experience of the very real pains we all have: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What mindfulness does lead to, though, is bliss. But in order to feel it you have to know the difference between happiness and bliss.
We get a lot of calls from parents who are looking for help with their bipolar children. We make great progress within the first few visits, but too often run into an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. While the bipolar issues are certainly part of the problem, the family dynamics are a bigger issue.
We all know about delusions that come with intense states of depression and mania, but it is the delusion that comes with remission that holds many back the most. It fools them into thinking they have bipolar under control when in reality they are just in one of the cycles. They seek help when least capable of using it and refuse help when they could benefit the most.
I attended a great presentation at the APA annual conference in San Francisco: Achievement, Innovation, and Leadership in the Affective Spectrum. Four distinguished panelists gave presentations about their research into why people with bipolar disorder tend to exhibit advantages in some parts of their lives. It was the first time ever that the APA had such a discussion.