Question: Are there advantages to being bipolar?
Answer: Yes, yes, yes, there are many advantages to being bipolar. To qualify my certitude in this matter I refer to nature, not to anything that is manmade. I believe that bipolar disorder as a classified mental illness is entirely manmade; the bipolar disorder sufferer, however, is not naturally mentally ill in the least. Was I deemed a bipolar when I was a child, an adolescent, a nineteen-year-old? No. But after I turned twenty, having completed my sophomore year of college, I suffered a severe mental breakdown, was hospitalized for seven months in a psychiatric facility, and only during that time was I diagnosed with bipolar disorder. What happened to the young man who had shown no signs or symptoms of bipolar disorder prior to his breakdown in the summer of 1986? Did he suddenly break out in a mentally-ill fever? Did he contract the disease from another bipolar? Did he forget how to be himself? No. His latent intolerance for most of the adult atmospheric influences in the world hadn't been tested when he was younger. College has its way of initiating young men and women in the urgent practice of adulthood, often way too early for them to know what that means or whether it is advisable. Too many images of immorality and carelessness, and self-indulgence crossed my line of vision before I was able to acknowledge what I was witnessing in the company of many classmates, who were not only leaving their childhoods behind them on campus - they were in essence leaving behind their innocence and their sense of childlike wonder. This to me was the beginning of bipolar disorder as a manmade mental illness.
If I could have known what baleful effects my college experiences would have on my consciousness and state of mind, maybe I would have self-prescribed an alternative to a conventional, private, liberal arts education. Knowing now that no one can anticipate his or her incapacity to manage unforeseen life experiences, I went the way of most bipolars: downward after the first violent wind of the world blows. Not much can be done to protect an incredibly sensitive person's regard of sacred life when he or she leaves home and begins to carry unwittingly some of the dark debris of others' expressions of adulthood.
Those years of reckoning the constitutional shaking of my sensibility are long past and I am now able to manage what I see, hear, and feel, without breaking down, showing bipolar disorder symptoms, or spending extended time in mental hospitals. At this deep, middle-age phase of life is where I see most clearly the advantages of bipolar disorder. I may not have been able to praise my condition as much before these last seven years of symptom-free life. The advantages of being a bipolar at fifty are the same advantages that I had as a non-bipolar when I was a child. We bipolars have thin skin, like most children do, and that is an advantage, if you know how to use it. I liken it to the parallel sensitivities of an eagle's eyes, a wolf's ears, a snake's tongue, a bear's nose, a spider's sense of touch. These animals are apex predators, not at all low on the food chain. Sensitivity is a strength to be practiced to near perfection by those who can use it to make their lives manageable, but more than that in my case - to make life extraordinarily fulfilling. To will one's self to see, hear, and feel deeply, when the world does not customarily produce beautiful sights, sounds, and interpersonal human expressions, is the clearest advantage that I have as a bipolar. The difference between my senses now and when I was in the throes of bipolar disorder symptoms for twenty-three straight years is that I didn't know that feeling life purely and deeply was such an ideal human state, until I didn't have to pay so dearly and so constantly for this thin skin. I learned over more than two decades that every sensitive creature on earth will suffer the threat of extinction if it denies itself the birthright or, in the case of animals as compared to humans, the instinct of self-protection. To have advantages as a bipolar is to take extreme care in the senses, to look, listen, and feel deeply, but to choose one's sights, sounds, and encounters (human and otherwise) carefully, just as an eagle, a wolf, a snake, a bear, and a spider might.
-The Blue Bear
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