"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Standing on Stars
idea Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin, from Greek, from idein to see -- more at WIT
1 a : a transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations b : a standard of perfection : IDEAL c : a plan for action : DESIGN
2 : a formulated thought or opinion
3 : thoughts and plans generated in people with bipolar, by the bucketful
I can vividly remember my first moment of doubt, the first moment I realized that there was a stranger in the mirror of my mind.
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder, particularly when it is made later in life as mine was, is a life shattering event for anyone. Beyond the obvious difficulties of learning to live with the meds and repairing the damage done before diagnosis, there is even a more integral problem.
You no longer have any idea who you are.
At diagnosis, a person has been functioning for some time with what I call a "broken thinker." He or she has probably been operating under some false assumptions and pursuing some grandiose goals. It is only natural and human to sit back and say to yourself, "Whoa! I can't really do these things!"
And that's wrong. As a person with bipolar disorder, you can do these things. Your dreams can happen. Now I'm going to tell you why, when everything around you says it is impossible, you can pull it off.
Even though you are ill.
Actually, make that because you are ill.
Statistically, study after study has reached the same conclusion. People with bipolar disorder are far more creative, as a group, than the general population. This creativity frequently expresses itself in artistic endeavors, for example the following artists had/have the illness:
Vincent Van Gogh
Peter Paul Rubens
Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Sir David Wilkie
And its not just artists. Here is a list of composers, who reportedly did their very best and most creative work while they were experiencing the mood swings of bipolar disorder:
Writers and poets aren't excluded either. Here are some who were able to harness the intensity of their moods and create incredible works of prose and poetry:
Honore` de Balzac
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
F. Scott Fitzgerald
James Grassic Gibbon
Robert Louis Stevenson
Thomas de Quincy
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
T. S. Eliot
Edgar Allan Poe
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Scientists and inventors? Sure. Statistically people with bipolar disorder have higher than average IQ's:
Sir Isaac Newton
Actors and musicians are a natural occupation for a group of people who end up "on stage" every day of their lives. Here are some who have taken that talent and made a living with it:
Vivien Leigh Butler
St. Francis of Assisi
Lisa Nicole Carson
Robert Downey, Jr.
And a few other names you may recognize:
Buzz Aldrin, astronaut
Shelley Beattie, athlete (bodybuilding, sailing), artist
Robert Boorstin, writer, special assistant to Pres. Clinton, State Department
Art Buchwald, writer, humorist
Tim Burton, artist, movie director
Robert Campeau, financier (Canada)
Dick Cavett, writer, media personality
Rosemary Clooney, singer
Garnet Coleman, legislator (Texas)
Francis Ford Coppola, director
John Daly, athlete (golf)
Kitty Dukakis, former First Lady of Massachusetts
Patty Duke (Anna Duke Pearce), actor, writer
Thomas Eagleton, lawyer, former U.S. Senator
Robert Evans, film producer
Larry Flynt, magazine publisher
Connie Francis, actor, musician
Kaye Gibbons, writer
Kit Gingrich, Newt's Mom
Shecky Greene, comedian, actor
Kristin Hersh, musician
Jack Irons, musician
Kay Redfield Jamison, psychologist, writer
Daniel Johnston, musician
Margot Kidder, actor
Peter Nolan Lawrence, writer (England)
Rika Lesser, writer, translator
Bill Lichtenstein, producer (TV & radio)
Jay Marvin, radio personality, writer
Kevin McDonald, comedian, actor
Dimitri Mihalas, scientist
Kate Millett, writer, artist
Spike Milligan, comic actor, writer
John Mulheren, financier (U.S.)
Robert Munsch, writer
Ilie Nastase, athlete (tennis), politician
Margo Orum, writer
Nicola Pagett, actor
Susan Panico (Susan Dime-Meenan), business executive
Jean-Claude Van Damme, athlete (martial arts), actor
Mark Vonnegut, doctor, writer
Sol Wachtler, judge, writer
Tom Waits, musician, composer
Brian Wilson, musician (Beach Boys), composer, arranger
Jonathan Winters, comedian, actor, writer, artist
Luther Wright, athlete (basketball)
At first glance, this looks like a list that spans every area of life and achievement, and it does. But there is a common basic thread that ties each of these people together, a common reason for their individual successes.
By the bucketful.
Perhaps it is because, as people who have bipolar disorder, we spend our lives fighting our disease (and thereby learning how to struggle) and then combine that tenaciousness with our ability to intuitively see farther and clearer than other people, particularly during a hypomanic or a manic phase when we have what feels like unlimited energy and drive.
In other words, we can and do come up with grandiose ideas. The silver lining is that a lot of us can make these dreams come true. Check out the lists above. They all did it.
I have seen figures that say that up to 80% of poets and writers have bipolar disorder or major depression. Compare that to the fact that less than 1% of the general population has bipolar.
So, it all boils down to the initial question....after I find this out, who am I? I've had a year to work through this, and this is what I have learned so far.
First of all, I am still all of the good parts of the person I was before my diagnosis. If I was good at something, I still am. If I had a particular talent, I still do. If I was capable, I still am. This is something I lost track of for a while.
Second, many of the ideas that formed during manic and hypomanic phases may actually be good ones, and deserve a second and third look.
Lots of other people have harnessed this thing, and so can I. It's not a death sentence, it can be controlled in most cases.
I can learn to recognize the "flags" that tell me that I am entering one phase or another of my illness, and get help before anything is really out of whack.
What we are is not what has happened to us.
And that, my friend, is who I am, so far.
Glad ta meet ya.
As a person with bipolar, at times I can feel deeper, think faster, see farther and have more energy than a lot of people. All because of some brain chemicals.
We place stars in the sky, and then we have the ability within us to travel there and stand on them. We really do.
We really do.
The most powerful factors in the world are clear ideas in the minds of energetic men of good will.
J. Arthur Thomson