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Exotic in Thin Air (Part 5, the Andes Express)
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Picture This
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Stumbling through Memories
Exotic in Thin Air (Part One, Speechless)

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Life, viewed sideways. Emotions, amplified. Answers, questioned. Me, between the lines.

- A Wounded Heart, Who Can Bear?
- Drowning Under a Tidal Wave
- Clawing My Way to the Sunlight
- Yes, Santa Claus, There Is a Virginia
- Fugu
- Touching the Spirit
- A Hole in the Universe
- Riding on the Dreams of Others
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- What If the Man Behind the Curtain Is No Wizard After All?
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- Working With Broken Machines
- Happy Anniversary, Baby
- Standing on Stars
- Running the Film Backwards
- Identity Crisis ("Who am I?")
- Can We Ever Really Admit the Desires of Our Heart?
- Forgiveness is a Rare Thing
- Having Your Heart Caressed By the Creator
- Working With Broken Machines
- A New Leg to Stand On
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- Chatting With Infinity
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- We All Have a Great Capacity for Loss
- Brushed Lightly By Might Have Beens
- We See the World Through Our Own Looking Glass
- Every Storm Passes Eventually
- Accidents Can Introduce Destiny Into Our Lives
- Freedom Depends on the Walls Around Us
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- Innocent in the Big City
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- Picture This
- Running the Film Backwards
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- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 2, Taxi)
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- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 5, The Andes Express)

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"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)

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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Standing on Stars

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:

  • Edwin Landseer
  • Michaelangelo
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Francesca Goya
  • John Turner
  • Peter Paul Rubens
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Paul Gaugin
  • George Romney
  • Dante Gabriel Rosetti
  • Sir David Wilkie
  • William Blake

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:

  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Berlioz
  • Chopin
  • Elgar
  • Handel
  • Holtz
  • Lizst
  • Mozart
  • Mahler
  • Rachmaninoff
  • Rossini
  • Schuman
  • Tchaikovsky
  • Wagner

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
  • James Barrie
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • John Bunyon
  • Thomas Carlyle
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Charles Dickens
  • Alexander Dumas
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • James Grassic Gibbon
  • Maxim Gorsky
  • Kenneth Graham
  • Graham Greene
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • William James
  • Samuel Johnson
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Mark Twain
  • Thomas de Quincy
  • Tennessee Williams
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Virginia Wolff
  • Charles Baudelaire
  • William Blake
  • Rupert Brooke
  • Lord Byron
  • Robert Burns
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Oliver Goldsmith
  • Victor Hugo
  • Samuel Johnson
  • John Keats
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Robert Lowell
  • Boris Pasternak
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • Dylan Thomas
  • C.E. Chaffin
  • Patricia Cornwell

Scientists and inventors? Sure. Statistically people with bipolar disorder have higher than average IQ's:

  • Charles Darwin
  • Thomas Edison
  • Albert Einstein
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • James Watt

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:

  • Jeremy Brett
  • Vivien Leigh Butler
  • Peter Cook
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Tony Hancock
  • Howard Hughes
  • Margot Kidder
  • Martin Luther
  • Madonna
  • Spike Milligan
  • Liza Minneli
  • Florence Nightingale
  • John Ogden
  • Nicola Pagett
  • Axel Rose
  • Robin Williams
  • Ned Beatty
  • Maurice Benard
  • Lisa Nicole Carson
  • Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Carrie Fisher
  • Linda Hamilton
  • Kristy McNichol

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
  • Jimmie Piersall, athlete (baseball), sports announcer
  • Charley Pride, musician
  • Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), musician
  • Jeannie C. Riley, musician
  • Lynn Rivers, U.S. Congress
  • Alys Robi, vocalist (Canada)
  • Axl Rose, musician
  • Francesco Scavullo, artist, photographer
  • Lori Schiller, writer, educator
  • Frances Sherwood, writer
  • Scott Simmie, writer, journalist
  • Alonzo Spellman, athlete (football)
  • Muffin Spencer-Devlin, athlete (pro golf)
  • Gordon Sumner (Sting), musician, composer
  • Lili Taylor, actor
  • 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.

  1. 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.

  2. Second, many of the ideas that formed during manic and hypomanic phases may actually be good ones, and deserve a second and third look.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

Permalink: 2/19/2004 01:24:00 PM |
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