“I’ve been blessed haven’t I? … because I’m able to experience life in sort of what some people describe as kind of extremes, it just gives me an opportunity to feel things and experience things that I wouldn’t otherwise do, simple as that.” If someone you just met were to tell you they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, most likely the first thoughts that would come to your mind would not be to make a remark congratulating them on their diagnosis; you would probably say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, that must be difficult to deal with.” While the 2.6% of the population diagnosed with bipolar disorder would almost certainly have their share of devastating stories to tell recounting depressive episodes or suicidal ideation, many people with bipolar also learn to view their illness as an asset to them. The unique perspective their illness gives them allows many people to not only accept the illness as a part of their individual identity, but to embrace it for what it contributes to their life as a whole, struggles and setbacks included.
While it is now a well-circulated fact that there is a link between bipolar and creativity, as there also seems to be with other mental illnesses, the reasons bipolar can be an important part of a patient’s identity extend well beyond creative advantages. Bipolar patients claim their illness allows them greater empathy for others going through similar situations, gives them a tenacity lacking in others who do not have to experience the same struggles, and gives them the motivation to focus on all parts of their overall health and well-being, including their physical health. One patient who wrote an article on her experience with bipolar as a mother of three implied that her bipolar has actually provided her with several advantages as a parent. Though she used to feel guilt over how her children would perceive her as they grew older and became more aware of her depressive episodes, she worked to change her own perspective of her illness and used her bipolar and her openness in discussing it with her children as a way to encourage them to examine their own emotional health and freely express how they feel.
The experts also have things to say about why a bipolar diagnosis does not need to be viewed as something that will only cause harm and suffering to the individual. Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, MD and author of the book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness, claims that the traits inherent in those with bipolar diagnoses could also be linked to greater leadership capabilities. According to Dr. Ghaemi, “Depression enhances empathy and realism and the mania enhances creativity and resilience … so when people have bipolar disorder, they have the full gamut of benefits.” Distinguished historical figures, like Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale, both known for their tenacity, their wit, and their leadership capabilities, were also plagued by both depressive episodes and periods of enhanced drive and motivation that were rumored to be signs of bipolar disorder. “A lot of the reason we can do what we do is not necessarily in spite of [having bipolar], it’s because of,” explains one bipolar patient.
While bipolar disorder is certainly a difficult diagnosis to deal with and the illness does not come without a very challenging set of trials and setbacks, bipolar does not need to be thought of as a life-ending diagnosis. Many patients learn to view bipolar as an important part of their identity and their personage, learning to cope with the illness by embracing all the parts that come with it, the wild manic episodes, the devastating depression, and the periods in between. And just as patients learn to cope with their bipolar symptoms by viewing them as more than simply a disadvantage or a disability, the same can be said for people with a whole range of mental illnesses, from anxiety to personality disorders to depression, that are just as stigmatized as bipolar. Learning to embrace this mindset can be helpful in dealing with their diagnosis, and in managing their mental and physical symptoms.
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National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder Among Adults. Retrieved on November 26, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/bipolar-disorder-among-adults.shtml
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International Bipolar Foundation. 5 Positives of Living With Bipolar Disorder (Besides Creativity). Retrieved on November 26, 2017, from http://ibpf.org/article/5-positives-living-bipolar-disorder-besides-creativity
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Forbes, E. Finding the Positive Side of Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved on November 26, 2017, from https://www.bphope.com/accentuate-the-positive/