Bipolar Does Not A Genius Make
I received an email today – something that is doing the rounds. The aim is to sell a book,
Apparently people with bipolar disorder are God’s gift to mankind.
I thought I’d write a summery, but it is just too tempting to share the cringe of the original, so I’ll quote the text I was sent.
“You are amazing. Many do not understand your bipolar nature; but
you can rest assured ...
The bipolar experience is no more than this:
A heroic soul born inhumanely sensitive,
desperately in need of true connection.
Add to your brutally sensitive soul the overwhelming need to
heal, create, and transform -- so that without the outpouring
of honesty, the creating of music or poetry or something of
meaning your very breath is cut off ...
You must create, must pour out your entire being in each and
every encounter. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency you do
not feel truly alive unless you are risking everything through
your divine expression.
Thank you for having the courage to create ... to transform ...
to be ... in a way other souls don't.
For without your courage and your light
the world would grow listless and dull
and the rest of us who are like you
would not have your courageous acts”
Checking against the above I surmise that I am mundane. I am also an unimaginative, insensitive, cynical, godless human being with a hardened soul and am a coward to boot.
Yet I have bipolar disorder - many years of treatment to control it has not done me any harm, which had I not been, certainly would have – and I cannot believe anyone could be irresponsible enough to air such utterly inane, unsubstantiated opinions as quoted.
I’ve been there – right after my diagnosis, struggling to validate my existence by optimistically comparing myself with those ‘bipolar’ celebrities whose names are floated on the Internet. Thinking myself special, thinking that I would change attitudes. I wanted to be another Mother Teresa.
I read all those ‘biographies’ of creative genius, - expressed in novels, poems, songs - all the angst, the misery, the suffering of the misunderstood soul, - that happily for the human love of tragic drama ended in delusions and the final self-destruction.
Instead of trying to face the reality of my unhealthy mind and concentrating on bringing it under control, I indulged thoughts of achieving greatness. I wasted valuable time and energy chasing a nonexistent goal.
So I’ll go out on a limb and say that writings like the above are dangerously tempting to people who have recently been diagnosed with bipolar to believe in. Because I know. At a time when they are totally vulnerable, fighting hard to find the strength to cope with living, trying to find an identity, in many cases facing social prejudices and stereotyping, these ideas are cruel traps. They glorify all that is unhealthy and ruinous.
You know what? I have come to the conclusion that I am an average human being with one or two above average aptitudes, the same as any other average human being.
I am no genius.
I don’t get an automatic entry into genius-land; in fact I would not even qualify for the qualifying rounds.
Bipolar disorder does not give me any special advantage or a head start.
Having a malfunctioning neurotransmitter affects my nature, but it makes me who I am – lock, stock and barrel.
It is an easy equation:
Isis + Bipolar = Isis with her own abilities who has bipolar
X + any incurable but controllable health concern = X with his/her own potentials who also has …
Bipolar is a mood disorder. The symptoms vary in aspect and degree.
I admit that when I am ever so slightly hypo-manic, I may function better than I would ordinarily, but it would be relative to my own abilities, not that of others.
That is the time when the limits of one’s talents can be stretched. But that limit is restricted to the individual’s potential - meaning I’d love to be A, but I cannot. I am a product of my genetic wiring and the environment, so I can only make the most of myself.
When there is a little more mania I begin to think I am the ultimate. I throw noisy tantrums, create major drama and think everybody else in the world is a nitwit.
All the while others think I am an embarrassing, arrogant, irritating imbecile that they can’t move away from quickly enough. They don’t tell me that, but when I touch down again, I know.
A full-blown manic episode, apart from making an undignified mess of me would knock me side ways and off the radar. I could pose violent danger to others and myself.
And when I am depressed? I am dysfunctional. I don’t want to wake up.
It seems there is nothing to look forward too, no hope for a future. My mind becomes frozen.
The depth of depression obliterates everything. Living so sorry, so pitiful a life seems not worth living.
So at neither extreme am I a gift to mankind. At both extremes I am apt to lose consciousness of even my existence.
Neither state makes a pretty picture.
But when I am a ‘normie’ I am rather pleasant. Average. With shinning eyes. Really.
The question always at the back of my mind is that when I am stable who is it that I really am?
Am I a personality created by the drugs or is this how I am genetically and environmentally meant to be? I never can be quite sure.
No ‘pundit’ yet has yet been able to convince me, so I am still chasing an answer.
Public figures with bipolar are often cited as how bipolar can make people into over achievers. But lets be realistic - they are who they are because of their talent, because of their drive, because they can make the most of where they are, and when they are there, and if you believe in the element of luck then put in some of that to the mix.
To avoid misunderstandings – while it is true that a person who is slightly hypo-manic can, in that window of time, seem to be driven, but the drive that a lot of people have has nothing to do with bipolar. My sister is driven and she is does not have bipolar. It is her nature.
I believe that bipolar disorder can and does stunt lives. I know a few of those lives.
I think that technically there can be people who are able to be objective about their moods, and can use the edge of the extra energy and keenness that comes with slight hypomania to be more productive and add an extra dimension to their life or work. But that kind of insight is very rare, and I have not come across it.
Needless to say it works both ways – positive or negative. One person can create while another destruct. That again reflects back to the source of their potentials. Also, the same person can be both positive and negative with a similar degree of manifestation at different times of their lives.
So lets not do injustice to those supremely gifted personalities.
Lets not put their achievement down to bipolar.
Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf were sublime writers who had bipolar disorder. Lord Byron, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Keats, and Sylvia Plath also suffered from manic depression.
Everybody knows that Vincent Van Gogh had bipolar disorder, as did Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Then there are Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.
Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, they battled with it all their lives.
But they all had the genius to do, and become, what they did.
Bipolar did not cause, create or control their talent.
They had bipolar.
Bipolar did not have them.
They also had genuine ability and talent.
So please, please, anybody who may be diagnosed with a health problem, any health problem - stop chasing the impossible. Concentrate on getting better and who knows, with a healthy body and mind you may well turn out to be a genius - a true genius, not because the illness has given it to you, but in spite of it.