A frequently asked question for me is the exact nature and number of learning difficulties I have. The formal diagnoses that I have lived with are: Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia. Respectively, they effect the extremes of mood and how they dominate my behavior and physiology, how I do or don’t respond to stimulus and how that makes me lose console of precise function or concentration and lastly (and most famously) there’s Dyslexia, which makes words tough, sometimes overwhelmingly so.

At first glance, there might not look like a great deal to be positive about but on the fringes where these illnesses end and I begin, there are a surprising number of perks. I was told that there would be a greater chance I’d have other more ‘mild’ learning difficulties. The link between Bipolar and learning difficulties was slight but present when I got my diagnoses, only for it to become stronger as time wore on.Now it’s established that any kind of ‘intellectual impairment’ counts as one of these afflictions and so often there are new ones lying on the edges of huge spectrums of symptoms that doctors have laid out.
It’s a factor of how doctors spot it, we knew I was born with this thing and that I would likely show more symptoms as I developed as a person. So while they watched for the symptoms of the new illnesses, so did I. In fact, I was looking at what traits would better inform the person I was and which unique little characteristics of the illness I could steal away for myself and use to my advantage. Teaching myself to do this was the cause for a lot of humor – not just strife. An early example was during my university days, where a manic episode, combined with the usual student lifestyle and diet could raise my energy levels to superhuman proportion – great for studying. Why assign a certain number of study hours each day when you don’t need to sleep? It was the start of a long history of freaking out my closest friends but in the best possible way and always with a smile on my face.

My next superpower would be Dyslexia, the ultimate excuse to dictate my writing and have the roam of the room, rather than staring at a screen. Or to watch the movie adaptation of a book rather than burn my mind with all of the walls of text. Because I pressed these advantages, the Dyslexia wasn’t enough to outweigh these benefits and I can carry these little pieces of empowerment forward with me.
ADD, on the other hand, could do a lot to make someone good company at a party, as could the manic states of excitement that come with Bipolar. More productively, the energy and striving it would fill mine with allowed me to throw myself into projects and the workload that comes with them – and incur the occasional headache for those that I work with.

At the end of a busy or stressful period like this, it was always paramount to bring me back down, to lessen my exposure to triggers or any way in which I might harm myself. As I empowered myself, I also learned to pull myself back down – or up and out of harm’s way. As I get older, I’m empowered by the impression that sooner or later I will possess only the positive aspects of these illnesses and reap the rewards of honing the unique set of symptoms I have into traits and characteristics and into sources of humour and productivity rather than letting all their negative aspects get on top of me.
The outlook is even more positive for those who have been diagnosed recently. I’ve made this point before – in relation to pediatric Bipolar – but teaching these strategies to children and infants means they have years and decades more than me to extract the positives and the fun from daily life with these illnesses. This pattern isn’t difficult to pick up at all – many of these illnesses are heriditary and we can be conscious of them appearing in the next generation as soon as we have confirmed knowledge of it in the current one.

When I see what my illnesses have learned to my interactions, to my understanding of the world and to my projects, I’m able to think of myself as having three gifts. This kind of positive reconciliation is also a gift we can give to those new to experiencing mental illness and it need not be the taboo it once was.

By Lamia Islam

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