So I’ve officially had my condition since I was twenty-two, which means I have a few unpopular opinions about it. Chief among them is the idea that even in its manic state, Bipolar disorder has some advantages.
This took years of honing and perfecting coping strategies, but there was never any doubt in my mind or in the mind of my physician, as to the vast quantities of brain activity it unlocked. So, could I couple the predictability of a manic state and it’s demanding on mental and physical energy and turn into something productive, I might just end up with the opposite of a disability, especially as a creative person.
The key to this was an awareness of triggers and an ability to dissociate what was happening to my biochemistry from what I was aware of in my mind but there is a necessity to a have certain conditions in place in order to do this effectively. First but arguably not the most foremost, is medication. Whilst each individual responds to it differently, I know I can rely on medication to stem the flow of the worst of what a manic state can throw at my brain chemically. In fact, the simple act of taking the medication can add structure and give one the esteem that they are actually being accountable for what is happening to them.
Things get rather more complicated, however, when others try to account for that themselves. Needless to say, not only is Bipolar Disorder a condition that is very difficult for those who aren’t trained physicians to understand but it also manifests in each individual uniquely, bringing with it a unique set of habits and idiosyncrasies. Over the course of one’s life under the condition, you can expect a select few of those nearest and dearest to you to develop a degree of understanding but also a degree of worry that can often carry a negative impact.
This brings me to the second prerequisite of controlling a manic state, space. Space is an essential component that allows me to consider my environment and organize my thoughts. When those close to you want to intervene (or simply see how you are doing) it can often impact on the preservation of this simple precept. Moreover, the trigger for a manic state can in fact be a person in and of themselves or their behavior. When members of my immediate family have tried to keep surveillance over me or share a space with me out of concern for my safety, I’ve often had to plead with them to give me space and time I need – confrontations which indelibly worsen my stress levels.
The third need and one of the few cures for the stress are rest. To make a small concession, if not a total admittance of defeat and to get your head down. It’s a force multiplier for the other two techniques and is an effective way to compress time and conserve physical energy – though it’s addictive.
Once all of these conditions have been met, I can make a play to reclaim the mental lucidity from my manic state. Some of the best uses of this energy are found in the creative mindset, in writing in my case. For others, there’s anecdotal evidence of a wide variety of coping methods – to use a euphemistic term. Music, art, reading and singing all serve as an effective and cathartic outlet and none of them require the individual to put themselves or anyone around them in harm’s way, quite the contrary. Still, it’s a very fine line to tread between concentration and obsession but a healthy suspicion of ones one tendency and one’s own nature under the pressure of Bipolar’s symptoms has produced some of my must fulfilling creative endeavors.
Interestingly, this is a piece of self-awareness that seems to be acknowledged by some medical institutions and not others. Whilst I was residing in the United States, for example, I could rely on my ability to ‘sign in’ and ‘sign out’ of facilities that could provide the space, rest and medication I needed to get back to my old self productively, in my native Bangladesh this isn’t the case. Arguably it’s a sign of a dated approach that Bangladesh takes to certain little-understood illnesses but the inverse of this is that the United States, the home of ratified and codified mental health diagnoses, has a greater striving for treating conditions like Bipolar as both a public health concern and an individual set of symptoms.
The positive outlook from all this introspection then seems to be that whether it’s institutions, personal physicians, friends and family or indeed those who are new to their diagnoses and trying to better understand what they’re going through, we have less and fewer people to explain ourselves to. And when we have that degree of space, who knows what we can achieve.
By Lamia Islam