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Bipolar and Brilliant

I just finished Haldol and Hyacinths, by Melody Moezzi, and it is one of the best memoirs on bipolar disorder that I have ever read. A lawyer and human rights activist, Moezzi talks about how her passion and aspirations come from the same place that her mania and psychosis come from, and sometimes it is difficult to separate the two.  

In An Unquiet Mind, the gold standard of bipolar memoirs, psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison says the same thing: that she was the most productive and most brilliant on the way to mania–until she became psychotic.

From personal experience I would argue that it’s true that for some people, it’s a thin line between brilliance and mania. I have never reached the heights of brilliance and mania that Moezzi and Jamison describe, but I know what it’s like to walk that line between sanity and insanity.  Most of the time I stay on the side where I know the rules and try to follow them as obsessively as possible.

But there have been periods where I have had one foot in this world and one foot in the other.  A world where the lines between black and white, good and bad, and reality and fantasy are blurred. I have had some of my best insights at those times, but I was also the most reckless during those periods. It is both freeing and dangerous.

At those times, I pay close attention to where I’m standing and do my best to maintain my balance.

Three of the six people in my family are bipolar, and they have all been described as the kind of people who light up a room when they walk in.  But when they are manic their light is blinding, and they can no longer see how they are hurting themselves and other people with their actions.

Sometimes people with bipolar disorder don’t want to take their meds because they don’t want to dull their creative side.  And it’s true that when you’ve reached the peak of mania the drugs you take are meant to put out the fire, so they dampen everything for awhile.

But there’s a lot you can do to keep from crossing that line.  There are a lot of things that are in your control.  You can be honest about your diagnosis.  You can be compliant with treatment.  You can pay attention to the warning signs and intervene right away.

It often takes a person with bipolar disorder many years before they can reach this place of self-acceptance, as these authors demonstrate.  But they also demonstrate that you can still be brilliant when you’re stable.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

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