Bipolar. So much stigma is attached to this condition. But why? The link between Bipolar Disorder and creative genius/acumen is well established within the scientific community. One of my heroes, Kay Redfield-Jamison, distinguished professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, has written volumes on the subject. She is not just a researcher, not just a brilliant educator, but a fellow Bipolar Disorder peer. She is refreshingly candid and upbeat about her condition. Her books “An Unquiet Mind” and “Touched With Fire” are must reads for anyone wanting to understand the disorder.
As I look out on the sea of my fellow peers with this condition, I can’t help but wonder where the stigma came from. Yes, we are at times unstable and erratic. Yes, we are at times tortured by our own minds. Yes, we are at times excessive. At times despondent. We are at one moment high on life, the next in the trenches, dodging mental bullets of despair and heartache. But…..
Where would the arts be without these experiences? Would Jimi Hendrix’s guitar melodies be as haunting, had he not known the depth of so many emotions? Would Robin Williams have been as quick-witted, as profound, had he not dealt with racing thoughts and tangential ideas? Would Catherine Zeta-Jones and Carrie Fisher have been able to portray such a variety of characters and emotions with such grace and insight? What about Scott Stapp, from Creed? Is there any question that he can create moods with his voice, lyrics, and delivery that make us feel EXACTLY what he is communicating? It is almost as if Bipolar Disorder is the spice that enhances the flavor of the arts. As such, we owe it a debt of gratitude, and respect.
Am I glorifying suffering and making light of an often devastating condition? No, just as I would never condone the treatment and suffering that haunted Dr. Martin Luther King, yet strengthened him. Endless suffering and instability and non-conducive environments are neither welcome nor glorified, for they lead to devastation. The strength, dignity, courage, and determination that create the greatness and genius that result from these experiences, however, are most beneficial and admirable. Besides, treatment for the disorder in no way hampers the creative muse that lives within each artist touched by Bipolar Disorder. To the contrary, as Kay Redfield Jamison points out, it gives them the stability to see their projects through, and helps them to stick around longer, thus blessing the world exponentially with their gifts.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Bipolar Disorder does not define us. It has, however, contributed in many beneficial ways to our personhood. Society benefits from that.
Oh yes, there is a beauty in Bipolar. If you have it, you are among the elite. You are “touched with fire”. Hold your head up high. Wear your crown. Embrace it!