Friday, August 15, 2014

The Bipolar Advantage

Before I knew that I had bipolar disorder I considered myself to be a quirky, fun loving, and highly motivated person. I never thought of myself as mentally ill. It was only from reading an abnormal psychology textbook while going to college did I discover that I had the symptoms of a psychological disorder. Before that time, I went through life thinking that I was unique. I loved feeling that I was like no other. I embraced my differences. To me, it meant that I was special.

If I would never have taken that class, I would have gone though my life blissfully ignorant believing that I was extraordinary. Instead, having the label of bipolar disorder bestowed upon me has stifled my zest for life. I was told that my behavior was abnormal and I needed to be medicated. Medication has changed my outlook on life. I do not feel the euphoria of mania. I no longer feel the release of the pain I felt by overcoming a depression. The parts of myself that I valued most have been taken away. It is deeply painful knowing that I had to destroy the attributes that made me exceptional in order to blend in with society.
Normal is boring. I do not find the same joy in life. I miss the old me. The experience of losing what I consider to be the "real" me is heartbreaking. I am devastated. I wish that I could go back in time.

While in college I wrote a formal research paper on bipolar disorder. I concentrated on the benefits connected with having the illness as much as I could. The following few paragraphs are edited excerpts from my paper. 

Tracy Pedersen's website article "Benefits of Bipolar Disorder?" described a study where some individuals experience positive effects with having bipolar disorder. Researchers investigated evidence and reported that some people value certain experiences associated with the disorder and would prefer to retain their condition. Some of the aspects of this illness can be considered highly valuable attributes in some people. The ability to achieve at high levels of success is extremely rewarding. One of the participants declared, "It's almost as if it opens up something in the brain that isn't otherwise there, and I see color much more vividly than I used to...So I think that my access to music and art are something for which I'm grateful to bipolar for enhancing. It's almost as if it's a magnifying glass that sits between that and myself." Some people believe that positive benefits could be acquired from the low points as well, such as having increased empathy for the suffering of others.

In her book, Touched with Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D. cited many works of people throughout history who suffered from bipolar disorder. She described work from numerous famous people, both literal and visual artists. According to journals and medical records at the time of their lives, she showed the likelihood of the person having the disorder and how their moods affected their personal and professional lives. She documented their productivity and quality of work depending on the state of mood they were experiencing during the creative process. Artistic temperament can be closely associated with a characteristic of manic depression. “Another argument set forth against an association between ‘madness’ and artistic creativity is that a bit of madness and turmoil is part and parcel of the artistic temperament, and the artists are just more sensitive to life and the experiences of life than are other people.” (90) Some of the famous people that were mentioned are poet Edgar Allan Poe, writer Charles Dickens, and artists Vincent Van Gogh and Michelangelo.

In her article “Is There a Bright Side to Bipolar Disorder?” Madeline Vann, MPH described the advantages of bipolar disorder that are considered to be appealing to those who have the condition. These characteristics include productivity, confidence, charm, euphoria, and insight. Productivity is often caused by manic episodes which allow the individual to have higher energy and need less sleep. This often increases the likelihood of burnout. Confidence in oneself during manic episodes increases which allows them to believe that they have the ability to achieve goals that are often unattainable. As their self confidence grows, their energy increases, and they become more outgoing and charming. This allows them to be the center of attention, “the life of the party”. Euphoria describes the feeling of joy and excitement about life. When they’re in a manic state, the awareness and experience of life is enhanced to such a level that it is exaggerated. These feelings also create a perception of increased intellect and insight. Although there are many disadvantages associated with the illness, some patients risk the negative effects by discontinuing treatment because they miss the positive aspects involved with the disorder. The article illustrated the reasons why some people choose to deny medical intervention.

In a journal article published in BMC (BioMed Central) Psychiatry, Susanne Gibson and her colleagues analyzed the reasons why over half of the participants in their study did not follow treatment recommendations. It documented the reasons why many people with bipolar disorder chose not to follow medical advice. Patients may choose non-adherence or unintentional non-adherence to treatment as prescribed because they felt that they were “better”, did not like the side effects of medications, or felt that they needed more energy to complete tasks and that skipping medication made them feel more alert. Non-adherence leads to relapse of the illness that can cause serious side effects, including suicide. Individuals were willing to risk the negative aspects because they enjoyed the perceived positive experiences connected to the illness. Furthermore, patients viewed the short-term results of not taking their medication as prescribed more important, rather than the long-term effects of non-adherence.

The majority of information found about bipolar disorder is negative, but there are many positive attributes that can manifest from having the disorder. Many refuse medication in order to hold on to the creative aspects of the illness. Some people consider having bipolar disorder as a gift. I am one of them.

Works Cited

Gibson, Susanne, et al. “Understanding Treatment Non-adherence in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder: A Survey of What Service Users Do and Why.” BMC Psychiatry 13.1 (2013): 1-12. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Jamison, Kay R. Touched with Fire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print.

Pedersen, Tracy. “Benefits of Bipolar Disorder?” Psych Central. May 2012. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.

Vann, Madeline. “Is There a Bright Side to Bipolar Disorder?” Everyday Health Media, LLC. n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. 

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