In the documentary, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Stephen Fry offers the people he interviews a hypothetical situation. He has them imagine a button in front of them which, if pressed, would remove the disease of bipolarity from their lives. All except two people choose not to press the button. I was amazed that such an overwhelming amount of people would choose to keep this mental illness, and then I started to take a look at the impact of bipolarity on my own life. Would I press the button to take away this disease that apparently has cost me everything?
Pushing the button is a much more intricate question than it seems. Since I was diagnosed at the age of 44, I would have to look back at my entire life through the filter of this illness and see exactly how it impacted my life. The one area it seemed to impact the most was my writing and creativity. Writing was, and is, the one creative outlet I have. I never had the patience to learn a musical instrument and my artistic ability was sadly limited to stick figures. Writing, however, I adored. I was the nerd in the class who loved being assigned papers and research projects. If I had to write it, I was guaranteed a good grade. My ability to write well was well fed by my mania. I would stay up until odd hours furiously typing working on papers for class or on my own short stories. I got quite a number of compliments on my work. I credit much of that to my bipolarity. Hypomanic episodes can often be perceived as high-functioning behavior or even genius. In other words my psychotic ramblings were perceived as being much more than what I was capable of. Of course I didn’t know that 25 years ago and continued on writing. I had some sense that I was doing something right creatively when I was accepted into a summer creative writing program at Yale University. I studied fiction writing under Tom Perrotta who has written several excellent novels, including Election which was made into a film with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. He told me I had talent, but shortly after that summer, I stopped writing.
There were also times of depression when I was younger. I attempted to commit suicide during my sophomore year of high school by overdosing on pills. Four years later I was again contemplating suicide and was getting very drawn to playing with razor blades. As I worked through those issues, others would arise and I would continue to work through them as any college student would – with alcohol and marijuana. The numbed me to my surroundings, which became much more pleasant. I also slept better. By the age of nineteen I had discovered the fine art of self-medication, which served me well into my forties.
Granted these are only a few examples of what I found when I looked back over the last forty-three and half years. There were more incidents of anger, irritability, and rage than I would care to remember, incidents of depression, mania, plus other incidents which I’ve already documented on this blog which stand as an inglorious testament to my bipolarity. After all of this soul-searching and remembering, the question still remained, would I push that button? Would I free myself of all the symptoms that have both served and ruined me? Never. It is my illness; I have accepted it now for good and bad. I needed to take ownership of the things I’ve done and the mistakes I’ve made, and this is the first step. I refuse to sacrifice my creativity and what that means to me for symptoms that I can now identify and hopefully cope with. It has taken on too large a role in who I am for me not to embrace it and possibly relinquish one of my only true talents. So, I will simply push aside the button. For now.